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Man of Steel review: Henry Cavill plays Superman with a square-jawed introspection

Like Christopher Reeve before him, Cavill is set to be the poster boy for a whole new generation of superhero fans

Here’s a superhero who almost dares not speak his name: the “S” inscribed on his chest doesn’t stand for Superman after all, it’s the Krypton symbol for “hope”. That is the messianic burden by which this overlong but not disagreeable reboot defines itself.

The man of steel will save the earth, but first he must bide his time. Just as Christopher Nolan (who produces here) did with Batman, Zack Snyder ( 300) presides over a creation myth: Superman is sent into space by his father, played by Russell Crowe as if he were God Himself, and thus escapes the environmental cataclysm that destroys his home planet Krypton.

He also narrowly avoids the clutches of the rebel general Zod (Michael Shannon), who will return with a vengeance for the story’s finale. It’s in the flashbacks of the long middle section that the film makes its mark.

Clark Kent, played with square-jawed introspection by Brit Henry Cavill, drifts from job to job, trying to keep a lid on his awesome powers out of respect for his adoptive father (Kevin Costner), who believes they will make him a target for evil.

When Clark’s hand is forced and he does save earthlings - drowning schoolkids, oil-riggers trapped by fire - the combination of shock and wonder is impressively handled.

His anonymity is finally blown by Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams with a pert sexiness and no little self-esteem (“I’m a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter”, she reminds her editor, non-endearingly).

The film loses itself in the last 45 minutes, with fist-fights between Superman and his foes that destroy half the skyscrapers in Manhattan, and half the hearing in my ears. Snyder flouts a simple rule: one explosion can be exciting; one hundred will be quite boring.

It’s not bad, despite its runaway length, and Cavill looks likely to be the poster boy for a whole new generation of fans.

Video: Henry Cavill interview on the red carpet