The first Superman movie since 2006’s Superman Returns is finally here: Man Of Steel. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this movie and a lot of talk about what’s hinged upon its success. A connected DC cinematic universe essentially depends on the reactions of this movie. However, in this review I’m not going to dwell on that or any other outside factors. I’m here to review the movie as it is and try explain whether I thought it was any good. The short answer is yes, the long answer is a little more complicated. There will be some very minor spoilers within but I’m not going to cover any big plot points or anything that isn’t pretty much common knowledge from the Superman mythos.
Man of Steel begins with a version of Krypton that honestly feels like something out of Star Trek. I was very pleasantly surprised to see all the spaceships and futuristic tech everywhere. It works very well with the movie and even though we’re not on Krypton long you get enough glimpses to piece together an idea of what society on Krypton is like. Russell Crowe does well in his role as Superman’s father, scientist Jor-El. I was disappointed though that Superman’s mother Lara, played by Ayelet Zurer, has almost nothing to do. It was a wasted opportunity to not utilise her better.
After Krypton I expected the movie to then jump to Clark’s childhood and bring us steadily up to date, but instead the movie takes a different approach. Flashbacks are peppered throughout the movie where applicable and only over time do we see Clark’s upbringing properly. The flashbacks were some of the most powerful scenes in the entire movie. It’s impossible not to feel sorry for young Clark as he’s stuck feeling like a complete outcast. I empathised hugely with Martha Kent, played wonderfully by Diane Lane, as she carefully tries to help her son deal with his growing abilities. Kevin Costner plays adoptive father Jonathan Kent who I felt came across as a little too stoic. That said, there were a few moments where they really nailed the dynamic between father and son. The tone of the entire movie is in fact quite serious. Although it didn’t really impact my enjoyment I think a couple of well placed lighter moments could have helped balance it out.
This is definitely the story of Clark Kent learning who he is and becoming Superman, rather than us starting with the finished product. His relationship to the people of Earth is also explored from multiple angles such as the fear over what will happen when he announces himself to the world. It takes quite a long time until we actually see the iconic Superman outfit, something that probably should have happened a little quicker. But the build-up is mostly entertaining. By the time he’s in the red and blue we’ve got a great grasp on who he is. Which leads me into saying this is quite a personal movie, the supporting cast don’t get as much screen time as I expected. For instance, Laurence Fishburne is very entertaining as newspaper editor Perry White but he’s very rarely in the film. Superman himself, Henry Cavill, is quite a change from the previous Superman actors but he’s a good fit and suits the new tone. His casting is indicative of the movie at large, trying something a bit different with a familiar concept. Michael Shannon as General Zod works much better than I had expected, he has a huge amount of charisma and I had no trouble believing this was a man who had the complete respect of his followers. Perhaps due to the already quite large running time, 143 minutes, Zod’s followers are short changed in that they lack basically any character development whatsoever. The supporting character who gets given the most screen time is probably Lois Lane, who’s brilliantly played by Amy Adams. Lois here is very active and thankfully not relegated to the stereotype of just needing to be rescued.
Making for quite the spectacle, the fight scenes fit the epic scope of the character’s powers. Rather than weaken Superman to make his villains more credible he’s pitted against antagonists that are genuine threats to him. Buildings are completely wrecked through collateral damage, the amount of devastation actually caused in the movie is immense. Earth isn’t the only victim either as the opening scenes on Krypton are suitably large in destructive scope too.
Overall, this is a very good movie. There are some pacing issues in the middle as the story starts to drag its feet. But once the action kicks in then it’s non-stop excitement until the final scene. I was surprised finding myself wanting more action during the middle of the film. Going in I was actually concerned the movie would have too much action and too little character building. In fact the movie has absolute spades of character and instead it was a relief when the action did pick up. The unavoidable downside is all this development comes with the baggage that the outcome is rather obvious. It’s a necessary move to get us from A to B, this is an origin story after all, but it makes the middle segment feel even more like it’s treading water.
Whether you take this as a singular movie on its own, or as the start of a brand new series of movies, it does work. Clark is in a very different place by the end of the film than where he began and his journey to get there is a very enjoyable one. As already stated, the only wrinkle is that the middle of the film probably should have been edited down. Also the serious tone and plentiful use of sci-fi may not be to everyone’s tastes. But between the quiet personal moments in the flashbacks and the thrilling action pieces, the movie makes up for its faults to make it worth seeing.