Wow. What a movie. Man of Steel is without a doubt, the Superman movie I personally have been waiting for. I enjoyed Superman and Superman II well enough for what they were, though I've never really liked Christopher Reeve in the role and the inherent goofiness of the tone and effects back then have always taken me out of those films. I won't really mention III and IV because, let's face it, there's no reason to. And Superman Returns has only one great sequence in it, the plane rescue; otherwise that movie is a gigantic mess. And while Man of Steel is not without its issues, it is definitely the best big screen representation of The Last Son of Krypton to date. Some SPOILERS follow so I recommend you see the movie before reading this.
Though the basic elements of Superman's origin are still here, the movie definitely makes some changes to established lore. We begin on the doomed planet of Krypton where scientist Jor-El (played wonderfully by the fantastic Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer, also brilliant) have the first natural Kryptonian birth in centuries. Turns out Kryptonians have been genetically engineering themselves for quite some time, breeding their people to be scientists or soldiers or what have you in test tubes that look like a cross between Matrix battery pods and a kelp forest. Jor-El believes that to save the legacy of Krypton he must send his newborn son to another planet away from the impending doom of his homeworld with all of the history and genetic information of his people. This puts him at odds with General Zod (Michael Shannon) who believes the future of Krypton should be based on the continued use of the codex, the device that stores all of that genetic information and helps to grow Kryptonians in the Matrix kelp forest (my terminology).
Jor-El steals the codex and is pursued by Zod and his army in a spectacularly realized scene on the beautifully rendered and very alien world of Krypton. It's apparent here that this movie is not just a superhero film, but a grand sci-fi epic as well. There are massive ships fighting each other as Jor-El flies a large winged creature through the fray to capture the codex and return home to send it off with his newborn son. Snyder's talent is best realized in epic scenes like this. He has a profound sense of visual grandeur that not very many other directors have. His film Suckerpunch might have been better if he'd just had someone else write it. Anyways, Zod fails to stop Jor-El and is eventually subdued and imprisoned in the Phantom Zone with his cohorts. Baby Kal-El gets away and Krypton explodes.
The next part is also familiar but slightly different, Kal-El's rocket crashes on Earth where Jonathan and Martha Kent find it. They raise him as their own and he grows up to be sort of a drifter, trying to find his place in the world. He knows he can do good with his powers but just doesn't quite know how to go about it yet. So he takes odd jobs here and there and leaves behind stories of miraculous deeds. These scenes are inter-cut well with scenes of his youth. One of my favorites being the one with Costner's Jonathan Kent when he reveals the rocket to Clark. It's a touching and heartfelt scene that Costner plays perfectly. He and Crowe both do an excellent job in this film.
While on his journey Clark eventually hears about a mysterious object found near the North Pole. He goes to investigate and it turns out to be a lost Kryptonian ship sent out by his people thousands of years ago. It's there that he learns all about himself and his people via a holographic AI of his father. He also meets Lois Lane (the gorgeous Amy Adams) who is on assignment covering the mysterious object. From here Clark Kent gets his red and blue suit and learns to fly, just in time to confront General Zod and his followers who arrive hovering over Earth in a giant ship, demanding that he show himself. All kinds of amazing superhuman battling follows.
While I do absolutely love this movie, it isn't perfect. For starters there are some pacing issues. There's that epic chase/battle sequence on Krypton followed by quite a bit of dramatic stuff before there is any more action. It didn't really bother me but some people might get bored. And when the action picks up again it does not let up until the end of the movie. Again, I had no problem with it but I have heard a lot of people complain about it. Though I don't know why anyone would have a problem watching an inordinate amount of some of the greatest superhero battling ever committed to film.
Seriously guys, it is epic. I am not saying that The Avengers has been blown out of the water but, this is the closest anything will get to that level until a Justice League movie comes out. We finally get a Superman WHO CAN HIT SOMETHING. We've never gotten to see the Superman who is able to punch a villain without holding back and knock him or her through several buildings at a time. It's also filmed so well. Zach Snyder does an excellent job of making all of the hits look big without resorting to cheap camera tricks like quick cuts or shaky camera nonsense. The visual effects are also amazing. I'm not sure how much is practical but I have a feeling they used a lot and fused it with the CGI. Whatever they did, it looks so good. My inner 10 year old had a ball watching Superman slam Zod through two or three buildings at a time or throwing him into several oil tankers at once. Someone oughta tell the mayors of Smallville and Metropolis to find a way to keep less oil tankers around because there are way too many.
I loved the action, but as we all know acting is important to make us care about the people participating in the action. Cavill is brilliant as Superman. He has an incredible amount of presence in the role. He's regal and god-like while maintaining a sense of charm and accessibility. I've heard some critics and fans say this Superman has no personality or humor. But I disagree. When he first learns to fly you can see that he is genuinely enjoying the discovery of probably his coolest power. On top of that there are several fun jokey scenes. The film is just more solemn than what Marvel has been putting out.
As I mentioned before Costner and Crowe are both brilliant. I also love Amy Adams as Lois Lane. At first I was like, red-haired Lois Lane? BLASPHEMY! But she embodies the character's brash news-getting persona so well that it just makes sense. She also portrays Lois's capable personality. She's abducted with Clark by Zod and his people but never freaks out. It's nice to see such a strong female character in a movie like this filled with brawny men.
On the villain side Michael Shannon has all of the necessary gravitas to make Zod a threatening personage. I think the script fails him a little, not giving him anything really juicy until the end which ends up forcing Superman to make a huge choice that will have fans talking for weeks and maybe even years to come. Personally I liked it, it was bold and shocking.
As I said before Snyder's visual sense is very present here. His Man of Steel is a visual marvel. There are so many shots in this film that I want to freeze and hang on my walls as posters. One shot in particular, not necessarily that cool when you talk about it, when Superman is hovering in front of a bunch of tanks, just looked like it was straight out of a comic. It captured his regal nature perfectly.
The effects, costume-design, production and art design, and soundtrack are also all magnificent. Everything adds up to making this film feel like the entire $225 million budget made it onscreen. Hans Zimmer's score is particularly great, continuing his work on epic DC films after scoring the last three Batman films.
If you're a fan of Superman this is a must, if you're a sci-fi fan this is a must, if you're a summer blockbuster fan this is a must. Man of Steel is a visual beauty of a film with plenty of action to whet any comic fans appetite. It might have some slight pacing issues but to me it isn't anything to really complain about. 4.5 out of 5 stars.