I’m going to take my plot summary straight from IMDb, as it’s one of the most amusing things about the movie:
“A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.”
Zack Snyder, 2013
Essentially it’s just an alternate Superman origin story, with a stronger focus on his alienness than the previous movies, and less focus on the things that make him, you know, relatable. It has all the recognisable hallmarks – Martha and Jonathan, growing up in Smallville, the Daily Planet – with none of the frills. The name Superman is barely mentioned, there’s no truth, justice or the American way, no birds or planes. This is the Dark Knight approach to Superman, as they try to make a “realistic” Superman for the modern market. I saw it in 2D.
I feel like the creative team had good intentions in making this movie, and there’s the bones of a good idea in there somewhere, but it was muddled every step of the way. The entire film is shot in that shaky handheld style, with director Zack Snyder choosing to dizzy and confuse the audience rather than let them actually see what’s going on. There are amazing special effects (but why make amazing special effects and then NOT SHOW THEM PROPERLY?) that are frequently just…strange. I spent a lot of time going “Why?”, especially with the grey moving metal stuff from Krypton that has a lot of screen time and made me throw my hands up in frustration more than a few times (why the hyper-stylised Krypton exposition scene? Did it just look good in 3D? Why does it turn into all the things it turns into? Why does a world builder have a defence mechanism made out of it that turns into claw thingies?!) The colour palette is grey and washed out, which I think is aimed at making Superman’s bright red and blue costume stand out, but just serves to make the shots look busy and confusing a lot of the time.
The script is clunky and badly paced as well, giving the decent cast very little to work with. There’s no banter between Lois and Clark, and the approach to monumental scenes seems to be “I don’t know what to say here that hasn’t been said already…let’s throw another cliche at it!” Characters make weird choices, and Pa Kent’s primary role seems to be to scar his child for life. I was actually completely bored during most of the film’s three climactic battles (is it over yet? Oh…wait, no, there’s MORE FIGHTING to be done!) There are huge amounts of destruction that are largely Superman’s fault, and his fight with Michael Shannon’s crazy-eyed Zod levels half of Metropolis, but when three people are threatened Supes goes all noble. They seem to take a “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” approach to writing fight scenes with no attention to emotional engagement with the audience. It opens with a LONG sequence on Krypton that’s hard to care about, with the opportunity to develop the villain that isn’t really taken.
The cast is good. Henry Cavill is so yummy I want to eat him with a spoon, all blue eyes and charming smile and wrinkly brow of slightly condescending kindness. He expresses the goodness of Clark better than the bad script can manage, and Amy Adams plays a pretty, spunky Lois without any help from the writing. She could have used a lot more screentime, and in particular a lot more screentime with Clark, in order to build that relationship (and less time damseling, because she was badass and didn’t deserve it). You can see the connection between the two of them, and their chemistry is great. I liked Diane Lane as Martha, as well as Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White. They all try their hearts out, and Henry Cavill being gorgeous was enough to sustain me through a number of scenes. Michael Shannon relished the villain role, but I was sad about the exclusion of a good “Kneel before Zod!” moment, and you feel like he could have been more interesting with a little more grey in his character. There are also fun smaller roles for nerd favourites – Tahmoh Penikett, Harry Lennix, and Richard Schiff have some good moments.
I haven’t even brushed the surface of the problems I have with this movie. The thing is, I feel like I’d be less disappointed and angry if it were just bad, but it has moments where you see what could have been. A snippet of a scene here or there, a beautiful shot, good costuming, cool ideas, a perfectly acted scene. It just fails to deliver on pretty much all of it.
Man of Steel on IMDb