This is a SPOILER review. My original thoughts on Man of Steel are here.
I made a Man of Steel review many years ago, but after seeing the later DCEU films and upon further thought, I decided to do another review, because I wanted to give some updated thoughts on the movie, as well as going in depth with spoilers. I originally planned to release this review sometime in the foreseeable future, but after it recently being the 5 year anniversary of the film (13th of June 2013 to be exact, as you can tell my review is a little late), I decided to release it now. When I initially saw Man of Steel, I liked it but didn’t really love or think much about it. I thought it was a solid and different take on Superman, even if it wasn’t excellent. Having rewatched it over many times since its release, I’ve come to appreciate this movie a lot more. It’s has some minor issues but I still really love it.
Generally the first half of the story is more Clark’s origin story. Whereas the original Superman film told the story chronologically, Snyder decided to jump between Clark’s past and present, which was ultimately a good decision. While for some this was jarring (and very Batman Beginish), I thought it worked quite well. If it was just told through chronological order, it wouldn’t be as interesting. We already have a generally idea about Clark’s backstory, so having that play while telling the present story helps keep our interest. There might’ve been maybe a little too many flashbacks but I honestly wouldn’t know which one to cut out, each of them seemed necessary to show Clark’s arc and character in this movie. There are some truly great Superman scenes, some of them including Clark learning to fly for the first time and Superman surrendering to mankind. I’ll get to the controversial decisions regarding Superman later. The second half is Zod coming to earth. The third act is big and destructive. Some would said that it was senselessly destructive, I don’t think its necessarily the case, but I can get that there are aspects that they could’ve tweaked a little to improve it. I think the only time it was a little too over the top was the Smallville fight, and even then I liked the overall sequence.
The pacing was generally good, Man of Steel is around 2 hours and a half long and having seen the film multiple times I can’t pick out really any scene which drags or felt over long. The dialogue is mostly good, and a little mixed sometimes, at times it is very well written and there are some great lines for a Superman movie but at other times it is rather odd and silly. Most of the time it is perfectly fine, but the odd lines really do stand out, whether it feel too silly or too generic/familiar (e.g. “You’re a monster Zod, and I’m gonna stop you”). The humour, when it’s there is a little mixed as well, they are brief but some of them don’t really land well (the “I think he’s kinda hot” line near the end of the film being an example). In terms of any other story issues, there is a scene after the scene about Zod’s snapped neck, which is for the most part good but feels completely and tonally different from the previous scene, almost as if the previous scene never happened before. It would’ve been a little more effective to have an additional scene showing the continual impact of that scene.
Henry Cavill portrays a very different Superman than what we’ve seen before (at least in live action). This is a Superman who’s very conflicted, a Superman who’s not perfect, but most of all a Superman who’s learning. He also felt much more relatable as a character, yes the Christopher Reeve Superman to this day remains very effortlessly beloved but creating the cheesy Superman in today’s times just doesn’t work at all (just watch what Joss Whedon tried to do with him in Justice League). For some reason a lot of people found Cavill to be quite stiff here, I didn’t get that from his performance. I mean sure he’s not as quippy as some other versions of Superman but he still had his fair share of lighter moments and charisma, he’s not as charismatic as the real life Henry Cavill but very few people are. Henry Cavill’s Superman is one that I actually cared for. He’s not making constant quips but he’s not a constant brooder, they aren’t trying to make him the superhuman version of Batman. I find much of the ‘not muh Superman’ crowd’s criticisms to be strange to me. There are some people that have issues with this version of Superman. There are way too many complaints to go through, even in an in depth review, so I will just go through a couple of them. One of the major criticisms was the amount of people who died at the end. The truth is that you can’t save everyone in that situation, and with the exception of possibly the Smallville scene, in the climax, it is Zod and the Kryptonians who end up causing the vast majority of the destruction. In fact, Superman in the final fight with Zod really tries to take the fight away from the city but isn’t able to. Since we are going in depth with spoilers, we might as well talk about the controversial neck snapping scene. When Zod tries to kill some innocent civilians in the end of the final fight, Superman is forced to snap his neck to save them. To this day, I never understood why people hate that he did this. I can get if that they hate that Superman was put in this position, but between letting them die and killing Zod to save them, I think doing the latter was the better option. And on top of that, the film doesn’t just act like it was an easy, it was clearly really painful for him. At the very least, it was a lot more justified than Superman killing a depowered Zod in Superman 2 (I’ve noticed a lot of the “not muh Superman” crowd hold up Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies as the definitive Superman). Not to mention that plenty of comic book movie heroes nowadays kill people easily. I don’t mean this in judgemental of people who don’t like this version of Superman (it’s really not a big deal if you don’t), but I’ve noticed that people get extra specific when it comes to how the most popular comic book characters are portrayed in movies (speicifcally Superman, Batman and probably Spider-Man for instance) and there is a lot of backlash when they are different from previous adaptations or from the more common perception of the characters. I’m completely open to people trying new ways of approaching iconic characters. All in all, I don’t really have many problems with Cavill’s version of Superman, at least not with his first two movies.
Amy Adams as Lois Lane was great casting. While it’s not one of her best performances and some aspects about Lois here don’t work perfectly here, it gives her more to do than some other versions of Lois. I mean, Lois figures out by herself who Superman is, which by the way is a change that I really like. I know that it’s a classic comic book thing for Lois to never figure out that Clark Kent is Superman, but I find that less believable than no one recognising him as Superman because he wears glasses. So it was a refreshing change. The chemistry between Adams and Cavill isn’t perfect but it works okay enough for this movie. Michael Shannon is great as General Zod, the main antagonist of the film, and I have to say that he’s much better than Terrence Stamp’s Zod. Whereas Zod in Superman 2 just wanted to take over Earth… just because, Shannon’s Zod has reasons for what he’s doing, he wants to save his race. Zod here was also bred purely to advance his race unlike Clark, so it makes sense that he is single minded and bent upon this. When Superman destroys all chance of Krypton being rebuilt, he loses his people and his purpose. I think he might be one of the best comic book movie villains. Shannon does have his fair share of hammy and over the top moments (his “I will find him!” will forever remain a classic), but that makes him all the more entertaining. Besides, all things considering he might not be as over the top as Stamp’s Zod. All in all, Michael Shannon did a great job with a well written General Zod. Also, shout out to Antje Traue, as Faora, who despite being a supporting antagonist as Zod’s lieutenant, manages to leave a really strong impression, at least at the same as Zod. She particularly shines in her action scenes (Smallville battle being a stand out), and Traue and Zack Snyder made her a force to be reckoned with. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play Clark’s adopted parents, they felt much more grounded than previous versions of the characters. This take on Kent’s adopted family has caused some controversy, particularly with Costner. For example, in a flashback after Clark saves a bus full of kids, Costner seems to hint that maybe Clark shouldn’t have saved them, because he wanted to keep his secret at least for now. While I can see why some people were polarised, I feel this makes the character more human. He thinks he’s doing the right thing but he’s not absolutely sure. It felt like a more appropriate take on the characters for nowadays and both Lane and Costner acted very well in the roles. Russell Crowe is also worth mentioning, as he is great as Superman’s real father Jor-El, getting much more to do than Brando in the Reeve films, especially in the opening scene. Other supporting actors like Laurence Fishburne do their part well.
Zack Snyder always has spectacularly looking movies, and Man of Steel is no exception. This movie looks incredible, the special effects are great, the designs of the ships, outfits and more are unique. Just a moment to focus on Superman’s costume, it is so incredibly well put together, beautifully designed and actually works in a modern setting. In fact on pretty much all levels, Snyder really made Superman work in a modern setting. All in all, Man of Steel just might be the best looking DCEU film, with it having slightly better CGI than Batman v Superman, off the top of my head there weren’t any moments that stood out to me as having bad CGI. It’s even more impressive after seeing some of what they did behind the scenes. For example, the suits of Zod and the Kryptonians were CGI, but they look completely practical in the actual movie. This film also successfully portrayed Superman’s power (including his strength, flight and laser vision) in the modern day. Other live action versions that have Superman nowadays (Supergirl and Justice League) do show off how powerful he and similar characters are, but it really lacks something, and makes him seem outdated, but Snyder’s version works well. Yes, it is very destructive but it feels somewhat grounded at the same time, it’s kind of hard to describe. It feels like how Superman would be if he existed in real life. The action was also great, fast, intense and impactful. Everything from the opening Krypton sequence, the oil rig fire scene, the Smallville fight and the final Superman vs Zod fight, everything works incredibly well. One aspect that was a slight annoyance was the occasionally handheld camerawork and the zoom ins and out. Its not bad and was actually quite effective at times but it wasn’t really necessary and was a little distracting at times. It does less bothersome the more I watch the movie however. Hans Zimmer’s score here is god-tier, amongst some of the best work he’s ever done, which is saying a lot. Also I know it might be a bit of a controversial opinion but I think it’s the best score for a Superman film yet.
Man of Steel is to me the best live action Superman film (solo at least) and one of the best superhero movies (top 10 at least). With its grounded and more modern take on Superman, the mostly good writing and Zack Snyder’s great direction, it actually worked. It does have some issues with its writing and plot, but what it gets right, it really gets right. It only gets better and better the more I watch it. Also it did something I didn’t think possible, it managed to get me to like Superman in the modern era and make him take him somewhat seriously (well, at least for two movies).