With the whole planet Krypton erupting and exploding around him, Russell Crowe has to reach his wife and newborn son. On the way, he must steal The Codex. This means flying, swimming, and fighting over the equivalent of miles. He has about 15 minutes.
The inaction of Krypton’s global-warming-denier leadership has culminated in a military coup, led by General Zod. Russell Crowe watches Zod and his men kill the Council (or Congress or whatever), and has to snap into action, or his family and species die forever. He flies on a dragon who will heroically save his life and then sacrifice itself during this mad sprint. He dives hundreds of yards into electric baby juice. He has a shoot-out and a thumping fist fight.
He also kisses his son, and lightly touches the baby boy’s head before blasting him into space.
FLASHBACK: “Man of Steel” pre-production meeting. One-Armed Abbey’s, an Australian dive bar surrounded by barren outback. Zack Snyder and Russell Crowe are sitting at the bar at 3:40 a.m. It’s just them and Abbey.
“Look Russell, baby, this guy we got to play Superman is great, but he doesn’t have the chops like you. For this movie to be classic you’ve gotta be the one that brings it.”
Crowe rubs his beard. “You say Brando played this part?”
“Oh, yeah. You didn’t see it?”
Russell Crowe shrugs.
“You’re the man here, Russell. You’ve gotta-”
Snyder stops talking because Crowe has leveled his unblinking eyes at the director, channeling Maximus. Snyder feels scared, as though suddenly face-to-face with a lion. But he is also, deeper down, reassured. Safe.
“I’ve got it,” the actor growls.
Russell Crowe takes the script, scoots his stool back, stands, grabs a knife off the table, spins, and fires the knife into a dartboard on the other side of the bar. Thrang! Perfect bulls-eye. Crowe doesn’t look back as he lopes in big boots toward the exit, but he calls back over the sounds of his steps “You better make sure the Superman fights are awesome!”
“Oh, they will be!” Snyder yells as the bar door shuts behind Russell Crowe, for the last time until “Man of Steel” is a great hit. Snyder turns back toward his drink and says to no one “Smallville and Metropolis. It’s gonna be sick!”
The director motions to Abbey for another.
Henry Cavill plays Superman just right, with the bland good-guy-ness of Jesus or Harry Potter. It’s his movie, but because of the nature of the part he can’t give “Man of Steel” the knowing soul it needs to be great. He’s not really even Superman yet. He’s a man of steel. An unknown. He doesn’t even know himself.
Russell Crowe looks his age. Graying, grizzled, dignified. He looks like a badass dad. And with this classic performance he fills the crucial void in a big, important blockbuster. He helps ease the burden on Cavill, like a good dad should. Jor-El is an action hero for the film’s prologue, fighting for his family. Then he’s a recurring ghostly helper, the father-figure spirit guide. (And we know he approves of his future daughter-in-law, because he teleports around Zod’s ship opening doors for Lois Lane and helping her escape.)
This is Russell Crowe’s best part since “Gladiator.”
Dads, happy father’s day. Russell Crowe did right by you (Us!) with this one.
The movie’s come out and it’s a monster hit. Zack Snyder is on the phone in his giant office, surrounded by action figures and oversized neon movie posters. He’s yelling.
“Daniel Day! Baby! They’re offering $80 million for you to be my Lex Luthor! You should see the cyborg suit we’re making! I need you to spend time with it. This cyborg suit’s gotta be like a great friend of yours, or like an extension of your body. You play the smartest man in the world, and evil is relative! Come on, man! It’s gonna be sick!”