Jim already covered a lot of ground yesterday, a lot of which I concurred with and sort of pre-empted chunks of my post, but I’ve got a few things to say (spoilers after the cut).
1. I disagree with Jim that the movie was tedious. I think Superman demands, at times, a contemplative tone, and this had some of that, but I never felt the movie dragged or felt long at all. At times some of the expositional dialogue got me a bit irritated, but only a bit.
2. I think that the film’s treatment of Lois Lane deserves special mention. First off, Amy Adams is instantly the best Lois ever. Secondly, the film let her demonstrate exactly why she’s Superman’s super-woman: she gets to blast evil Kryptonians with space lasers, shut down military officers with a single sentence and figure out Superman’s secret identity with her Journalism Powers right from the get-go. She is smart and tough and just great all over. Similarly, Henry Cavill’s Superman is likewise excellent – to me he’s the second-best Superman performance after Chris Reeve (who will always be first for me) and the difference between the two is very slim indeed. Really, I don’t think there was a bad performance in this entire movie. Even Michael Shannon’s Zod ended up being relatable and fascinating, and Michael Shannon is terrifying on numerous levels, so that was a hell of a thing.
3. A lot, and I mean a lot, of internet people have been complaining that the collateral damage/destruction was unSupermanly. To which I say: oh, please:
Why, yes, that is a ludicrous amount of property damage in an area that clearly still had people in it and Superman concentrating on beating up the baddie, but I guess that since this is a cartoon therefore it is totally different on some moral scale somehow.
Here is the simple truth about Superman and action stories: if he gets in a super-fight, he is ridiculously destructive, and this has always been the case. What Man of Steel does is not portray a Superman who is ridiculously uncautious, callous or uncaring. I mean, the guy is fighting a genocidal madman who is more dangerous than he is – he has to focus on that, and you’ll note he tries to punch Zod into orbit at least once. What Man of Steel does is point out that the Superman narrative people want – and that narrative does include Super-level action – is inherently dangerous. I can get that a lot of people don’t want to confront that fact and concentrate on Superman rescuing suicidal girls from jumping off buildings with love – I mean, don’t get me wrong, that is great about Superman too, but if he’s not Super-powerful then he’s just a social worker – but it’s the simple truth, and I think the film was right to present that and not flinch from the fact that an awesome super-fight would, by necessity, include “awe” in it.
4. I hated, hated the color palette on this film. Orange and blue and orange and blue and AAARGH. Apparently modern-day Earth is lit just like red-sunned Krypton! If anybody deserves a bright color spectrum rather than a washed-out-to-greyed-neutral-colours world, it’s Superman. I get that they were trying to make the costume visually pop more, but I think it was the wrong decision.
5. Conversely, I liked the use of Computer Jor-El. It’s a proud tradition in Superman storytelling to have Dead Jor-El As A Computer helping Superman in Superman’s early stages, and the execution here was particularly fun, particularly when Jor-El was guiding Lois through Zod’s ship via Creepy Watsoning, and I liked his final talk with Zod.
6. Finally, the Zod death. Okay.
Here is what I think about the Zod thing: in the first fifteen minutes the movie sets up a revenge arc for Superman when Zod murders Jor-El, and although I was expecting Zod to die from that moment, I was happy to see that the movie avoided my cynical suspicion by actively subverting the revenge arc. When Superman kills Zod it’s not because he wants to kill Zod (and this is something Batman Begins couldn’t be bothered to do). He’s actively pleading with Zod to stop trying to murder helpless innocents, and when he fails it is clear that the act devastates him – I mean, immediately afterward he starts weeping into Lois’s stomach like a baby. (The movie’s choice to flashforward to what is obviously some time later on – I mean, Metropolis is already rebuilt, so you know there’s been some time elapsed – when Superman is feeling a bit better was not wise, but at the same time this is a movie that was already running two and a half hours and change.)
Now, I’m not going to make the “well John Byrne had Superman execute those Kryptonians in his run so that’s a precedent” argument, because I don’t think that’s analogous at all. What Superman did in that (mostly not that great) story was an execution and clearly quite deliberate and planned. What Superman did in Man of Steel was face one of the great ethical dilemmas in history (in a situation that was quite clearly one of duress), and some Superman fans are disappointed because he didn’t cut the Gordian knot or find the third way out, in part because they’ve internalized the Jesus Christ metaphor (one often complained about whenever it is made explicit) so much that they expect that Superman will be magic. It’s not enough for Superman to make what is clearly the right moral and ethical choice (and of course it is, on practically every possible moral and ethical map you could potentially draw) in the situation after trying to find any alternative possible; he has to be magic and get the full win every time.
And I get that urge, believe me, because all things considered I would have preferred the magic ending too: I am, after all, a Superman fan. But I have to admit that I think the decision the filmmakers made was not necessarily incorrect, particularly in the context of a just-starting-out-to-be-Superman Superman who doesn’t always have the magic answer yet.