By Joan Ellis
I fell in love with Superman when I was 8. Smitten, I bought all the comic books of his first few years, storing them carefully on a bookshelf in my room. When I came home from college a few years later, the shelf was empty. My otherwise lovely mother had trashed them, leaving a large, permanent hole in my emotional life.
Of all the Superman movies, only Christopher Reeve lived up to my imagination. It’s good to be able to report that Henry Cavill is a worthy successor. Asked in an interview what he thought he might bring to the role, Cavill described his loneliness as a young boy at an English boarding school. He instills that loneliness in the grown Clark Kent.
After using up its natural resources, the planet Krypton has died and its residents have built mighty machines that will allow them to shape a new planet to their needs. (Prescient, certainly.) Can you guess? They have decided to colonize Earth.
As the Kryptons invade Earth, Clark reveals his powers and does battle with his former countrymen for the remainder of the overlong, deafeningly loud movie.
Let’s look at the good and the bad. The special effects are spectacular. With spaceships and people soaring and morphing, it is nearly impossible not to smile at the memory of our own early astronauts and their primitive equipment.
The actors do their best to carry the wacky story. The first half-hour introduces Jor-El as Kal’s biological father and moral conscience to the Krypton hierarchy. Played with restraint and presence by Russell Crowe, Jor-El gives us hope whenever he’s on screen. Diane Lane plays Clark’s earthly mother as a woman who accepts without complaint the extraordinary experiences that befall the mother of an alien being in the disguise of an American boy. Laurence Fishburne, fine as editor of The Daily Planet, sets up the next sequel, and Amy Adams is just right as Lois Lane, intrepid reporter and Clark Kent confidante. Michael Shannon’s General Zod, villainous protector of Krypton, is chilling.
So what’s wrong? Doesn’t the brutal violence celebrated in the protracted finale inevitably affect the minds of its viewers? Doesn’t extreme violence make lesser violence seem acceptable? Does it always have to be about killing? Might our hero one day use his powers to reconcile with enemies rather than kill them? Already endangered, our world needs saving, not destruction by its own. How about mediating a Drone War or using his powers for rescue?
The worst for last. In a final invasive thrust that endures for 30 long on-screen minutes, the aliens attack Manhattan, destroying skyscrapers until the city is a mass of shattered glass and rubble while in the streets, people run for their lives. The filmmakers, in this fatal lapse, have rekindled the sights and sounds of 9/11 in the worst of ways. They have ruined their movie by plunging with all deliberate ignorance into unimaginably bad taste.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.