I’ll cut to the chase here- Man of Steel is the best Superman movie (in my opinion), but is that really something the director wants to put on his bumper sticker? That’s like getting a “Most Normal-Looking Person” award at Wal-Mart- it’s great, but was it really that difficult? (To be fair, I haven’t seen the whole first Superman movie, but I also wouldn’t have the nostalgia factor). There’s a minimum of cheese and bad effects, not to mention no blasted super babies. I was somewhat surprised at the mixed reviews this flick’s been receiving, and the problem seems to be that everyone already had in their head what a “good Superman movie’ should be. The problem is, it can’t be funny, serious, ponderous, action-packed, mature, or kid-friendly as they seem to want. I had an advantage, in that my only idea of a good Superman movie is “not like the other movies.” Henry Cavill seems like a good fit for the revamped Superman.
That’s not to say the script didn’t have problems. Russell Crowe‘s AI ghost was super convenient- not really a plot hole, but super convenient. How will Clark find out his true heritage, history, purpose, and be inspired by his dead father? Well, Phantom Crowe solved all those issues in an eight minute scene, and even gave Clark a suit and cape at the end. Sorta lazy writing. But hey, it’s more Russell Crowe, so how mad can you get? The film also handled Lois Lane ( Amy Adams) somewhat awkwardly. Why did Zod want her in the spaceship with Superman? Did they ever explain, or was it just to make her look a little goofy with that helmet and then break him out? But again, it’s hard to hate on Amy Adams, and any complaint for the character doesn’t stem from her performance.
Where some people started losing interest seems to be the largely CGI-generated marathon action sequences. I’m not a huge CGI fan, but c’mon, it’s a Superman film. Were they bad effects? No- not even close to the disastrous Green Lantern or even the ho-hum Hobbit work. Some successfully reached the realm of visual spectacle (the Krypton sequence in particular was gorgeous). On the other hand, these parts should leave you wanting more, not checking your watch because hasn’t this climax fight lasted longer than heartburn from Taco Bell? One reason I enjoyed most of the action parts, however, was because I got to hear Hans Zimmer go into full epic-mode with the soundtrack again.
General Zod (Michael Shannon) was effective enough, but I don’t think Heath Ledger has anything to worry about. Maybe that wasn’t a fair comparison, since Zod doesn’t have close to the complexity a villain like The Joker boasts. The whole tie-in with Superman’s father was well-used, however, and gave a bit more depth. Antje Traue as his loyal enforcer Faora-Ul was a surprisingly good villain, maybe even upstaging Michael with her creepy eyes and unassuming prowess.
Maybe that’s the core issue for Nolan/Dark Knight fans- besides the obvious fact that he just produced, not directed the movie (instead we got Zack Snyder. Boo!), is that Man of Steel was never intended to be The Dark Knight. Instead of a billionaire taking the law into his own hands against psychopaths, you have an alien who looks like a human flying through skyscrapers so hard that they start to collapse. What I’m saying is that by nature it’s harder to take that premise and make it relatable and relevant- yet I would argue that Man of Steel has done a great job with the first part and a good effort with the second. We feel (or should feel) the intense isolation Clark feels because he doesn’t fit in, and the raging despair when he is forced to sever his only link to Krypton and his own race. Throw in the themes of hope and sacrifice and outstanding father figures (yay Kevin Costner), and congratulations, you have the most meaningful Superman flick yet, hidden behind the layers of CGI and plot devices.