Good thing, too, because most of the warnings I’d read turned out to be wrong:
- It didn’t really take itself too seriously. Yes, the production was visually darker than the 1978 version, but I didn’t see any more of a messianic theme than we’ve come accustomed to. Yes, like Jesus, Clark Kent is raised by an adoptive father (which has been true since the earliest iterations of the characters), and has a real father who speaks to him in apparent defiance of the natural order (the norm since the 1978 version), and Russell Crowe’s character does predict that his son will be “like a god” to the people of Earth. But we are forgetting what Jor-El said in the 1978 version, perhaps because we just expected Marlon Brando to talk like that: “Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.” I mean, come on. Russell Crowe’s Jor-El was quite down-to-Earth compared to that.
- OK, so it was sort of a modernized version, but that came out mostly in the 21st-century production values, and the costume (and don’t ask me how Jor-El managed to get a perfectly-fitted Superman costume, complete with the family crest, onto a ship that was sent to Earth 18,000 years ago; it’s just one of those suspension-of-disbelief things, like, you know, a man being able to fly) had a very updated feel to it. But the reports I heard that the name “Superman” was never uttered in the film were false. And there’s a great flashback scene to Clark as a little boy playing with a makeshift red cape out by Ma Kent’s laundry waving in the Kansas wind that is about as traditional, simple, innocent all-American as you can get. In fact, Superman directly contradicts the reports that he is a sort of “internationalized” version of the hero by telling an Army general (and I’m reconstructing this from memory, not being able to find the quote online), “I grew up in Kansas. How do you get more American than that?”
- Finally, I don’t think the action was overdone. Which is saying something, coming from me. I thought the bams and booms and crashes were about what you’d expect from two Kryptonians having a fistfight among the skyscrapers of a modern city. Neither too much, nor two little.
My main criticism — and this is more a business consideration for Warner Brothers — is that I don’t see how they top themselves after this, plotwise. (And obviously, they intend sequels — after all, Clark doesn’t go to work for The Daily Planet until the last scene.) General Zod doesn’t show up until the second installment of the Christopher Reeve version, and that seems smart to me. First, you establish that Superman has these abilities far greater than those of Earth men. You have him save people falling from helicopters, and having a run-in with Lex Luthor. After you’ve established that nobody can touch this guy (without Kryptonite), you say, yeah, but… what if he faces a threat from another Kryptonian? And it’s at that point that you trot out General Zod and his minions.
Speaking of Zod, one of the updates is that he is conflicted. He is truly devoted to the interests of his own people, the remaining Kryptonians, and his evil arises from his complete indifference to the fate of Earthlings. I sort of miss the unconflicted Terence Stamp version: “Kneel before Zod!”