Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language
Man of Steel was a darker, grittier take on the Superman character that while good, left me feeling disconnected from what was happening on screen.
In a small twist from the usual Superman origin story, Man of Steel shows us why Krypton exploded (the powers that be were mining the core of the planet to the point of extinction). Jor-El, their lead scientist, implored the counsel to let him send his son to another world so that the Kryptonian line would continue, as his son was the first natural birth on the planet for centuries. However the military leader, General Zod, had other ideas and tried to mount a coup against the counsel. Jor-El was able to send his son, along with the blueprints for keeping the Kryptonian race alive, to Earth and Zod and his minions were captured and sent to the Phantom Zone. 33 years later, Clark Kent is alive and well on Earth, but Zod is coming after him, and life on Earth hangs in the balance.
Before I get into the review, a little story (skip to the next paragraph for the review). When I was a kid, I was never into comic books. Once in while I'd pick up something and I still have a couple of Batman or X-Men comics lying around my parents house. When I did buy a comic however, most of the time it was Superman. The one I remember most was Superman going up against the Master Jailer and that one sticks with me because at the end, Superman totally disses Lana Lang even though she's been in love with him forever. My parents were born in India and came to this country at a young age where I was born. I grew up in a mostly while, middle class neighborhood and I always stood out like a sore thumb. I never really felt like I fit in so when it came to superheroes, I always gravitated towards Superman. To me, he was the American ideal. Someone who never quite fit in but tried his hardest to simply get people to like him. Isn't that what every kid really wants? Just to fit in? While I don't have any superpowers, I always felt a connection to Superman, and since I'm a movie and TV guy, I've loved everything associated with him. Passing on the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies, since those are loved by most, I even loved the third and fourth films in the series. I couldn't get enough of Richard Pryor stealing pennies. I watched every single episode of Smallville and thought Tom Welling would have made a great Superman. And yes, I even really enjoyed Superman Returns, as evidenced by the high grade I gave to a film that almost universally disappointed people. So needless to say, when I heard Warner Brothers was about to reboot Superman once again, I immediately got excited for Man of Steel to the point that it would be almost impossible for it to live up to expectations.
Taking a cue from the bad reception to Superman Returns, Zack Snyder and company decided to follow the path of The Dark Knight trilogy and make a darker version of the American hero. There is very little humor in the movie. From the opening moments on Krypton to the last moments of the film, the movie stays dark and gritty and violent. The one thing about everything else Superman that has come out during my lifetime is there was a happy glow about the film. Even in his darkest moments there was a connection between Superman and the audience and you really felt what he was feeling. But with this version, I never felt connected to the character. It was like the filmmakers kept us all at an arms length from him, not allowing us to feel what he felt, and instead just showing us what he was going through. I missed being a part of the film, even while watching it in 3D. By the way the 3D was good, especially during the climactic fight scene, but once again not necessary to enjoy the movie. Henry Cavill, who will undoubtedly get hundreds of millions of female (and male) fans overnight, did a commendable job as Superman, but when you look back at the film there was very little emotion on his face. Happiness, sadness, anger, love were all the same. Even during the massive anguish with his final, shocking, act to save the lives of the humans he loved, I felt separated from him.
Zack Snyder is one of the better visual directors out there. Whatever you think about his films, there's no denying that they all look really good. His ability to tell a story on the other hand can be called into question. The storyline in Man of Steel was relatively straightforward, so there wasn't much for him to do thankfully. And visually the movie was top-notch, there's no question about that. Both Smallville and Metropolis looked constantly creepy and amazing, and the special effects were tremendous, especially (once again) during the final fight sequence. The movie itself takes a little while to get going. The Krypton sequence at the start was pretty good, and filled with things I couldn't have imagined, but then we get into the story on Earth and the pacing slows down. What I did find interesting is that we never follow Clark as he grows up. Instead, his adolescence is shown through multiple flashbacks, which was a good technique but then felt overused by the end. The rest of the cast was solid, with Amy Adams doing a really good job with Lois Lane. Going with the spirit of the film, Lois was a harder edged reporter who gets embedded with troops and flies to remote parts of the world to best career military men in a battle of words. She doesn't look like the toughest girl in the world, but she holds her own. I thought Russell Crowe as Jor-El was very good and the other actor that really stood out was Christopher Meloni as Colonel Nathan Hardy.
None of this is to say I didn't enjoy the movie. Were this not a Superman film, with all the hopes and expectations I had, I would have thought it was a pretty impressive film. The visuals were great, the music was good, the acting was solid and even the story was decent. What I didn't get, and what I had really wanted, was goosebumps. When we first see Superman or when he first dons the cape or when he first learns to fly... at some point I was hoping for that magical moment that said 'OK, now you're watching a movie about the greatest superhero of all time.' And I never got it. I liken the film to Batman Begins. There was a movie that rebooted a franchise and was good, but it took The Dark Knight to make it great. I think Man of Steel is a good start to a trilogy, but it'll take another film to truly make it great.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked Man of Steel, but it didn't live up to my expectations. But that may also be because my expectations were unrealistic.