I've never been a huge Superman fan. I respect the character. And while I also respect the original Superman movies for breaking new ground, I have major problems with them. Superman Returns wasn't bad. And Smallville had some decent stretches. But I was hoping that my lack of love for Superman was a problem with filmmakers just not getting it right rather than an inherent flaw. So I wasn't as excited for Man of Steel as I was for The Dark Knight Trilogy. But I was excited enough to go to a midnight screening.
My first impression of the movie was kind of...meh. It was pretty good, but not as good as most of the early reviews said it was. The first half of the movie worked well. I was emotionally invested in Clark and the story. But the second half kind of lost me. I didn't feel much tension within the many fight scenes. And I didn't care for what had to be a ton of civilian casualties as a result of the massively destructive fights. Visually everything was very good (except for the almost Star Trek-level lens flares). But I'm so used to films looking great that well done CGI doesn't impress me as much. Story and character are vastly more important than those things.
But I was determined to give it another shot. So I saw it again today and I came away with a more positive view of the movie. It's no Batman Begins. But it's a pretty solid start to what could become a very interesting larger story. Spoilers from here on out.
The movie starts on Krypton with Clark being born. Russell Crowe is fantastic. There's just something about him that I find inherently compelling. So I wasn't surprised that he made Jur-El compelling. I felt for him and Laura having to give up their child while they face certain death. Zod's reasoning behind trying to implement a coup was enough to make me buy that he wasn't just nuts. And Michael Shannon did a good job of balancing anger and genuine concern for his people. The opening ends with Clark being sent to earth, where upon his ship landing on the Kent farm, we shift into Batman Begins mode where see Clark in the present timeline while getting flashbacks of when he was young.
Clark as an anonymous nomad and the flashbacks are my favorite parts of the movie. To me, Superman is an inherently unrelatable character. He's so powerful and so emotionally stable that he feels distant. But Clark at least appears relatively weak and unsure of himself. It's when he's trying not to be Superman and trying to fit in as a normal human being that we relate to him and therefore emotionally invest in him and his journey. Granted, none of us know what it's like to have to adapt to seeing through things and have fire shoot out of your eyes. But we all know what it's like to be scared and be seen by our peers and society as an outcast. And both young Clark and nomad Clark conveyed those things well.
I could have used more of Clark trying to find himself. The one thing that might have been missing for me was a greater sense of why Clark felt the need as a child and feels the need as an adult to help people. His father is constantly trying to get him to not help people so as not to risk everyone freaking out about his power. His mother doesn't really say much. It isn't a big problem. I can buy that Clark is just an inherently good and caring person. But I think things could have come together a bit more if we got kind of a mission statement from Clark.
The rest of the movie involves Zod escaping the phantom zone and coming to earth to find Clark and continue the Kryptonian race at the expense of humans. This was all executed well enough. I don't have any major problems with it. Some minor problems are the heavy-handed Jesus symbolism and the fact that I didn't care about any of the innocent people harmed in the fights. After my first viewing the vast amount of destruction bugged me and the fight scenes felt a bit flat. But I've come around on those two things. The fight scenes were pretty entertaining and I think the destruction served (or hopefully will in the next movie) a purpose to the plot and Clark as a character.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it was necessary to make Zod the first villain and have him push Clark as far as he did and destroy as much they did. Perhaps I'm missing the point with not having Clark spell out a more definitive mission statement because he hasn't fully formed one yet. He doesn't know what his calling is until Zod and his fellow Kryptonians almost destroy the earth. It takes having Smallville and what has to be the vast majority of Metropolis destroyed while Zod almost indiscriminately killing people for Clark to become Superman. Without that kind of threat Clark has no reason to reveal himself to the world. Zod in essence creates Superman.
That's what this movie is about, getting from a guy that is just Clark Kent to a guy that is both Clark Kent and Superman. I think they were largely successful with that. Like Batman Begins, Man of Steel left me with a feeling of the start of something special. As we saw with the LexCorp tanker and the Wayne Enterprises satellite (my favorite geek moment), there are a lot of exciting directions they can go with from here. I didn't have a problem with Lois. I'm thankful they didn't get too much into her and Clark's romantic relationship (I despise how much the original Superman movies focus on it). But I hope they delve deeper into their relationship and give Lois more to do than be obsessed with Superman. And I hope moving forward they expand on the solid foundation they have laid with Man of Steel.