In the medium of animation, both Batman's and Superman's mythologies have been done justice -- and for that, we will always hold Paul Dini and Co. in our highest esteem.. But daytime animated TV series don't have the clout of box office record-breaking live-action Hollywood summer blockbusters. So, thanks to director Christopher Nolan, the general, non-comics-reading-(but-incessantly-video game-playing, at least in terms of the current younger generations) public has embraced what, IMHO, is a deftly-executed distillation and amplification of the concerned mythology.
... but, until now, alas, of Superman, the same cannot be said. The first two movies with Christopher Reeves in the title role, Superman (1978, dir. Richard Donner) and its sequel, Superman II ( 1980, dir. Richard Lester, who infamously replaced Donner partway through production) have their merits, but they are dated in terms of technical limitations and pop culture sensibilities. Dir. Bryan Singer's Superman Returns overtly tried to replicate the performances and the tone of the Donner film ...and when I saw it on opening day, the crowd regarded it as a joke.
(Adventure Comics #283, April 1961 -- first appearance of General Zod, Man of Steel's villain.)
Having accomplished the veritable magnum opus that is his Dark Knight trilogy, all indications are thatt Christopher Nolan has set about determined to do for Superman what he did for Batman ... and in my assessment, having the movie last Friday afternoon, he's damn well done it. Here, Nolan is not in the director's but the producer's chair, and credited as a co-writer on the screenplay -- indicating that he wasn't a hands-off studio producer, but creatively, his voice is a major one in the realized film.
From the larger-than-life presentation of Krypton in the opening scenes to the coda to the more introspective relating of Clark being conflicted with his dual identity and the mystery of the world on which he was born and his biological parents, the understanding of the characters and the mythology is acute. And the big-stage scope that the film's creators were aiming for and pretty much achieved; in terms of pathos and stakes (they're VERY high), the conceit of the film exudes "ancient, immortal gods". Or, in other words, the overused term "epic" actually applies here.
This movie's versions of Thomas and Martha Kent, as well as Perry White, are virtually the Superman equivalent of Nolan's Alfred and James Gordon: the nature of the characters, their inherent strong morals, and the importance of their relationships with the protagonist as a mentor, lifelong and cherished confidant, and/or parental figure are understood and taken very seriously. One brief but crucial interaction between Clark and Thomas Kent actually had me in tears ... not just a lump in my throat and/or my eyes watering up, but tears actually streaking down my face.
As I knew that a retelling of Superman's origin story was in store, I was worried that the movie would be tedious. But it managed to -- by using a non-linear narrative, with lots of flashbacks and "flash-forwards" -- make it fresh and suspenseful, taking our expectations into account. Once things were well underway, though, it became apparent that a VERY standard part of the Superman premise was absent ... and almost as soon as I realized this, I correctly predicted how the movie would end. *bows* :D
Also surprising was the "standard" Superman characters -- both friends and enemies -- that weren't present. At this point, I think it's well-known that the story's villain is General Zod. There's no trace of Braniac or Bizarro ... not even Lex Luthor! (...that, besides one visual reference that I was proud and excited to spot). In fact, this perfectly parallels Batman Begins: instead of just jumping right to the Joker/right to Lex Luthor, a villain not well-known to the general public, the focus is on a villain that traditionally in the comics has been an exceptional threat to the hero in question and whose genocidal tendencies are all the more insidious because of the respective villain's uncanny intelligence.
Thus, my hunch is that Nolan plans in the sequel -- if there is one, which seems more likely than not -- to have Luthor take and dominate the stage, just as the Joker did in The Dark Knight.
One negative criticism: though I realize that audiences would be disappointed if the movie was short on rock-'em-sock'em action scenes, they really could've been trimmed a bit -- and not been so repetitive. (How many times do we really need to see Superman, in flight, crash into Zod, throwing them both halfway across the state? Do that many buildings really need to fall?) The bombastic, flashy, almost goofy fight scenes can probably be attributed to director Zach Snyder more so than Nolan, given Snyder's filmography.
Actually, in the prolonged action scenes, another parallel to Batman Begins is apparent. In the first half of both movies, the title character's "Hero's Journey" (thanks, Christopher Vogler) and the thrust of the mythology is built up ... only to have the "payoff" be a sort-of generic "saves the city/world"-type ending. In retrospect, in Batman Begins' case,Nolan was "taking it easy" and not getting ambitious before really taking things up a whole bunch of notches in the succeeding two films. My hunch is that he's doing the same thing here, intending this to be the first in a trilogy, the arc of which he already has planned. Basically, he's sticking to a formula that has more than proven to work for him. Can't wait for the (likely) sequels!