I've been cautiously optimistic over Man of Steel for a while now. Having never really been interested in the Superman character I've been interested to see how the film will introduce the character to both a new generation of audiences and to those who were never interested in the character like me. On the one hand, I like the idea of seeing a more serious interpretation of Superman but with Zack Snyder directing I honestly didn't know how the film would pan out. Would it be a pretty good attempt like Watchmen or a complete crash-and-burn like Sucker Punch. Having watched the film, I can say that it is a really good film, despite there being a few problematic elements that prevent it from becoming a truly great comic book film.
In terms of the plot, it's basically just the origin story for Superman again to reboot the series after the disappointing Superman Returns. The story itself is one everyone knows but the way it's told is fairly different in that, after an extended sequence on Krypton, the film cuts to Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman as an adult, basically trying to save people in secret and his childhood is told mainly in flashbacks. This non-linear approach to the story is obviously where the Christopher Nolan influence comes into the film and works really well for this story, letting the audience know all the important details exactly when we need to hear them instead of giving it all in a big info dump. There are still scenes of info dumping though, the main ones being the ones with Zod and Jor-El and, whilst I had no problems with the Zod scene, the Jor-El scene was problematic in that it both revealed too much and not enough information about Krypton in that we learn all the details about how Krypton exploded (I wonder if a parallel is meant to be drawn with Krypton's overuse of natural resources and our exploitation of fossil fuels) but not enough of the details as to why all the stuff happened. Still though, the main goal of making a more serious interpretation of Superman really does work in the grand scheme of things.
On the acting side of things, Henry Cavill is a really good Superman, not only does he look exactly as I would expect Superman to look but he's also really charismatic and charming and I fully buy him as Superman. On the villain side, Antje Traue is brilliant as Faora, really intimidating and threatening in the role and Michael Shannon is excellent as usual as Zod. The weird thing is though that Shannon feels restrained in the role, as in he's not allowed to go full on crazy like you'd expect Shannon to be. There are only 2 scenes of Shannon going full crazy in the film and those scenes are the highlights, I only wish there were more scenes like this throughout the film. Lawrence Fishburne does a really good job as Perry White, despite not having much to do, whilst Harry Lenix, Christopher Meloni and especially Richard Schiff (who I'm a bit biased in favour of considering that he played my favourite character in film/TV, Toby Ziegler in The West Wing) bring a good sense of humour to the film and fill these roles with a lot of character, despite the characters not being written all that well. The standout though is Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. He nails the whole wholesome farmer thrust into this situation and not knowing what's best and the scenes of him talking to Clark are some of the best stuff Costner has done and his final scene is excellently handled as a great moment for all the characters (despite there being a little bit of stupidity involved).
There are 2 cast members though who weren't as good. The first, surprisingly, is Amy Adams as Lois Lane. I know that she's trying her hardest but the script doesn't give her much to do and she comes across as fairly bland and forgettable throughout the film. Further harming matters is the fact that her and Henry Cavill do not have good chemistry together and this will be a problem for the eventual sequels, especially given what happens at the end (not going to spoil it, all I'll say is that she has to know, anyone whose seen the film will know what I'm talking about). The second one is Russell Crowe and he just comes across as bored throughout the film and doesn't interact well with Henry Cavill or Michael Shannon at all, especially with Shannon as in those scenes, Jor-El is meant to be dominating but Shannon ends up dominating the screen instead of Crowe. I really want to see a film where I can praise Russell Crowe but this is one more film to add to the pile of Russell Crowe's performances being okay at best.
The direction of the film is also a bit hit and miss. In the scenes on Krypton, it is just sensory overload and there isn't really enough time for the audience to get adjusted to the environment before it goes to the next scene, although a lot of the technology is really interesting and the way it is used for the back-story behind Krypton's destruction is excellent. The early scenes in Smallville though fare a lot worse in that they are filled with excessive shaky-cam for no good reason, along with all the completely obvious product placement. However, once Henry Cavill puts on the Superman costume, the direction gets a lot better going up to the final fist-fight scenes which are wondrous to behold. These scenes are exactly the type of scenes I think of when I think of action in a Superman film and they never let you forget just how powerful all the characters are and how outmatched the military is. However, whilst the fist-fights are incredible, the destruction scenes in Metropolis go on for way to long and end up getting a bit boring, along with the complete disregard for the safety of civilians by Superman, which even someone who isn't familiar with the character like me knows is out of character. That said though, all the really dodgy directing choices by Zack Snyder are made up for by how brilliantly he directs the flying scenes and the fist-fights, they are worth the price of a ticket to see alone.
Overall, whilst there are some problems with Man Of Steel in terms of some dodgy directing choices by Zack Snyder and some lackluster acting. That said though, when the film finds its footing then it is incredible to watch and in these scenes, the mixing of the styles of Snyder and Christopher Nolan is excellent culminating in some of the best fight scenes in any superhero film which make the film a must see.
My Rating: 4/5