With the Dark Knight trilogy over, the disasters that were Green Lantern and Superman Returns, and the desire for Warner Bros. to get a Justice League movie off the ground, to say that there is a lot of pressure on Man of Steel is a bit of an understatement. Fortunately for the WB, Man of Steel rights all of the wrongs of the last Superman movie, and creates a world worth building around for future installments.
The first thing I noticed while watching the movie is how good it looks. From Krypton to Metropolis it is a very beautiful film. Colors are vibrant and is it just shot well. In some parts I was reminded of Thor’s design, but it adds a depth that is all its own. I would not recommend the 3D version though, as it seemed to have very little impact or immersion.
More than any Superman movie before it, Man of Steel is a true origin story of not only Superman, but Clark Kent as well. Using flashbacks throughout the first half of the film, we see how Clark made his way to the Kent house in Kansas, the scrutiny and hardships he went through while discovering and learning to control his powers, and deciding the type of man he wants to become.
That last part is especially key, as Superman is constantly faced with moral choices from his Earth dad, his Kryptonian dad, his enemies and the world around him. The way he comes to these decisions gives us a clear vision into not just what makes Superman so good and pure, but how he got this mind state in the first place. In this way, Man of Steel is more about Clark than it is about Superman.
Russell Crowe is very good as Superman’s biological father from Krypton, Jor-El. He urges Superman to be something great, and is believable in everything that he says,which isn’t easy considering some of the plot points he has to deliver, and makes you care for people you know are doomed. The opening of the movie could have been a movie on it’s own (hello prequel!) as we see what makes Superman (Cal-El) so special in a Krypton that we get to see (albeit briefly) as a vibrant world that is on the way to self destruction. There are a couple of scenes where Jor-El overstays his welcome, being extremely important to the plot even after his death, but he does push things along. He is critical in grounding this movie in any sort of believability. Meanwhile, Kevin Costner is practically typecast as the farmer Jonathan Kent, who wants to protect Clark from the world by having him hide his powers. The way both Jonathan and Jor-El affect who Clark is with similar yet totally different ideals is very interesting, despite Costner’s presence being much less felt than Crowe’s.
At the heart of the conflict is General Zod. Zod leads an army of banished Kryptonians to earth in order to find Superman and used him (dead or alive) to help save the Kryptonian species by destroying and recreating Earth as the new Krypton. Zod is well represented by Michael Shannon, who gives us a Zod that can be related to in some aspects. He’s not just out to kill Superman. Instead he is looking to save his people’s existence in the only way he knows how. This makes his dialogue with Superman even more compelling as Supes is forced to choose between the planet he’s from and the planet he’s lives on (it reminds me of the Transformers episode “The Ultimate Doom” where Optimus Prime has to choose between Earth and Cybertron). The confrontations between Superman and Zod bring all of the movie’s themes to the forefront.
Speaking of confrontations, remember how Superman Returns has no real enemy for Superman to face? Well forget that. Man of Steel knew it had to make a big impact and it did, taking perhaps the most famous formidable enemies that can physically challenge Superman and created some fantastic fight scenes and other action sequences. A fight against a couple of Zod’s top soldiers was specifically entertaining, while the final fight between Superman and Zod ended things with a flourish, ending in a way I definitely did not expect, showing once and for all how far Superman is willing to go in order to save lives.
With most of the supporting cast out of the way, I’ll bring up now the fact that Henry Cavill is a pretty damn convincing Superman. He certainly looks the part physically, and while he’s is all action for the fight scenes, he also shows a gentle nature that is just as big of a part of Superman’s character as flying is. His emotional vulnerability is on display as he travels the country tying to help people the best way he feels he can, hiding in obscurity whenever his deeds are noticed by too many. He is truly a Superman in training.
On the other end of the spectrum is Lois Lane, which I feel Amy Adam’s just wasn’t right for. She plays Lois tough, but somehow she comes off as too sweet to me. She is just missing a certain edge. I did however appreciate the liberties taken with Lois trying to find this mystery hero, instead of Clark just starting at the Daily Planet for no reason. No complaints from the rest of the cast, as Lawrence Fishburn (Perry White) and Rebecca Buller (Jenny, yes JENNY Olsen) are mostly just window dressing but do provide a human element that is needed when watching alien gods duke it out.
I do have a few issues with the story. Lois and Superman’s eventual relationship got going a little too quickly for my taste. The plan to save the world seems a little corny and it was pretty heavy for a Superman movie. A little more levity could have gone a long way. I’m also curious how Clark was able to keep faking his resume to get jobs under false names. Also, this movie was so big that I worry about leaving little room for sequels. Metropolis has already been torn apart once so doing it again wouldn’t be as menacing. If it is indeed Lex Luthor in the opposing corner, it could be a more psychological move that this one (just spitballing). This is nitpicking though in what is easily the best Superman movie in over 30 years. It had action, drama, character development, and just enough easter eggs to satisfy nerds and give us an essence of what could be on the way if they continue with this series (which I fully expect).
By the way, I’ll save you the trouble and let you know now that there is no post credits scene.