Let's take a step back shall we. What options did Zach Snyder and Christopher Nolan have with rebooting Superman? How about cartoony and fun Superman? That was done and redone in the 70s and 80s. Also, Marvel is already churning out a slew of light, but very fun and emotional superhero movies. So scratch that. How about a cartoony, but serious and dramatic Superman? Bryan Singer tried that back in 2006. Now, Superman Returns wasn't unwatchable, but it also wasn't anything that would inspire desire for a sequel. So scratch that. Nolan and Snyder's only other option? A gritty and realistic take on the character. That's the movie they wanted to make anyway, and it was their only option.
So how did the filmmakers do, pass or fail? They get the passing grade, but just barely. I'll give them a C+, maybe a B-. They pass, not convincingly ... but they do not fail. For the first hour of this movie, it felt like Batman Begins: The Superman Edition. We are introduced to the origins of our hero in an intelligent fashion. There are interesting dramatic situations, and there is a huge moral question raised. Would the world be ready for Superman? It's this question that, number 1 originated the movie, and number 2, it drives the beginning hour of the movie forward. Before Zod comes to earth, the whole thing is so promising. But then the action kicks in...
The planet Krypton is dying. But before it does, the noble Jor-El launches a ship from Krypton to Earth. On this ship is Kal-El, Jor's son. Kal will go to earth as the last remaining Kryptonian. You know the story, he is adopted by the Kent family, and becomes Clark Kent. From there, he has to wrestle with his identity. Should he help people with his power? Is the world ready to accept someone like him? He'll have to answer these questions quickly, because an old threat from Krypton shows up on Earth. General Zod travels to Earth to collect Clark, and in turn, colonize our planet as the next Krypton.
Alright, I've been over the story. The first half is great. The questions Clark asks himself are like a magnified version of issues we all face. Should we do all we can to help others? Can one person make a difference in the lives of those around him? Sure the questions are a lot more significant when you're Superman, but they still can apply to everyone. The moral of the movie reminded me of Batman Begins: "What chance do we have if the good people do nothing?" Bravo for the first act and a half.
But when General Zod arrives on Earth, everything goes downhill. For the most part, once the action starts, the drama and morality of the story disappears. I'm not against action. I love it, and I fully expect it from my Superman movie. I'm not against a little bit of demolition. If indestructible aliens came to Earth, then stuff would blow up and buildings would fall. I'm not arguing that.
But the problem isn't in the action itself. In the moment, the action was pretty awesome once it finally did arrive. Yes, it's all very cool. But it's not colorful enough. No one has any fun (not that that's necessary, per se). The settings where the battles are staged are too drab and boring for it to leave a lasting impression. Also, the entire thing feels a lot more like a Sci-Fi movie than a Superhero movie. But it's still very good action, even if it does feel like "Sci-Fi Man from Outer Space" and not "Superman."
Whereas, the destruction in this movie is WAY over the top. This is the main complaint people have about this movie. Everything: skyscrapers, cars, and houses are trampled with reckless abandon. And like I said earlier, if aliens did come to Earth, some demolition would follow. But this movie just wallows in it. It doesn't bat an eye at the damage and life-loss it causes. It becomes ridicules after a good 20 minutes, then it goes on for another 40. It's just: cars get crushed, buildings crumble, and tanker trucks explode. Over and over and over again. While this is a big issue, it is an easily correctible one: just show some restraint with you action. Is that too much to ask?
The movie is bolstered by a slew of superb performances, even if the characters are a bit bland. Henry Cavill plays a handsome Clark Kent. He isn't given the chance to let the fun side of his personality out, but I expect more of that in the sequel. Clark has to do major soul-searching this entire movie ... not exactly something to take lightly and crack jokes about. Cavill does an excellent job bringing *this* version of Superman to the screen. It seems the character is reserved, but I have full confidence that Cavill could handle anything the role requires. Hopefully, they'll expand on Clark personal side a bit more in future movies. As it is, Cavill does a fine job with the character in these very serious situations. The best moments are when Clark's joy shows through, like the first time he flies, and when he tells Martha that he found out the truth about his past.
I've never seen Amy Adams give a bad performance. And she is as terrific as you would expect as Lois Lane. The character is written a bit weakly, without enough personality. But I really love Adams in the part. She is perfect! Give her more distinctiveness in the sequels!
Superhero movies have a very hard time nailing the villain role. When the "bad guy" works, the movie is vaulted into greatness. The Joker in The Dark Knight and Loki in The Avengers are both classic examples of tremendous villains. On the other hand, the whole Mandarin fiasco in Iron Man 3, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, and Red Skull in Captain America (to a lesser extent) are all examples of a poor villain holding a movie back. So where does Michael Shannon as General Zod fall? Somewhere squarely in the middle. Shannon's performance is top-notch. He has everything you want from a villain, like menace, motivation, and physical power. But for one reason or another, he just isn't that memorable.
The supporting cast is overflowing with talent. The fathers in Clark's life provide most of the quality drama. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner are impeccable in their roles. And Diane Lane is very down to earth as Martha Kent.
Hans Zimmer, composer of countless blockbusters, takes on the scoring duties for Man of Steel. Following in the footsteps of John Williams is next to impossible. So Hans doesn't even try, nor should he have. The film music snobs hate Zimmer's score. It's simple, electronic, and not overly heroic. Not a lick like Williams Superman. But it fits the movie like a glove, as is the case with almost every Zimmer score. And surprisingly, Zimmer does something with Superman that Williams never did: he gives Clark heart. Williams score was huge and epic, but it never did capture the humanity of the character. Zimmer's straightforward piano theme for Clark Kent has a simple beauty that Williams never chose to touch. Zimmer also writes a great theme for Superman himself, but it isn't heard much until the end credits. It's not Hans's best score, but it works wonders for the movie!
So how does this all sort out? Favorable, I'll tell you that. I liked the movie as an incredibly flawed piece of ground work. I sincerely hope that Zach Snyder and David Goyer learn some lessons from their first try. Throw some more humor and fun into the movie, give the characters more of a chance to show their personality, and for the love of all that's sacred, cut back on the mindless action! I'm not exactly "excited" to see Batman and Wonder Woman in this universe. But I am wildly fascinated how and if they'll be able to pull it off. But enough about the future, at the present I view Man of Steel as 65% interesting character study with a fine moral question, and 35% senseless destruction. Thankfully, the last five minutes of the movie left me with a big smile on my face! In Batman vs. Superman, I get the sense that we'll forget the Sci-Fi vibe of this movie, and find out what it really feels like to be a superhero!
"What are you going to do when you're not saving the world?" 6.5/10