Short version? I really, really enjoyed the movie.
Not that Man of Steel isn’t without its problems. The opening sequence on Krypton needed a much better storyteller than director Zack Snyder. There was almost no narrative, just a bunch of visually cool scenes adding adding up to… well, Krypton explodes, yo… but you won’t find yourself caring very much.
The movie finds firmer footing on Earth, taking its own sweet time letting you really get to know the characters. The performances were all fine, especially Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She’s no Margot Kidder — who could be? — but she brings smarts and tough and tenderness to the role. She’s easily the best thing in the movie. Curiously, the chemistry between her and Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) was hit and miss. Sometimes the sparks flew, sometimes not. But in the end, I bought them and bought them together, so it all worked out. Cavill wasn’t really allowed to shine until the last act, and his performance probably owed more to Smallville‘s Tom Welling than to Christopher Reeve, but that’s OK, too. In the end, when Cavill is finally allowed the flash his impervious smile? He brought the full Chris Reeve-power wattage.
Also curious is the drab color scheme. Superman is a hero of primary colors, but his costume here is dark and drab. The first half of the movie is shot in winter or in the cloudy days of autumn, and even the summer scenes are reminiscent of those cloudless days when the sun bleaches everything to off-whites and muted pastels. That’s a big change from the beloved Superman: The Movie, but I’m not sure it’s a bad change. Just different, and at first slightly jarring.
Michael Shannon wasn’t given a whole lot to do as General Zod, other than chew the scenery and kick some ass. His quieter scenes were menacing enough however to make up some of the difference. I preferred Terrance Stamp in the role in the otherwise-inferior Superman II. That’s a shame, because Shannon is capable of much more.
CAUTION: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
The final mano y mano battle between Superman and Zod went on too long and lacked dramatic tension. For ten or fifteen minutes, it was just a couple invincible guys pounding on one another until one of them — for reasons never made clear — gets the upper hand. A better director could have easily fixed this, and it makes me wonder how much better the movie could have been with Dark Knight director Chris Nolan at the helm. He produced this movie, but he should have taken a firmer hand.
My last complaint is that Zod should have gone down with his crew and spared us watching Metropolis get even more torn up than it already had been. We all saw New York get blown up for real one September morning twelve years ago, and enough is enough. I hated — genuinely hated — the movie Cloverfield because it blew up New York for the sake of blowing up New York; it was a cinematic al Qaeda. There was some of that to Man of Steel, too, but at least the good guys win in the end.
And the good guys all step up, whether they’re invincible aliens or weakling human beings. Superman could not have prevailed without heroic actions from almost all of his Earthling allies. That harkens back to the old Fleischer cartoons from the 1940s, and it’s pure awesome.
Superman’s weaknesses as a believable character were all dealt with, too.
I loved that the silly pretense of Lois not seeing through Clark’s lame disguise was dispensed with entirely, and even smirked at in the end. Also smartly integrated was how Clark could continue to hide his identity in an age of domestic drone surveillance.
Man of Steel also guides us to Superman finding peace as the Last Son of Krypton and as a stranger on his adopted planet. Earth might not be quite as peace with him yet, but you can see it coming. Finally, an invincible being doesn’t need a secret identity, but we’re shown why he would want one.
Laurence Fishburne as Perry White? More of him in the sequel, please! Best Perry since Jackie Cooper, while playing the part in a whole new way. Loved him. Rounding out the cast were Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the Kents. Clark got his superpowers from Jor-El (Russell Crowe in a very strange role), but he got his heart from Martha and his hard sense from Jonathan. As a side note, seeing Lane totally de-glamorized nearly ruined a lot of fantasies I’ve been harboring since the mid-80s. Just sayin’.
Serious flaws? Sure. But there are some strengths able to bend steel in their bare hands, too, and I’ll finish with the mightiest of them.
We were all disappointed, hurt even, by Superman Returns in 2006. And nothing was more disappointing than hearing Perry ask if Superman still believed in “Truth, justice, and… all that other stuff.” That “other stuff” being The American Way, dammit. But I forgave Man of Steel all of its faults when Superman reassured an Army general that he would never betray America’s interests. “I grew up in Kansas,” Superman tells him. “I’m as American as it gets.”
Flaws and all, this Man of Steel certainly is.