This review contains spoilers. Just about every sentence is a spoiler!
I have to admit my expectations for Man of Steel were pretty high. And it did get pretty close. If I was giving out grades, it would get a B, maybe even a B+. But an over-reliance on explosions and effects for the IMAX/3D crowd unfortunately dilute the impact of an otherwise excellent movie.
Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams as Lois Lane. As I expected, Cavill expertly conveys the humility, goodness, and dry wit that work for this character. His American accent is perfect (and pretty neutral for Kansas…but this guy has worked all over the continent apparently). Let’s face it, it doesn’t hurt that he’s as handsome and almost incredibly fit as a Superman should be. Adams is convincing as a determined reporter who just can’t leave well enough alone. She isn’t sassy, just strong-willed. I liked that the character didn’t immediately go to pieces at her first sight of Superman…that’s not right for a hardboiled reporter, which is what Lois should be. These two have an easy chemistry that I’d like to have seen more of (more on that later).
In addition, I’m glad the writers found a rather clever way out of the conceit of Lois not knowing who Superman is, one that both strengthens the Lois character and furthers the plot. The idea that Superman’s identity is a secret to Lois was never believable to me — she’s a brilliant reporter and she can’t figure it out right away? Plus it’s always annoyed me that she didn’t recognize him supposedly because of his glasses, probably because I wear glasses myself. I think I basically look the same with or without them!
The casting. I think it’s excellent, from Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer as Clark’s birth parents, to Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as his adoptive ones, from Richard Schiff as the requisite scientist, to Christopher Meloni and the ever-reliable Harry Lennix as a military colonel and general respectively, it just works. Michael Shannon is an appropriately detestable Zod and parallel to Kal-El/Clark. And why didn’t it occur to anyone to cast Laurence Fishburne as a cranky newspaper editor before this? I really liked his take on Perry White. In addition, care was taken with the younger versions of Clark so that the actors playing the character at different ages actually look plausibly alike.
The structure of Superman’s back story. While the circumstances surrounding his birth kick the film off, much of Clark’s childhood is recounted in a series of flashbacks, which are triggered by seemingly ordinary occurrences in his life. While a couple of the people I saw this with were annoyed by it, I found it to be naturalistic and quite easy to follow.
Spot-on depiction of the severe ADD resulting from Superman’s powers. Sitting in a classroom at school, young Clark is bombarded with hundreds of stimuli, well-represented on film. Although I don’t have it nearly as bad, if you’ve ever wondered, that’s basically what it’s like.
The religious references. Superman is like Moses — a foundling, outcast from “normal” society — and he’s also like Jesus — Kal-El/Clark Kent was uniquely conceived, he is 33, he excels at turning the other cheek, and he sacrifices himself to save humanity. Also Jor-El (Crowe) becomes a computer-driven “ghost,” who believes Clark will be received as “a god.” All of this taps into elementary archetypes and helps to overcome the fact that we don’t really see enough motivation for Superman to save the people of Earth. Other than his parents, the only person who treats Clark with any shred of decency is a kid whose life he saves. So why should he bother? That’s why.
The not so good:
Cavill’s hair. I thought it was impossible to botch perfection but somehow they managed to goof up Henry’s look, at least part of the time. His hair style and color change from scene to scene and it became a distraction. This is very minor compared to…
Not enough interaction between the characters, and too much big multi-stage battle between Zod and Superman. The mass destruction of Metropolis goes on way too long, becoming tedious. This film has a handle on epic, particularly the flying scenes and big beautiful images, courtesy of director Zack Snyder and DP Amir Mokri. What interaction there is, worked well; I just wanted more of it. I wish there was a way to magically re-distribute some of the time spent on dismantling skyscrapers and put it into the characters’ relationships. It’s this unbalance that tips Man of Steel from excellent to pretty good.
Ruth from Flix Chatter predicted correctly long ago that Henry Cavill would play Superman, but here’s 13 other clues…in a gallery no less 😉