Who’s in it? Henry Cavill (Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Antje Traue (Faora), Christopher Meloni (Colonel Hardy), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White)
What’s it about? As Krypton implodes, Jor-El and his wife attempt to save both their race and their infant son Kal-El (who’s also the planet’s first naturally conceived baby in, like, forever) by shooting him out into space and hoping for the best. When the rage-filled General Zod learns what they’ve done, he vows to one day find the child. Fast-forward thirty-three years to Clark Kent (Kal-El) roaming Earth, trying to suppress the use of his super-powers. Why? Because his human father drilled into him that their world wasn’t ready to accept the reality of alien beings and would therefore try to hurt, capture or kill Clark if anyone found out what he is.
Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane was about to do just that when Zod makes good on his promise. The perpetually pissed-off general and his small army of equally bitter Kryptonians arrive on the scene and pledge to destroy humankind unless Kal-El surrenders himself. But can Zod really be trusted to head back into the heavens once he gets what he wants? Um, no. No, he cannot.
What’s good? Maybe it’s because I have a little boy of my own now, but any scene that had to do with the parent/child dynamic tugged pretty strongly on the ol’ heartstrings. I was not expecting such a long introductory segment where Jor-El and his wife struggled with their newborn’s fate, nor was I expecting Jor-El to continue to pop up throughout the movie, and it really got to me. As did the different approaches Ma and Pa Kent took to dealing with their adopted son’s unnatural powers, especially after we see young Clark suffering the consequences of being different. The film was at its best when emotions ran high.
Emotions were always running high for General Zod, to the point where I was like, “Dude, why are you SO ANGRY? You’re still alive after you were supposed to be banished to a space prison for hundreds of years. Take a moment to appreciate that.” But no, Zod was constantly all bug-eyed and seething. He couldn’t even check himself when it came to competing with Jor-El’s ghost, for crying out loud. All this is to say that I thought, as always, Michael Shannon does crazy very well.
A pleasant surprise was the badass-ness (badassed-ness? badassery?) of both Lois Lane and Zod’s right-hand beeotch Faora. In a movie that had way too many fight scenes to gawk over, hers were by far the best. I’ve grown pretty tired of fight scenes, by the way, and it takes a lot to impress me on that front these days. Faora’s fight scenes impressed me, and she was way scarier than Zod overall. Do I hear “spin-off”?
And thankfully, this version of Lois was not all “duh” about Superman’s identity for once, nor did she ever come off as a damsel in distress. Way to go, Ladies Of Man of Steel!
What could’ve been better? For all that was good about the new Lois, however, what she didn’t have was any sort of chemistry with Clark. They were barely on-screen together in the first place, so it was a stretch to believe that either had any romantic-y feelings for the other. It was also hard to believe that Kent had any feelings at all. Cavill looked the part 100% (friends can attest that I have never liked beefcakes, which makes it noteworthy that I actually uttered “DAMN” out loud during what I think was the only shirtless scene), but he just didn’t have any heart. Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer didn’t go full-on Dark Knight with Kent’s character like I feared they might, but he was still a little too brooding for my taste. Cavill’s was the least memorable performance in the film, which seems so wrong when he’s the title character. “Least memorable” isn’t the same thing as bad, mind you, it’s just like he was kind of there, going through the motions, doing his thing, letting others shine. Maybe that’s what Superman should be like, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
What kept Man of Steel from being as enjoyable as it could have been, though, wasn’t any of the performances. It was the incessant battle and fight sequences in the second half of the film’s nearly 2.5-hour running time (one in particular almost looked like it was ripped straight outta Thor), and the ten or so false endings. You think things are over and then… yet another battle breaks out. Why why why do filmmakers keep doing this? Just because it’s a superhero movie? Just because it’s a summer movie? Just because they can? I don’t get it. More isn’t better.
The bottom line: Glimmers of greatness abound in the first half of Man of Steel, when we get to see what’s formed Clark Kent’s world view and come to understand how truly loved he was by both his biological and Earth-bound parents. But once the action ramps up after Zod’s arrival, the movie tips over into the alien invasion genre and would’ve benefited from a heavier hand in the editing room.
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