Controversial I know, but stick with me. The thing I like about Dean Cain’s Superman is that I could realistically believe that he lived in the world I lived in.
He had a job, an apartment, flirtations, girlfriends, parents, humour, desires, ambitions and the rest of it. Cain’s Superman (other than having a Lois upon which I had a massive pre-adolescent crush) was a character I could really believe in. I’ve always preferred this version even to Christopher Reeve’s interpretation.
Cain’s interpretation is more “man” than “super”, but certainly has a lot of character. Smallville would take up this Clark-first interpretation over a decade later, and I think it is certain the way to go when it comes to writing the Man of Steel. It’s the same reason why Thor’s family and love interests are so important and why you get Iron Man out of the damn suit. If a hero is invulnerable then why the hell should I care what happens to him?
Superman more than any other comic book character is seen as undefeatable. He’s god-like in the range and variety of his abilities. He’s moved planets and time and defeated galactic forces all on his own. All the more reason, then, to focus more on who he is, rather than what he can do.
In this writer’s humble opinion, the Christopher Reeve Superman films make the same mistake. He is Superman first and Clark Kent is simply an act he hides behind. He hides behind bumbling, glasses and worse hair so that no one sees that he’s a morally perfect superbeing. Arguably. Although I can get behind his adventures in the blue tights (which Reeve plays beautifully), I never really believe what’s going on under the fedora and glasses. Superman is not a character: he’s a collection of powers. Clark Kent is where the character motivation comes from in all but the best interpretations*.
And so we come to Mr. Cavill and Man of Steel. He is terribly good at having his shirt off (pictured), terribly good at looking all moody and terribly good at looking like Superman. He does look like Superman. He’s big
and buff and strong-jawed. When you picture Superman in your head, he comes pretty damn close, no?
But that aside, the most characterisation we get for Kal are either all about his fathers (the two Robin Hoods), or are Clark as a child (and therefore through child actors). We never seen one decent scene of characterisation for Cavill as the character. All characterisation is through flashbacks to his parents and/or his childhood. As a result, we never really get to know Clark/Kal/Superman the man and we don’t have any reason to root for him, not mourn for him at the end when that big un-Superman-like thing happens.
Beyond the property damage and focus on Krypton rather than Supes, the big problem with Man of Steel is that there just isn’t enough Clark.
*Kingdom Come particularly comes to mind, which really provides Kal-El with some meaty characterisation.