December 14, 2012 at 08:27 PM EST

Man of Steel won’t be hurting for an audience when the latest cinematic incarnation of Superman swoops into theaters next summer. The casting of Henry Cavill (The Tudors, The Immortals) has been met with great enthusiasm from fanboys, media, and pretty much everyone with working eyeballs. The supporting players ooze quality and clout: Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Michael Shannon, Laurence Fishburne. That’s an all-star team-up of acting Avengers right there. Behind the camera, a marketable, geek-cool, movie-smart brain trust: producer Christopher Nolan, screenwriter David Goyer, director Zack Snyder. With talent like this above and below the line, there’s little doubt people will be buying tickets…

But will they buy Superman himself?

Man of Steel will arrive seven years after Warner Bros. tried to relaunch the comic book icon — created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — as a 21st-century movie franchise with Superman Returns. The key ingredients in that formulation: A young Hollywood cast and faithfulness to the romantic spirit and continuity of the first two Christopher Reeve/Superman movies from the late seventies, albeit with a bit more Emo. The story tracked a Man of Steel (Brandon Routh) who had disappeared from a Metropolis that had easily embraced the super-powered mystery man… and had learned to get by without him just fine during the break. But then Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) tried to take over the world with technology swiped from Superman’s home planet of Krypton, and everyone quickly took the super-powered E.T. back.

Superman Returns was an enterprise that didn’t make enough money and generate enough interest to justify making more movies like it, especially in an era when moviegoers have been more fascinated by markedly different superhero archetypes: A grim Batman, a glibly cool Iron Man. And so Man of Steel — the second second coming” of Superman this century — comes with all the questions that its predecessor failed to answer compellingly. Is Superman relevant? Does he need to change? Do we trust The Big Blue Bly Scout’s brand of heroism?

NEXT PAGE: The look of the film.


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