Jor-El, the chief scientist of distant planet Krypton, sends his newborn son, the first birthed naturally in centuries to Earth with the genetic essence of all of the future unborn Kryptonians, hoping the baby will survive the cataclysmic destruction of his home world. But the renegade General Zod and his accomplices want to capture Kal-El, son of Jor-El, also known as Superman to revive Krypton, but on planet Earth. Will Superman pick his home world in favour of his adoptive one?
Seven years ago, X-Men director Bryan Singer, following his success on the Marvel and Fox mutant franchise, directed the first Superman film adaptation since 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. In Superman Returns, Singer cast Brendon Routh, a relatively unknown actor as Superman returning from a trip to planet Krypton, having abandoned Earth and the love of his life Lois Lane. This fifth Superman movie was loosely cast in the same continuity as the previous four Superman movies that had entertained fans since 1978. Routh was clear look-alike for actor Christopher Reeves who’s looks define Superman to this day.
British actor Henry Cavill, is like the latest James Bond, Daniel Craig. He doesn’t have the classical Superman look that Routh when he took over from Reeves. Cavill's chiselled face is sharper, more expressive and distinct. This new Superman is a complete reboot of the character apart from the popular Smallville television series or anything seen on film before. His background as a Kryptonian, continues to play a prominent role in his backstory. The film’s first arc starts with Kal-El’s birth and the quest of his parents to save him and remnants of their culture. Clearer than any other Superman film released before, Kal-El is really human, in the sense that his physiology has adapted uniquely to the conditions on Earth. Earth’s oxygen is lethal for Kryptonians. It’s gravity different.
Because Superman’s iconic film look has been reinforced by Routh acting as an analogue of Reeves, it was not easy for me to accept Cavill as Superman. His smiles and looks are fine, but he's a scrapper. Although presented as a Christ-like figure, he does not have the angelic and innate goodness that radiated from Routh and Reeves. This Superman is human but at the same time, a god. He is a god that looks like us.
Cavill did not steal the film. His presence, while imposing physically, is not overbearing. He’s just a Joe that tries to do the right thing, surrounded by immense self-doubt and the caring advices of almost saintly figures. With Cavill, heading the Superman franchise, there is finally a break from the Christopher Reeves era and a fresh start similar to Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise.
Snyder’s Superman is less Moses than Jesus Christ. He saves the world, but does not try to change the course of Earth’s history, unlike the Christopher Reeves’ version. Many recent movies, like Thor and Les Misérables have no qualms about displaying strong Christian messages and themes into their narratives. The Man of Steel is one such movie. This is odd in a world that is becoming more pluralistic, religion-wise and more atheistic. It suggests that there religious figures like Superman are part of human myth-making. Superman, more than any other super hero, may connect humans to primordial myths. Thus Cavill is perfectly cast for this role, although he will need subsequent film sequels to fully grow into the character of Superman.