Let me get what’s wrong with Man of Steel out of the way first.
The final act – the huge final battle sequence that’s become de rigueur for superhero flicks – is interminable. Not only do we get one that just goes on and on and on and on, then when get the personal showdown between Superman and General Zod that goes on and on and on and on.
With millions being spent on CGI effects, it’s already become a tired trope that final battles must feature the destruction of a city. In this case, Man of Steel aims to top Avengers by not only destroying a small town, but utterly destroying New York. Sorry, I mean Metropolis.
Superman of the comic books wouldn’t have allowed such wanton destruction — he was always concerned with protecting innocent bystanders. While much is made of his concern for a family of innocent bystanders in the finale, the rest of the half-hour to 45 minutes of battles seem to offer no such concern at all. At least 4 or 5 buildings get knocked over.
Product placement. Enough with the IHOP already.
Superman as Messiah. The film really packs in the Jesus references. Several crucifix poses for Superman, a critical moment of decision backed with a picture of Jesus in prayer, and Superman’s referencing that he’s lived on earth for 33 years. Okay, we get it. I’m sure the nice Jewish boys who invented Superman would have loved that.
Okay, here’s what’s right with Man of Steel.
First, I like looking at Amy Adams. Always have, always will.
The absolute best part is Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Superman’s adoptive father. In two of the scenes, Costner gives the best performances of his career. One, a simple line that packs so much emotional punch I felt it in my chest. “Can’t I just go on pretending to be your son?” young Clark Kent asks. “You ARE my son!” Pa Kent replies, but with a line reading that carried with it the entire emotional weight of the film. And maybe a couple other movies besides. I love you, dad.
In another, it’s just a moment. Costner doesn’t say a word, but the moment packs an equal emotional wallop.
If for nothing else, those two short scenes make Man of Steel unforgettable.
The movie boasts plenty of other great performances. Michael Shannon is terrific as Zod, who doesn’t play the villain as a villain, he plays it as if he’s the hero fighting the whole world. That’s always the best way to play the heavy. Diane Lane isn’t on screen nearly enough. Russell Crowe is awesome.
The opening Krypton sequence is great, even if a bit Lord of the Rings/Avatarish.
The Christopher Nolan influence was a source of concern going in — making Batman brooding and world-weary worked for that character, but it wouldn’t work for Superman. I was hoping they wouldn’t go that route — and they didn’t. They did, however, choose to humanize Superman by making him first a child who just wants to be like the other kids, and then a young man who desperately wants to know who he is and where he fits in the world. Those scenes, contrary to what some other critics have said, give this version of Superman an emotional resonance I’ve always felt the others lacked.
Did I mention I like looking at Amy Adams? I got a thing for her. Can’t help it.
The music. Hans Zimmer nails this one. The score is wonderful. It’s memorable, soaring, heroic, and makes great use of drum lines.
Focusing a little more on the sci-fi elements of the Superman story — I confess, I like that aspect a lot.
This version is definitely better than the awful Superman Returns from a few years ago, but the bottom line for people in my age group is this: Is it better than 1978’s Superman The Movie? To be completely honest with you, I think Man of Steel beats it out in the final analysis. It can’t top it when it comes to action, that’s for sure. Maybe Man of Steel is a little too serious… but I think it struck the right tone, and 1978’s version does indeed show it’s age.
Four phone booths out of five for Man of Steel.