Photo Credit: Photo by Clay Enos/Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Man of Steel may begin with Superman's childhood, but this thriller isn't for the youngest kids. Read our review from Common Sense Media to find out if your kids are old enough to see it.
Rating: Ages 12+
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Man of Steel, the latest take on the legendary Superman character, is darker than the classic Superman films but lighter (and less bloody) than The Dark Knight trilogy. There's definitely a lot of violence (including a destroyed planet, necks being broken, and hand-to-hand combat that results in deaths), but it's more macro than micro in scale: buildings topple, the sea crashes down, planes plummet, etc. Language is infrequent but includes occasional use of "s--t," "d--k," and "ass." The romance even tamer: Lois Lane and Superman hold hands and kiss twice in one scene. Product placements are limited to IHOP, which is shown a few times, and Nikon (but there are more than 100 off-screen licensing deals/promotions in place globally for the movie). Expect plenty of messages about good and evil and identity and what it means to be a hero; ultimately this is a story about the duality of Superman's life (part Clark Kent, part Kal-El), as symbolized by his two fathers.
What's the story?
Man of Steel begins with the origin story of Superman's birth on Krypton. Unlike all the other babies on Krypton -- who are engineered by a codex to be workers, warriors, leaders, or scientists -- baby Kal-El was made the old-fashioned way, by the planet's head scientist, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his wife, Lara (Ayelet Zurer). During a failed coup attempt by General Zod (Michael Shannon), Jor-El is killed -- but not before his wife launches their newborn son to the distant planet Earth. Zod and his cronies are banished -- a sentence that ultimately saves the troop of villains when Krypton implodes. Fast forward to Earth, where a grown, bearded, and handsome Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is a nomad who -- as his late father, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) instructed -- hides his special powers, except for occasionally saving men from a burning oil rig or rescuing fearless investigative journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Clark finds out who he really is when he discovers an ancient Kryptonian scouting ship, but the same command key that lures his father's ghost acts as a beacon for Zod and his army. When Zod's ship enters Earth's atmosphere, they demand Superman's surrender, making the caped Man of Steel reveal himself to the government and setting up a massive confrontation between Zod and Superman.
Is it any good?
Director Zack Snyder's take on the Superman legend is seriously reverent. He strikes a tone that's lighter than Christopher Nolan's unrelentingly violent and contemplative Dark Knight trilogy but darker than the humor- and banter-filled The Avengers. Superman has always been unique among the popular superheroes: He's not a mutant or a billionaire with a penchant for vigilante justice; he's a straight-up alien who doesn't know why he's on Earth, where he came from, or what his purpose is as a lone outsider in a world of humans. Cavill is dashing and strong enough to pull off the role, and he certainly has the broodiness and the requisite Snyder-mandated six pack. But all of his self reflection, as understandable as it is, could use more levity, more spark, more of Christopher Reeve's sense of joy in the red and blue costume.
It's the more mature generation of actors in the movie who lend it its gravitas: Costner and Crowe as Superman's two fathers, both dead but still guiding and inspiring and encouraging him (literally, in the case of Jor-El and symbolically -- and via flashbacks -- in the case of Jonathan Kent). Ultimately, though, Man of Steel, like Superman II, is a face-off between Superman and his ideological nemesis, supervillain General Zod. Shannon is brilliantly cast, and despite being ruthless, actually expresses precisely why he's willing to sacrifice humanity: Protecting and ensuring the future of the Krypton people is what he was created to do, no matter what the cost. And Snyder certainly knows his way around action sequences and huge CGI set pieces, while keeping the violence much less bloody than 300. The two-and-a-half-hour movie is considerably longer than necessary, but the dramatic fight scenes will keep audiences from checking their watches. The prospect of a sequel is enticing, because now that Clark has accepted his Superman persona, there should be more fun, humor, and romance in store for the Man of Steel.
What families can talk about
--Families can talk about how this Superman differs from past interpretations of the comic-book hero. How is this story unique? What parts of the story are the same? Which adaptation do you like best, and why?
--How does the impact of the violence in this movie compare to other superhero stories you've seen? What about to other types of movies, like thrillers?
--General Zod’s behavior is “terrorist-like” -- he's willing to have his army destroy anyone and anything to further his cause. But he also makes decisions not out of a sadistic need for violence, but for what he considers the greater good of his people. He's genuinely upset that Jor-El and then Kal-El won't help him. Is Zod completely evil?
--How does Superman's relationship with his two fathers influence the different aspects of his personality?
--What does Faora-Ul mean when she says that "evolution always wins"? Why does she believe that Superman's sense of morality is a weakness? Is she right, or does Superman's sense of morality actually strengthen him?