I have no doubt that financially, this will be a success. The marketing has been great and there is a good amount of buzz around it going into the weekend. As opposed to 2006's Superman Returns, this one has a lead in from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. With Nolan on board as producer for Man of Steel, it will carry on the dark, grittier tone of that franchise. While it's still speculative whether or not these characters will be part of a shared DC universe, Man of Steel will owe a great deal to Nolan in it's likely success.
The story is fairly straight forward. It starts by giving us a glimpse of the planet Krypton. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) send their newborn child, Kal-El, to a far away planet to save him from the tragic fate of Krypton. Naturally this new planet happens to be Earth. Here that child is found and raised by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and spends his teen years trying to live like a normal child while hiding his superhuman abilities.
As an adult he finally discovers his true origins, and after a chance run in with future love interest Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill) picks up the cape he was destined for and sets off to defend his family, friends, and earth, from the wrath of fellow Kryptonian, General Zod (Michael Shannon).
I've never been a huge Superman fan. I don't know how well this origin story fits into that of the comics. But through the eyes of someone new to the franchise, it works, and doesn't leave me with too many unanswered questions.
Just because the plot makes sense though, doesn't mean it's executed well. The weakest parts of this movie come in the first 30-60 minutes. The pacing here is pretty bad at times. Clarke Kent's years on earth are thrown at you in a "blink and you'll miss it" fashion. Jumping from his current whereabouts to quick glimpses of his childhood every few moments. The film doesn't stop to breath and let any of these character developments settle in. They are just dished out and stacked in a pile of "defining moments" in Clarke's journey to being Superman, without giving us any sympathy or attachment to his human persona.
Normally this would result in a poorly developed character we would care little about. Thankfully for Man of Steel, Henry Cavill is here. He is perfect in this role. His look and his controlled emotion throughout give us enough to know that he's a lonely, troubled being before, and even after, he finds the cape. He makes you care enough about the character during the poor introduction that it's not a complete loss. If it were a lesser actor I would have checked out of this film mentally very early on.
The rest of the cast were good as well. Amy Adams makes for a much more adventurous Lois Lane than I was expecting. Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon were amazing as you would expect. Diane Lane was a particular standout for me as Clarke Kent's mother Martha, bringing some touching moments in her interactions with Clarke. And props go to Christopher Meloni as Colonel Nathan Hardy. It's not a huge role but I think Meloni is a very underrated actor who needs more screen time. If you don't believe me then watch HBO's OZ and you'll see.
The place where Man of Steel really hits its stride is when the action starts. This is where director Zach Snyder shines. With stylized films such as 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch under his belt, he displays an ability here to control his over the top action style more effortlessly than any other director right now. With a carefully guiding hand from Chris Nolan, it gives this film some action scenes that are visually stunning, fast paced, tense, and easy to follow all at the same time.
Watching Superman fly through the air is a special treat for the eyes. Using an over the shoulder look usually reserved for video games, it gave a realism to flying that I never knew I was missing. At no point here will you think you're watching Iron Man zip around. You're right in the midst of the action instead of observing from the distance. It's exhilarating and a definite high point in the movie.
For the slow start this film gets, it more than makes up for it in the second half. Snyder has found his niche and has made a great action film with Man of Steel. His storytelling abilities still leave a bit to be desired though. Thankfully the movie ends off with a nice lead into the future of the character, with a touch of humor thrown in that almost catches you off guard. Hopefully the writers and people in charge take advantage of this in the future and give us a more fleshed out Clarke Kent in future films.
This is no The Dark Knight, don't be fooled. But don't let the weak first half deter you, go see this movie if you like the over the top action style that Snyder is known for. If you don't like his look then you may be better skipping. But for me, it was well worth the $17 IMAX 3D admission fee.
*Man of Steel - 7/10*