A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind.
At a time when comic book heroes are increasingly distinguished by their flaws, Superman's status as the ultimate good guy has caused him to fall out of favor. (How do you get audiences to relate to a dude who can push the moon out of orbit and has the morals of an Eagle Scout?) Man of Steel, producer Christopher Nolan's attempt to give the hero a Dark Knight retrofit, succeeds in giving the character a fresh start, courtesy of both a gargantuan sense of scale, and Henry Cavill's winningly unironic central performance. Devotees of Christopher Reeve's legendary mild-mannered portrayal may find themselves missing the sequences of quiet time from the previous films (the steadily escalating plot spares little time for cats stuck in trees), but this still manages to uphold the gee-whiz qualities that made people buy the comics in the first place. For all of the stunning bangs and gigantic sonic booms, its greatest achievement may be in making Superman's fundamental squareness feel like a virtue again. Nolan and director Zack Snyder (Watchmen) have kept the basic elements of the origin story--infant survivor of an alien world comes to Earth, crash lands in Kansas, grows up big and really, really strong--while putting a spin on virtually all of the details. Here, Krypton is depicted as a wonderfully baroque '50s sci-fi menagerie, X-ray vision has some painful flaws, and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) isn't the type of person to be fooled by a pair of glasses. The spirit of reinvention carries over to the cast, with the perfect chemistry of Cavill and Adams aided by admirably serious-minded supporting performances from the likes of Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, and the tremendously intense Michael Shannon, as a super-powered conqueror with his own special motivation for assuming control. (Like most great villains, he doesn't see himself as the bad guy.) Superhero movies have always had a problem knowing when to say when, and Man of Steel doesn't exactly break from tradition in that regard, with a climactic fight scene that eventually turns into a well-staged but numbing series of explosions. (Godzilla would be taken aback by the levels of property damage.) Bumps aside, however, this still stands as a tremendous first step in a new direction, with a final line that suggests even better things may be in store. The canvas finally feels large enough to support the myth. --Andrew Wright