***BEWARE OF SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT***
- I tend to think that Hugh Jackman was born to play Wolverine. Similarly, Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect actor to play Tony Stark, not counting rubbish Iron Man scripts. Now, I can add Henry Cavill’s name to this list. This guy embodies every aspect of Superman perfectly to become one with the suit. He certainly looks the part with his endearing smile and chiseled muscularity, but he manages to expand on older iterations of the character as well. Cavill is emotive and expressive, which shows how human he is despite being Kryptonian. Critics have complained that the new Superman is too “dark” and “serious”. Well, they must not be well acquainted with Superman because he has plenty of “dark” moments within his history. It’s important to let go of any idealized 1950s version of the hero because this is a new hero for a new generation. Furthermore, this is a more, dare I say it, realistic take on Superman. Yes he is the Man of Steel, but he still struggles to come to terms with his identity and destiny. Thus, I think the strength of the character lies in the fact that Superman is much more relateable than before as we get to see him become the Man of Tomorrow. You will smile as he shares a tender moment with this mother; you will be agonized as he watches his father die; and you will believe that a man can fly. A lot of this can be attribute to good writing, but Henry Cavill pulls all this off with aplomb and does the character justice.
- Save for a few performances, every other actor was on point. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are perfect as the Kents and bring heart and humility to Clark’s life. Michael Shannon’s General Zod goes beyond Terence Stamp and delivers a rousing, malevolent, and scary performance as Zod. I particularly liked that he went toe-to-toe against Superman. Their scenes together, especially the sea of skulls scene, are some of the best of the movie. The standout performance of the film belongs to Russel Crowe who was absolutely brilliant as Jor-El. His performance carries heart as he is the only honest connection that Clark has left to his heritage. Also, I don’t think I have seen Crowe kick so much butt since Gladiator as he fights to secure his son’s and Krypton’s future. The entire opening section on Krypton was done so spectacularly well that I thought I was watching a Russell Crowe science fiction epic and not Man of Steel. All I know is I want to see him in every damn sequel.
- Hans Zimmer proves yet again why he sits atop the mountain when it comes to composing film scores. The music is loud and boisterous, but it also knows when to yield and allow room for the softer harmonies to take center stage. Overall, it is an impactful score which significantly enhances the movie. It’s also a pleasure to listen to through a decent pair of headphones. One minute you’ll be lost in your thoughts and the next you’ll feel like flying or fighting in a battle. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any single theme that sands out as “Superman’s Theme”. I suspect this might become more fleshed out over the course of later movies. My personal favorite is the track entitled “Flight” which plays when Clark first takes to the sky.
- The visual spectacle of the film has to be seen to be believed. I would hate to be one of the visual effects artists working on this film. It makes Transformers look like a cartoon drawing. This is never more apparent than when you’re on Krypton. Getting to see that world and its culture, at least the end of it, come to life was mesmerizing. Additionally, the fight scenes with Superman feel like they popped out of the comic book and onto the screen. It’s very cool stuff to witness Zod and Kal-El battling it out over the city. Still, it’s not all great (more on that later).
- Some people are taking issue with what Kal-EL does at the end of the movie. I thought it was handled splendidly and creates a mountain of conflict for the hero to deal with.
- Special mention goes to Faora. Zod’s right hand woman is EVIL to the core and HOT as hell. Her fight scenes manage to even trump Superman’s. Hell, she kicks his butt all over the place and tosses him around like a rag doll. Also, there was a bit of blink and you miss it fan service: a LEXCORP logo on a truck and a WAYNE INDUSTRIES logo on a satellite. Also, I wonder what else escaped from the Phantom Zone. I would have enjoyed something more substantial (e.g. post credits scene), but this is a good sign of things to come.
- Lois Lane. I have no issue with Amy Adams’ portrayal of the character, but it is a horribly written character that drags down the plot. One minute she is an intrepid and gutsy reporter (makes sense) and the next she’s a damsel in distress shouting “Clark! Clark!” all over the place. I felt the progression of the character was completely wrong. Within the first hour of the movie she figures out who Superman is and becomes his best friend/lover within the next hour. In fact, what could have been one of the best scenes in the movie (i.e. Clark meeting Jor-El and becoming Superman) is ruined because in between that Clark has to go save Lois from apparent death. Yes, we get that Lois and Clark are meant to be together, but it doesn’t have to happen in the first movie. I think it would have worked a lot better had their paths not crossed in this movie at all. In fact, Clark should have had Lana Lang as his confidant and friend (she’s in the movie) in Smallville and saved the Lois romance for the next movie.
- The Clark and Lois dynamic also suffers because this film’s pacing is rush rush rush to get to the action. It is style over substance. After saving Lois from falling for the second/third time, the two of them share an amorous kiss. Wait! Why are they kissing? Why are they together now? There’s little to no development to justify them getting together. Their romance just seems shoehorned into the plot and only serves to damage it. The problem of pacing makes also means a lot of characters are left underdeveloped or only exist to move the story along. For example, the doctor from DARPA only exists to define terraforming and slot a key into a hole. Another example would be Laurence Fishburne and his gang of the Daily Planet Ineptitudes. They are only present to get into trouble and create pointless drama when one of them gets pinned under rubble. Seriously, if you decide to stand and watch a building in front of you collapsing , then you deserve to have it fall on you. The worst example is Lara-El who has a tiny role and she doesn’t really get a chance to lend emotion to the role of a mother sending her child away.
- The visual effects are great but it’s all so messy and starts to look ugly fast (e.g. Transformers). There’s just too much of it all over the place, especially once the World Engines come into play. I’m particularly tired of watching New York getting pummeled in every other movie. Are there not any other locations on Earth? It also looks silly because Superman only seems to be adding to the destruction. I don’t have an issue with big explosions and set pieces, but it should be directed inventively and intelligently (e.g. The Dark Knight, Avengers). This is a personal annoyance but I also didn’t like the design philosophy of the Kryptonians. Everything just looks bulky and industrious as opposed to sleek and functional. I mean they are a spacefaring race lightyears beyond anything else. Also, the 3D in the movie adds NOTHING to the movie. It’s all post production 3D and the movie looks much better in the regular screen format.
- I hated the stupid ending about Superman being American. What a load of crock. He is supposed to be a citizen of Earth and protector of all. This really hurt the image of the hero for me. Also, why does Clark go to a church to get guidance? He has Jor-El, his mother and Lois to talk to, but he goes to some random priest who gives him the most hollow and cliched advice about trust and faith.
- Clark putting on his glasses and joining the Daily Planet just doesn’t work for me in this version. First, Lois and Clark just shared a long kiss in front of everyone who matters at the Daily Planet but somehow they don’t remember his face when they hire him? The army stood face to face with him and they can’t track him down at the paper or, as Clark tells them, Kansas? Hell, Lois found him out with nothing but old fashioned reporter skills and met his mother! Clark has saved countless lives around the world before becoming Superman, so I’m sure they know his identity. This is the inherent issue with making Lois such a focal point of this story because working at The Daily Planet just seems like fan service with no thought behind it. Imagine how cool it would have been to have Clark working under Lois without her figuring it out until later on. It would have meant amusing character interactions and development, but more importantly the romance would have made sense. Also, what’s the trend with superhero identities not being secret anymore in movies?
Is it perfect? Nope. Is it better than a lot of other superhero movies? Yes. The best? Hell no! If you’re a Superman fan, then this a great new version to be excited about and it is a lot of fun. It has its flaws, but all films do. The first half of the movie is really strong with superb performances. The second half is a slight let down (mainly as soon as New York is attacked) but it doesn’t deter too much from the overall epic scale of the story and brutal action.