Man of Steel is the best and, to a small degree, worst Superman movie ever made. This will contain spoilers, so read with that in mind.
Before we get to what works, and works really well in Man of Steel, we should cover what had to be done. Krypton. Yes, this movie gives us a retelling (for the umpteenth time) the origin of Superman. I was initially disappointing in The Amazing Spider-Man (with Andrew Garfield) for doing another origin story since we had one with Tobey Maguire just a few years before. But it worked well.
We all know from the previews that this was going to tell us “an” origin story. And granted, it has been a long time since we got an origin story of Superman in a live action movie. With that said, we spend a reasonable amount of time on Krypton for the length of this movie. We get the necessary Jor-El (father) sending of Kal-El (son) to Earth in the wake of Kypton’s destruction. Since the bad guy in the movie is General Zod from Krypton, we did need some Krypton background to make that work.
What does not work for me (and kind of never did) is given the technological advances of this planet… it is impossible to believe there would not be Kyptonians off planet during this destruction… to have more than one last son of Krypton. Or that the people of the planet would be so myopic as to not even try some kind of evacuation to preserve their race/culture (regardless of going to a planet that would give them super-powers).
[Spoiler] Ultimately, I did not like the overall premise… that most Kryptonians were not born by natural means, except Kal-El. And that hokey idea that Jor-El stored the entire “codec” of Krypton into baby Kal’s body. This does not work at all in my opinion.
Once on Earth things really start to work. We get Clark Kent’s childhood through flashbacks. I liked it. For one, it means less time was spent in Clark’s childhood.
[Spoiler] I especially liked how Clark lets himself be bullied by a few kids. It makes a lot of sense for a character with so much power that he does not need to prove anything, but just take it and move on. Well done.
I also liked how they portrayed young Clark saving a bus full of kids. I hated that this was in the trailer, but loved how it was done in the movie. It would have had a lot more impact if they never showed this in a trailer. It shows us how much of a struggle Clark has between saving people versus protecting his secret.
The amount of exchange between Jor-El and Kal-El was just about perfect. It was enough that Jor tells Kal that he will never know his limits unless he tests them. I have always understood this, and tell people this. Think about it… if you were as strong a Superman just because you lived on this planet, why would you look muscular, unless you pushed yourself. And he would have to push might hard to build up his muscles. (This makes me think of the scene in The Incredibles when Mr. Incredible is working out with trains in a train yard.) And we are not put though a long time period (shown or not) of him “training” with Jor-El.
Of particular note… I really liked how we got the costume. It is there waiting for him when he find the “ship” Jor-El wanted him to find. And it is basically Kyptonian clothing. It looks like what a regular Kryptonian would wear… and is basically what Jor-El wears on Krypton when he takes off his “armor.”
The biggest thing that works… is the fact that Clark is a loaner going from town to town and job to job. It reminded me of the TV show The Incredible Hulk, where they show Dr. Banner (Bill Bixby) hitchhiking from one place to another after he had to use his “ability.” They don’t have to show all of it to us… but we are given the impression that he leaves right after using his powers to save people, and goes off somewhere else until he saves more people… anonymously.
[Spoiler] The fact that Lois Lane is smart enough to figure all this out and track down Clark is done perfectly. Finally we have a really smart and well done Lois Lane. A true investigative reporter. Even better than any of the Lois Lanes in the animated movies as well.
When Zod and his people battle Superman, the collateral damage is tremendous. And way overdone. I supposed it is realistic. But maybe not practical. If the goal was to capture Jor-El’s son for the Krytonian Codec… and Clark knew this… why didn’t he lead them to a less populated area to do battle? Granted, they did not show him stopping the fight over and over to try and protect the people. I like that, because otherwise it would make him seem weak… as was done in the movies from the 70’s. I think Superman would be more clever than either situation and find a way to take the battle to a safer location. But that’s just me.
[Spoiler] I feel the same way about the ending as I do the battle scenes. Did Superman need to kill Zod? I can see this being debated by comic book aficionados for a long time. Superman never kills. In the movie they want you to think he had no choice. And while sitting there in the theater I got that feeling. No, not the feeling that this was a reason he might have to kill, but that the movie makers wanted me to think that.
So… the makers of the movie tried to impress on us that there could be a circumstance where Superman would have to kill. And Lois even consoles Superman since they make it out like he hates the fact he had to do it. But did he have to? Why couldn’t he think of something else? Why couldn’t he put his hand in front of Zod’s eyes to block his laser vision. (Which I thought he did and that killed Zod… which would make more sense since it would then be almost an accident that Zod died. How could Superman know that doing that would kill Zod. But my son’s tell me that Superman broke Zod’s neck. Wow… I need to see it again… and again.. and again!). It all just seems a little too easy of an ending for such a good movie. And an ending that ultimately changes what the Superman character is. In the Superman universe killing is wrong… and because it would be so easy for Superman to kill that makes it more wrong for Superman to do it. So Superman never kills. Which ultimately is the reason we can trust this alien as our protector. He will always save us… without resorting to killing.
As I was watching the movie I was remind of Smallville, the TV series with Tom Welling. In that show, during the last season he reminds us that Superman is the person… and Clark Cent is the disguise. And I suspected early on in the movie that they would do the same for Man of Steel. In this regard, they did not disappoint. It is only after the battle is over that we see the Clark Kent with glasses. I liked that a lot.
Conclusion – this is the Superman movie all us fans deserved in 2006 (sorry, Brandon Routh). And it makes a great launching pad to give us some more quality DC movies. I have seen some reviews that say something like “why did we need another [insert superhero character name here] movie?” Really! If you have to ask that then why don’t you ask, “why do we need another movie?” You could argue how little original material in movies is out there. We need this movie because people like these kinds of movies, and we want better movies than Superman Returns or Green Lantern (sorry, Ryan Reynolds).
Rumor has it that Zack Snyder will direct a Justice League movie for 2015. I really hope so. Although I do not like how Zack Snyder had this Superman brake “his one rule” so quickly… I still think he has the best chance of making a quality Justice League movie. As it seems to be rumored… this Justice League movie would have Darkseid as the villain. This would be appropriate. The villain in a Justice League movie would have to be so powerful, and evil that Superman with all his abilities could not defeat him alone. He will need help… and so we have a valid reason to bring in a cast of super hereos. Do it!
I highly recommend this movie. I can’t wait for it to come out on Blu-Ray so I can watch it a few more times (actually a lot more than a few more times).