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8 ways 'Man of Steel' updates Superman


Published:   |   Updated: June 14, 2013 at 09:51 AM

Superman has gone through dozens of incarnations from print to celluloid, radio to digital media. "Man of Steel," which opens today, seeks to reboot and modernize the world's most famous superhero.

Moviegoers are used to seeing a confident Superman in full control of his powers, but producer Christopher Nolan and director Zack Snyder have envisioned a more introspective hero unsure of his destiny.

Here's how the film updates the character's universally known mythology and how it gets everything right about what makes Superman so super. (Beware, here be spoilers!)

The Origin: There's a reason why Kal-El is called the Last Son of Krypton - he is truly alone and unique in the universe. "Man of Steel" goes to great lengths to show how Kal is the last hope of two worlds, Krypton and Earth, and how he learns to accept his destiny. Scenes of his childhood in Smallville, where he considers his growing abilities freakish, emphasize how much of an outsider he is.

Krypton: Superman mythos always had an underpinning of science fiction. "Man of Steel" brings this quality to the forefront, and it's most evident in early scenes on Krypton. Kal-El's homeworld is appropriately exotic and alien. The technology, a mix of metal, electronics and organic material, is totally weird. And its destruction - both politically and physically - in this film trumps depictions in past movies and television shows.

Flying: Superman's trademark super power is usually shown as soaring and graceful. Not here: It's violent and turbulent. He frequently breaks the speed of sound, and sonic booms follow. And when he levitates, that's stunning, too, in a quiet way, hammering home just how alien he is.

Other Super Powers: In "Man of Steel," Clark Kent's super-hearing nearly drives him crazy until he learns to control it. His X-ray vision is freaky, and he'll see only walking skeletons if he's not careful. His heat vision? It looks painful, like two supernovas exploding from his eye sockets. In other words, it's a spectacle every time Superman uses his super powers.

The Villains: Other than the first two Richard Donner-directed films, Superman's on-screen enemies have been rather laughable. In "Superman III," he fought comedian Richard Pryor. In "Superman IV," he struggled for world peace and a ridiculously low special-effects budget. In "Superman Returns," Kal-El dealt with repressed emotions and being a deadbeat dad. But in "Man of Steel," they bring back fellow Kryptonian General Zod, who not only fights toe-to-toe with Superman, but whose master plan threatens Earth and Metropolis. Zod is the first worthy villain to face Kal-El on-screen in a long, long time.

The Action: The action sequences in "Man of Steel" are bone-rattling. Kal-El's abilities are based on three things: raw strength, speed and indestructibility. "Man of Steel" shows all of them off, often at the same time. Hand-to-hand combat is brutal. Cars, trains and skyscrapers are used as weapons. Whole city blocks get wiped out, and that's just in one scene when Superman punches a bad guy three times while flying at supersonic speeds.

The Suit: The red Speedo is gone. Replacing it is a dark blue suit similar to armor. The cape is computer-generated, but it flows and flutters realistically. There's also a great explanation for the "S" on the chest, which has been spoiled in TV commerial. It doesn't stand for "Superman" but something better.

Superman Himself: Fans will forever think of Christopher Reeve when Superman is mentioned. Who can blame them? Reeve's iconic portrayal of Clark Kent and Superman is pitch-perfect. But new guy Henry Cavill does a remarkable job of putting his mark on the character. He's got the physical build to fill out the suit, the All-American looks that Superman is known for and brings the right amount of humor, humility and existential angst to the role of what is essentially an alien who's just trying to fit in.

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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