I went to see the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, earlier today. I generally avoid action movies and have little feel for science fiction. But, having grown up with Superman comics and the George Reeves' 1950s Superman TV series, I find each new iteration of the Superman story almost irresistible.
As I posted earlier this afternoon on Facebook, the movie has more mayhem and special effects silliness than anyone should need, but I thought it was worth it in spite of that. That's partly because - special effects silliness aside - the timeless story still soars, as of course does the star, Henry Cavill (formerly the Duke of Suffolk in Showtime's series, The Tudors). Thus, critic Kenneth Turan claims that Cavill is “a superb choice for someone who needs to convincingly convey innate modesty, occasional confusion and eventual strength.” I would agree, and add that Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner are excellent as Superman/Clark's kryptonian and human father respectively - the two figures who together formed him into the unique being he is.
What makes the Superman myth so special is how it highlights what one could call its "incarnational" theme - the alien who becomes human and who, while remaining kryptonian, identifies himself fully with the human race for the salvation of the human race. The analogy is not perfect, of course. No analogy ever is. But the parallel has been made many times. And it does resonate enough to be immediately recognizable.
Indeed, one of the problems with the inevitable overdoing of the special effects silliness is how it distracts from Superman's assumption of humanity, how his identification with humanity determines his decisions - as does his heroic (but admittedly still human) morality. One of the most poignant lines in the movies is when one of the kryptonian villains tells Kal-El/Clark that the fact that he has morality will be his undoing, that the kyrptonians have evolved beyond morality, and that evolution always wins. The movie's outcome poses the possibility - and the hope - that that may be wrong.
Of course, evolution did win on Krypton, which was why the planet destroyed itself - because its culture had destroyed itself morally. It's not that Kal-El somehow rose above a decadent kryptonian culture, but rather that he escaped being formed by it and instead was formed in a non-decadent human culture (a traditional farming family in Kansas) which still had serious moral values.