Please note that there may be some minor spoilage in this review.
Before we get to the meat of this review I think I should confess that one, I’m more of a Marvel guy and two, Superman isn’t my most favoritest DC character. With that being said, I’m going to try to be fair, but also caution that perhaps you should add a general +1 percentage point to my rating if Superman is to you what Emma Frost is to me. Now, with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about Man of Steel.
The additions and retconning that occurs in Krypton at the start of the movie worked particularly well and really put to the forefront Superman’s raison d’etre. You see, in this movie’s Krypton, Kryptonians are no longer born…they are bred. My use of the Matrix line isn’t incidental. The Kryptonian gestation pods looked very much like the people fields we see in the first Matrix movie. But, Kal El was a product of a biological union. He was born, not bred. This reinterpretation sets up the theme of Superman as guardian of possibilities, of helping us reach out our (and his) full potential, rather than succumbing to an inevitable future, whether one of human depravity or Kryptonian determinism, very nicely. It also provides a compelling motivation for the conflict between Kal El and Zod later on in the film.
The one problem I had with Goyer and Nolan’s script, however, is that they wanted to have their cake and eat it too. By the end of the film, everything about Superman is in place (the girlfriend, the job, the fortress of Solitude…). Batman Begins worked much better for me because it was such a slow burn. Bruce needed to learn everything, and while we can see that the basic components of the Batman we know is in place, it is still very much a work in progress, which is something I appreciated. Here, the script just moves so fast in an attempt to have all of the major components of the Superman mythos in place by the end of the film. It takes an inordinate amount of disbelief suspension to buy into where the movie leaves Kal-El. For one, it doesn’t seem to make sense to me that Perry would give someone who has no journalism experience whatsoever a job at the Daily Planet… (One wonders how that interview went… “do you have any qualifications for the position?”… “well, I was a fisherman, bar tender, and secret military base concierge…”sold!”). The development of the Lois/Clark relationship also seemed rushed and suffered from this really annoying tendency of Hollywood to just make characters fall head over heels with each other for no apparent reason. It may just be me, but if I were in Lois’ position, I probably wouldn’t be feeling attraction to this character that may have just, albeit unintentionally and indirectly, caused my death and the destruction of the planet. At the very least, I’d just be a little bit cautious before planting a big wet one on him. But again, that’s just me. The fact that Lois finds out who he really is in the first hour of the movie also removes one of my most favorite relationship dynamics in the Superman mythos: i.e. the love triangle between Lois, Clark, and Superman. I guess we’re also not getting the healthy journalistic rivalry from Lois and Clark either from this version of the story (unless the producers backtrack from this in a second movie, probably in a melodramatic way). So at the end of the flick, Clark (even though he seems to be woefully unqualified for the position) has a job at the Daily Planet as a reporter and has a girlfriend…a payoff that in my opinion, perhaps should have taken at least two movies. Perhaps this is Goyer and Nolan’s way of giving the fans the money shots they want, in case the movie doesn’t make enough money to net a sequel. I also didn’t mind how the Kal-El/Zod fight ended, but I already know it will make A LOT OF YOU unhappy.
Henry Cavill was more than competent enough to fill in the big red boots, and yes for those who care about such things, there is a scene or two which will probably rev up your objectification engines. It would have been interesting to see Cavill play ‘Clark’ (i.e. the pretending bumbling every day, dorky Clark), but the writers have decided to make him Superman for the bulk of the time. Even in his civilian persona, one gets the sense that the difference between Kal El’s heroic and civilian identities is a more a matter of modulation than type. I was also pleasantly surprised by the surprise cameo guest appearances by some geek icons in the movie. Helo and Geata from BSG show up, as well as Boyd Langton from Dollhouse. Christopher Meloni of Law and Order: SVU and True Blood also has a, pun intended, meaty role. But, perhaps the breakout performance for me was Amy Adam’s Lois Lane. That they casted someone who isn’t a Megan Fox look alike was a great choice in my opinion. All the great things about Lois’ character come through: she’s gutsy, she’s determined, she gets the story. Adams’ next door girl look manages to sell her character as a great journalist, rather than a beautiful woman who is acting like a journalist (i.e. Teri Hatcher). So kudos, Ms. Adams.
This is a Zack Snyder affair, so of course the visual spectacle of it all will be amazing and will not disappoint. The man behind Sucker Punch will bring on the visual pretty, if he brings nothing else. But again, much like with Watchmen and 300, what makes Snyder a great director also makes him not a great director. At times, it felt like I was watching a trailer of a movie, rather than a movie, since with every shot and scene, Snyder is trying to produce a moving painting. Everything looks epic, but not dynamic. Contrast for example, the climactic battle scenes in this movie vs. the Avengers’ battle in New York. There’s a sizzling dynamism in the latter, whereas Snyder sticks to what he does best in the former: long, lingering shots that have a lot of weight, but not a lot of dynamism. To me, it’s the difference between, for example, a 3D comic book cover a la DC Villains month versus a Bruce Lee kung fu fight. This lack of dynamism is particularly evident whenever Clark had to fight one of Zod’s minions. It seems that the entire Kyrptonian repertoire of fighting consists of mostly pushing each other (and causing massive property damage), with the occasional punch thrown in. With Superman’s varied power set, there must be a more dynamic way to stage a fight scene than just constantly pushing each other and then occasionally resorting to fisticuffs.
Finally, for those hoping and praying that this, THIS, is finally going to lead into that JLA movie all you DC fanboys have been salivating over, I have to disappoint you. There isn’t much reason to stay for the credits (there isn’t anything after), and besides a clear shot of a gasoline oil truck that bears the insignia ‘Lexcorp’, there isn’t much of an attempt to hint at a larger DC movie universe. I think the tone and general feel of the world Snyder, Goyer and Nolan established here is very amenable to a shared universe, but it seems that that isn’t a route that WB and DC want to go down at the moment. The movie also did the reverse of what, in my opinion, made the Marvel films so effective at world building: don’t maximize the scale of the threat in your lead-in movie if you want to build a shared world where all your heroes have to fight something truly epic. You can’t really raise the stakes higher than ‘destroying the whole world!’. What’s the point of having a JLA if Superman can just handle the problem by himself?
Overall, I thought it was a fun time and worth well the price of admission (or getting there two hours early to ensure me and my posse seats). I’m not the biggest Superman fan, as I mentioned, so perhaps y’alls love for the character and greater knowledge of the mythos might fill in the gaps that I saw in the film.