Let’s get something out of the way: I’m not a Superman fan. I loved to hate him, finding him bland and uninteresting. At least until the New 52 reboot and the “new” Superman who’s exponentially more interesting and human and surprisingly relatable.
With that said, you’ll understand how glad I am to say this: Man of Steel fucking rocks! It has to be the best Superman movie ever made. Move aside Chris Reeve, you’ve been dethroned; and Tom Welling, you might still hold the title for best Clark Kent, having played the guy for 10 years, but Henry Cavill is at least snapping at your heels if not completely overtaken you.
I loved the suit, closer to the New 52 version than the old one, something I think we can all be grateful, not more underwear on the outside and a very Kevlar-esque look about it.
I’m a big adaptation nut, meaning I’ll complain that stuff wasn’t adapted perfectly, but I love every single decision made for Man of Steel, like Action Hero Jor-El kicking ass during the first few minutes, General Zod having redeemable qualities and the Codex, a brilliant plot device. Flash-drive Jor-El was also a fantastic choice, replacing the weird crystals we’d come to expect since the first Superman movies.
With General Zod in the picture, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Superman 2, but Man of Steel blows that movie out of the water, leaving no trace behind, particularly since it drives home the point that by being under the yellow sun for all his life, Clark is much more in control and is much more durable and strong than Zod and his followers, something I’ve often complained in Superman media, where Kryptonians went to Superman-level in seconds. Here their advantage lies in numbers and combat training, but not in power. That and General Zod is actually a real and flawed person and not a cartoonish villain.
Speaking of villains, I loved Zod’s army for this movie. As much as I love Lex Luthor and consider him a classic and Iconic Villain, he’s not much of a challenge. Zod on the other hand can go toe to toe with Clark and even put him in the uncomfortable position of fighting his own people. It’s what makes the end of the movie so powerful. Maybe for MoS2 we can get Darkseid and Apocolyps, ‘cause let’s face it, we all want Darkseid showing up!
This is also the first Superman movie in a long, long time where Kal throws a punch, something he never does in Bryan Singer’s horrendous take on the character. In this one he fights his ass off, and every single fight scene is awesome and visually stunning, from those involving Superman to Faora kicking human asses in blinks of the eye.
The story itself is compelling and something that could be straight out of the comics and the resolution is powerful and the end sets up the status-quo we all know. It starts out with familiar sights, Krypton and Jor-El warning the council of the coming destruction, with the slight twist of Zod’s rebellion mixed in, Clark’s escape with the Codex and Zod’s exile to the Phantom Zone. It takes maybe fifteen to twenty minutes but sets the story and most of the character relationships and at once hooks you for the rest of the film.
Compared to previous incarnations, this is a much more serious and dark story, akin to the Batman Begins series. No more campy joyous Superman, overconfident, sweet, funny and ultimately flat with mediocre villains and supporting characters. Instead we are given a good story supported by fantastic actors breathing new life into characters we’ve known for a long time, adding twists to the very well-known status quo.
Henry Cavill is a fantastic Superman and Clark Kent, balancing the superhero and the farm boy from Kansas perfectly, while also adding a few layers you can see in his every expression, like the search for answers, the solitude that comes from being the last of your kind and the fight to try and do the right thing all the time. Having Clark move from place to place, trying to fit in and ultimately failing made his character that more believable and relatable.
Russell Crow is the best Jor-El, surpassing Marlon Brando with his very real, very down-to-earth portrayal of the character. While Brando’s take was more of the wise mentor and guide, Russell’s is not only that but also a father, you can see the parent in him throughout the movie. In fact, all 4 of Clark’s parents are compelling, including Lara. You feel her and Jor’s grief at letting go of their child, Ayelet Zurer’s determined look with tears streaming down her face making the scene that much more powerful.
On the earth side, Diane Lane is a wonderful Ma Kent, sweet and caring but also strong, you can see how much of a rock she is to Clark. Kevin Costner is a great Pa Kent, who in this incarnation is much more concerned about people not finding out about Clark, citing just how much would change if they did. He comes off a bit stern or judgemental, but you can feel his concern and love in each of his lines and even his last breath is spent protecting his son. Even with his very few appearances, you can see and feel how this man helped make Clark into the superhero he is.
Even beyond the plot, this is a movie about family, about belonging, about finding your place in the world, and about parenting. The parents have the most powerful moments and performances, showing you the level of commitment they have to their son and just how much they’d sacrifice to help him reach his destiny. It’s also a very Human movie, focusing much more on the man wearing the cape than the superhero-ing. In that it’s similar to Iron Man 3, both more about a man and his choices and what defines him, which works amazingly for an origin story.
I have only a couple of gripes about the movie, most of them drowned under the sheer beauty of the film and the terrific performances. The first is Zod’s crew being all but forgettable with the exception of Zod. Even Faora is forgettable. Maybe it was on purpose, to make Zod the centerpiece of this group, in which case I say bravo.
Zod isn’t portrayed as a madman, but a flawed and determined individual, born and bound to a role and a duty. He only descends to madness and absolute cruelty and evil once Superman destroys his dream and leaves him without a purpose, a shell of his self, a man with nothing to lose or hold dear. Michael Shannon is to Superman Movies what Heath Ledger was to Batman. They are actors and portrayals I believe cannot be topped.
Perry White isn’t WHITE, but instead played by Laurence Fishburne. My inner adaptation nut tingles but I just love Fishburne playing anything and his take on White is fantastic so it’s a minor gripe at best.
My last thought when I left the theater this evening was: “If this is the level of quality we can expect from DC movies now, bring on Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, a new Batman & Green Lanter and above all, Bring on the JLA!”
And as I type this, I haven’t changed my mind. If you haven’t seen the movie, go see it ASAP. Even with some of the stuff I may have spoiled during this review it’ll be a very enjoyable experience.