Director Zack Snyder's take on the Superman legend is seriously reverent. He strikes a tone that's lighter than Christopher Nolan's unrelentingly violent and contemplative Dark Knight trilogy but darker than the humor- and banter-filled The Avengers. Superman has always been unique among the popular superheroes: He's not a mutant or a billionaire with a penchant for vigilante justice; he's a straight-up alien who doesn't know why he's on Earth, where he came from, or what his purpose is as a lone outsider in a world of humans. Cavill is dashing and strong enough to pull off the role, and he certainly has the broodiness and the requisite Snyder-mandated six pack. But all of his self reflection, as understandable as it is, could use more levity, more spark, more of Christopher Reeve's sense of joy in the red and blue costume.
It's the more mature generation of actors in the movie who lend it its gravitas: Costner and Crowe as Superman's two fathers, both dead but still guiding and inspiring and encouraging him (literally, in the case of Jor-El and symbolically -- and via flashbacks -- in the case of Jonathan Kent). Ultimately, though, Man of Steel, like Superman II, is a face-off between Superman and his ideological nemesis, supervillain General Zod. Shannon is brilliantly cast, and despite being ruthless, actually expresses precisely why he's willing to sacrifice humanity: Protecting and ensuring the future of the Krypton people is what he was created to do, no matter what the cost. And Snyder certainly knows his way around action sequences and huge CGI set pieces, while keeping the violence much less bloody than 300. The two-and-a-half-hour movie is considerably longer than necessary, but the dramatic fight scenes will keep audiences from checking their watches. The prospect of a sequel is enticing, because now that Clark has accepted his Superman persona, there should be more fun, humor, and romance in store for the Man of Steel.