It's a bird, it's a plane, it's the broodiest Superman ever depicted. Director Zack Snyder ("300," "Sucker Punch," "Watchmen"), an ardent comic-book-lover, brings back the Last Son of Krypton's story for a generation too young to remember the late and beloved Christopher Reeve as the "Man of Steel," or care that Bryan Singer attempted a reboot seven years ago. DC Comics' quintessential alien superhero returns starring the gorgeous British actor Henry Cavill as the titular Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman and two Academy Award winners as his biological and adoptive fathers (Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent). Amy Adams, Diane Lane and Ayelet Zurer ("Munich") round out the cast as the women in Superman's life: his love interest Lois Lane, Earth mom Martha Kent and Kryptonian mother Lara Lor-Van.
"Man of Steel" is very violent but not in an ultra-bloody or realistic way. This isn't "Saving Private Ryan" or "The Dark Knight." The violence, because of its massive scale, only feels personal in a few moments, like when Jonathan Kent is swept up by a tornado or a character breaks a man's neck. Overall, though, the movie is a classic take on the hero's journey, with good vs. evil themes and a hefty dose of paternal guidance to lead us into this Father's Day weekend. Whether or not your kids are familiar with the previous Superman films or the comic book legend's origin story, here are five questions to consider before you pay that 3D fee.
1. Is your kid old enough to sit through a 148–minute movie?
If the answer is no, game over, time to check out the animated superhero adventures, or maybe watch the (even longer) Christopher Reeve "Superman" movies at home in installments. This should be a no-brainer, but there were kids as young as 5 or 6 at the press and promotional screening I attended, and after an hour and a half, they were simply done. Despite the action sequences, this isn't a light and comical story that's accessible to early elementary-aged kids. The movie isn't just long (some critics would say too long), it's full of heavy themes and a high body count that will likely disturb kids under 10.
2. How much do your kids know about Superman?
The more your child knows about the Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El legend, the better prepared they'll be for the movie, but it's not necessary to have seen the previous adaptations to understand Snyder's reboot. There's a lengthy opening sequence that explains (however confusing it might be) Superman's origin story. But it's a good idea to prep younger viewers with a short primer: 1.) Superman is an alien born on a distant planet named Krypton. 2.) As a newborn, Superman –- then named Kal-El –- was sent to Earth. 3.) On Earth, an American couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent, found the baby Kal-El and raised him as their son, Clark, in Smallville, Kansas. 4.) Except for the Kents, no one knows why Clark has super strength and other powers. That should be enough to set the scene for most kids who don't know anything about the Superman backstory.
3. How sensitive is your child to violence?
Although "Man of Steel" isn't as violent as Snyder's take on the Battle of Thermopylae (think of all the dramatic blood splatter in "300"), there's still a lot of mass violence –- akin to "The Avengers" but not as bloody as "The Dark Knight" trilogy. An entire planet implodes, buildings collapse, airplanes plummet, and countless people are crushed and burned and shot and otherwise killed d-e-a-d. The hand-to-hand combat is fierce, and since it's usually between two Kryptonians, the action is fast and furious. General Zod, his cronies and eventually even Superman (although he only hurts baddies) break necks, pummel faces, and generally thrash others. Oh, and the movie starts with Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) giving birth (grunts and yelps included) to baby Kal-El.
4. Do you worry about the amount of romance/language?
For once there's no need, because for a PG-13 movie, there's barely any language (one "s--t," "ass," "dick," and "crap" is basically it), and the romance between Supes and Lois Lane is a slow, slow burn, with only a couple of longing looks, some hand holding and two fairly chaste kisses. Superman is definitely more like gentlemanly Captain America than playboy Tony Stark. For prospective audiences hoping for more romance: sorry, you'll have to wait for the sequels for more on the Clark Kent-Lois Lane courtship. This isn't "Twilight" moms!
5. Is your kid already into comics/superheroes?
Perfect. One of the joys of watching these legendary DC and Marvel heroes come to the big screen is comparing them to their various comic book iterations and previous adaptations. Older kids/teens who already know their Phantom Zone from their Fortress of Solitude are uniquely prepared to experience Snyder's reboot with a receptive eye. If you haven't seen the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve movies, the show "Smallville" or even the Bryan Singer/Brandon Routh one, watch those (especially "Superman II") after you've seen "Man of Steel" and talk about the differences. Still want more? Check out DC Comics' digital comics.