WHAT I LIKED:
Henry Cavill – I buy this guy as Superman, whereas Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, and Brandon Routh were more like “it’s impossible to cast Superman perfectly, but these guys are tall and seem earnest.” Cavill can be nice without seeming unaggressive, as in his “I’m not asking to help you, I’m telling you” tone towards General Swanwick. This is a Superman that isn’t removed from danger because he’s immune to it; he’s just pretty confident he can handle any shit that comes his way.
Krypton – Man of Steel presents a much more interesting Krypton than any of the movies so far–not as interesting as the comics, but the comics have had 900 months to explore the concept. I definitely got a John Byrne vibe from it, which surprised me because that was like three or four reboots ago, but it fit with the premise. Byrne’s Krypton is not just a doomed world, but a civilization in decline. Granted, a fantastic Curt Swan kind of Krypton would be even more enjoyable, but after decades of glaciers and crystals I’ll take what I can get on the big screen.
Kevin Costner – I’ve never sat down and compared all the different versions of Jonathan Kent, so I can’t say for sure that Costner is the best one. But I am certain that this is the first time I bought Pa as a midwestern farmer, and not the idea of a midwestern farmer as conceived by some big city writer or movie director. In playing the role Costner comes across like some guy my dad would know, at an age where he’s not ready to admit he’s no longer the alpha male in his family. The father-son quarrel especially rang true.
Urban Legend Superman – I’m a sucker for the period after Clark is grown up and leaves home but before he decides to act publicly as Superman. It’s a fertile ground for doing stories you can’t do after Superman’s debut, and this movie takes advantage. It’s a blast watching that mysterious unkempt stranger showing up in random places helping people and sneaking in his powers. And it provided a novel way to introduce Lois Lane to the story, by acknowledging that sooner or later an investigative journalist would notice Clark’s trail and trace it back to the Kents’ farm.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
The plot – Basically Krypton is dying, so Jor-El’s solution is to start fresh by sending his son to Earth, and General Zod’s solution is to turn Earth into a new Krypton and make all the same mistakes again. This conflict reminds me of nothing so much as the “World of New Krypton” storyline a few years back that sucked so hard that I dropped the Superman comics and DC rebooted them. You can’t get into “Earth vs. Krypton” because Krypton is dead–that’s the one thing everybody knows about it–so you can’t shake the feeling that you’re watching the last desperate twitches of a spent force. Superman II avoided this dilemma by depicting Zod as a self-interested (not nationalist) megalomaniac who is freed by (rather than in denial of) Krypton’s demise. In contrast, Man of Steel feels like a pointless (albeit well choreographed) brawl over a moot point.
The pacing – It felt like every time the movie started to build momentum, we had to grind things to a halt to show another flashback to Superman’s childhood or a Jor-El speech. It sucks to have to say that, because this movie deserves points for letting Superman be active and alive rather than floating around being thoughtful. But somewhere along the line someone still thinks that pensive reflection is what makes it a Superman movie, which is especially frustrating in light of the Nolan Batman movies and the Avengers franchise raising the bar for superhero blockbusters.
Superman didn’t save many people – OK, you know that scene in the 1978 movie, where Superman saves Lois in the falling helicopter? Of course you do. What makes it so iconic is that it’s the perfect example of what makes Superman such an appealing fantasy–Lois’s danger becomes increasingly apparent, and as tension mounts all you can do is wish that some guy with all the power to fix it would swoop in and fix it. (Similarly satisfying: Captain America saving that old man in Avengers; any time Batman says “I’m Batman.”) Trouble is, Man of Steel has several scenes like that in which Superman frankly can’t fix it, either because he’s fixing something else or Zod’s thugs are all as powerful as he is. I don’t want to be too hard on the big guy, because he did save the world and that’s where I keep all my stuff. But throughout the third act there are places where I wished someone would magically prop up the falling buildings or rescue the frightened minor characters. And when Superman is literally in your movie, it’s kind of frustrating when he can’t be there every time it looks like a job for Superman.
Jor-El – Let’s be clear: the whole point of Jor-El is that he’s gone. He cannot raise his son, he cannot know what will happen to his son, and he cannot help his son. That’s what he has to come to grips with when they launch the rocket, and that’s why he doesn’t need to be all over the movie after that. As soon as any Superman story has to rely on a premise of “Luckily, Jor-El thought of that so he packed this into the rocket with Kal,” it’s time for a rewrite. Man of Steel has Jor-El pack a handy fully interactive Jor-El hologram that can literally do everything for Clark except punch General Zod. Imagine if Batman’s dad built the Batcave and left him extensive notes on how to be Batman, as well as a prerecorded plea for the villain to abandon his mad scheme so innocent lives are not lost. It’s kind of like that.
Again with the Jesus references – Look, I get it, Superman came from the heavens to save the earth in his early 30s, but regular people sometimes regard him with suspicion. But that’s also right where the similarities with Jesus end, so can we get over this already? You’d think somewhere around the part where Clark is flying around the Indian Ocean trying to zap a giant world engine with his heat vision, the writers would start to notice that this isn’t very much like the New Testament after all.
The Daily Planet is almost irrelevant – It’s not that I object to a Superman story that doesn’t involve the Daily Planet and its staff. It’s that time is wasted on these characters when they are irrelevant to the plot. I strongly suspect that the folks who made this movie would have preferred to dispense with the journalism stuff altogether, but they didn’t think they could get away with reinventing Lois Lane as one of the military guys. As it is, the scene where Perry White and Steve Lombard have to save that girl loses its impact, because the only reason we have to care about them is that they’re going to be Superman’s coworkers in the future.
Racebending missing the point – If the goal is to increase visibility of non-white performers in predominantly white movies, I would have rather seen Christopher Meloni play Perry White’s irrelevant part, and Lawrence Fishburne play the badass colonel guy that is in all the important scenes and helps Superman save the world. I’m just sayin’.
That other thing that’s a SPOILER – It will probably be the most controversial thing in the movie, and I could probably do a whole post on it. So let’s just pretend I’m talking about Batman filming a porno with a goat. Basically, if you’re going to have Batman fuck a goat, and you want to make it clear Batman absolutely doesn’t want to fuck a goat, it might be a good idea to establish beforehand Batman’s strong feelings about goat-fucking, and not have Batman appear to be totally fine in the scene immediately following the goat-fucking. I think I’ve made myself clear.