Unreal Movie Review: Man of Steel

man of steel1

4 out of 5 stars

A new Superman film was always going to face an array of challenges. It would be a movie pulled in many different directions, and could easily suffer because of it. Would it adopt the lighthearted, joke-happy Marvel model that’s turned Iron Man and his Avengers into cash machines? Would he go for that now infamous buzzword, “gritty,” making Superman dark and tormented the way Man of Steel’s producer Christopher Nolan made Batman? Or would they attempt to slavishly devote themselves to Richard Donner’s original films, the way Superman Returns did, and suffered because of it?

Surprisingly, the answer isn’t any of the above. Rather, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel manages to not feel like a copycat of anything that’s come before it, either in the modern age of superhero blockbusters, or the treasured years of Donner and Reeves. And really, it’s not like any of Snyder’s other films as well, filled with slow-motion action and rather nonsensical dialogue.

What we have is a film that manages to bring new life to our most prized superhero, one somehow we’ve deemed as rather boring over the years. How interesting can a character really be who can’t be killed, or really even hurt? We tend to like our heroes most when they’re vulnerable to some degree, not completely invincible, or literally bulletproof.

Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is many things, but rarely boring. It’s visually astonishing, even if it didn’t utilize his famous slow motion action sequences, though it can be dramatically hollow at times. It’s a thrilling film as you watch it, and hard to find fault with initially. It’s only later when you start to reflect that the cracks start to show.

jor el

“Remember son, what we do in life, echoes in eternity.”

The film opens with a rather lengthy look at the destruction of Krypton, the longest sequence set on the planet we’ve ever seen on film. Krypton is collapsing, and there are two schools of thought to save it. Jor-El (Russells Crowe) is a scientist who wants to ensure Kryptonians can live on elsewhere in the universe, and pleads with the rulers to listen to him. General Zod (Michael Shannon) enters and promptly kills the council, and his plan is to save only the most noble bloodlines of Krypton instead. Jor-El spars with Zod but ultimately is able to launch Kal-El, his natural born son (a rarity in the genetically engineered world of Krypton) to Earth where he knows he’ll be a god and a beacon of hope for the humans. Zod is captured and found guilty of treason. He’s sentenced to live out the rest of his days in a timeless black hole, which turns out to be a better fate than staying on his planet, which promptly explodes once he’s gone.

It was unclear just what sort of origin story Man of Steel would be for Clark Kent, and subsequently Superman. Rather, the way it’s told is well-done, and works better than a simple linear telling of the events of Clark’s life before he dons the suit and cape. As the CW’s Smallville showed, you can get bogged down in that part of his life and you’ll be there for a decade before anything interesting happens.

Rather, Clark’s childhood is revealed through a series of flashbacks which show him acquiring his powers as a scared and confused little boy, learning of his origins as told to him by a surprisingly emotionless Kevin Costner, and turning the other cheek when bullies abuse him, even though he could destroy them if he so chose.

Most of these events are tied in with what’s going on in Clark’s actual life when he’s a fully grown adult years later. It’s here we’re introduced to Henry Cavill as Clark/Superman, and if there has ever been a man who looked more the part, I’ve never seen him. Casting here, at least visually, was pitch perfect. Clark works under aliases doing odd jobs around the world. Eventually, he lands in the arctic, following a lead where the military has found an alien ship under the ice. It’s there he meets Lois Lane, investigating the military’s shadowy project, and he saves her from the Kryptonian ship’s overly eager security systems.

man of steel2

“Now kiss!”

Soon after, Clark learns of his true origins through the holographic consciousness of Jor-El, acquires his suit, and must decide whether or not to reveal himself to the world when General Zod comes to town and demands his surrender. Zod believes Jor-El gave Clark an object that’s vital for repopulating the Kryptonian race, and he wants to start over on Earth. First step: wiping out all the pesky humans that currently live there.

There are few problems with the grand storyline here. This was a fine way to tell an origin story, and there aren’t many yawning plot holes that prove to be distractions. But it should be noted that while say, a Nolan Batman film is full of mysteries and twists and turns, there’s none of that here. There are few surprises to be found as the film unfolds, and you’re always fairly certain of where it’s all heading. And you’ll be right.

The script is solid, much better than any other Superman’s had to work with, but the performances can be a touch uneven. I’ve mentioned Kevin Costner is incredibly flat as Jonathan Kent, but fortunately Clark’s biological father, Russell Crowe, is far more engaging in a performance that he could have easily phoned in, but didn’t. Amy Adams is surprisingly great as Lois Lane, when she seemed like an odd pick for the part.

That leaves the two leads, Superman and Zod. As said before, Cavill was a perfect pick visually, and his sculpted physique paired with an incredible costume design makes him look more like Superman than anyone who has come before him. But as a character, there still isn’t all that much to him. The problem of Superman having few flaws still remains here. He’s just an all around good guy who will always do the right thing no matter the circumstance. He’s tested physically and morally from time to time, but he never fails to pass with flying colors. Until perhaps the very end, but that’s a debate for another day.


Every Michael Shannon role must come with some degree of mental illness.

Zod is a curious case. The dynamic between him and Jor-El is interesting, as are his motivations (“I was bred from birth to protect Krypton no matter what to cost. It is all I know.”). His character is compelling, but Michael Shannon’s performance in the role isn’t, if that makes sense. Shannon is a great actor, but I’m just not sure “Alien Warlord” is in his repertoire. His Zod is almost entirely pure rage with little else to him, and that can grow tiresome over time.

The film only shines dramatically in select points, but I was consistently impressed with the action. Man of Steel starts out with a slow burn, trying to develop Clark, Lois, Zod and the others. But midway through a switch is flipped, the fight scenes are unleashed, and they’re simply incredible. Superman is often accused of “fighting fair” to the point where he’s boring. He’ll throw people into things, but rarely throws a solid punch or blast someone with heat vision. Here, he does all of the above, fighting against Kryptonians just as strong as he is. The fights are furious and incredibly intense. Their scale is absolutely massive, as is the level of destruction they cause to the surrounding area as people crash through skyscrapers in mountains. Perhaps the most fantastic moment to sum up just how epic these sequences get is the finale fight between Superman and Zod that takes them from the streets of Metropolis to bashing into a (Wayne Enterprises) satellite in space. Snyder holds nothing back here, and it’s glorious.

Man of Steel is fun to watch as it’s happening, and is entertaining enough where it can draw thunderous applause from the audience when the credits roll. Afterward, however, there’s not quite the “wow” afterglow you may have found when watching The Avengers or The Dark Knight for the first time. It’s a really damn good film, but there are a few too many pieces missing to make it truly incredible and unforgettable.

That said, it deserves more praise than its getting. It’s twice the movie Superman Returns was, and in my opinion, much more enjoyable than the original Superman films as well. Superman is a tough character to work with, but this was a worthy attempt at doing him justice. Snyder almost got it all right, and I really want to see him give it another go to see if he can craft a Dark Knight to his Batman Begins.

Man of Steel is a unique brand of superhero film that doesn’t feel the need borrow from its popular competition. It’s the truest representation of one of our most beloved heroes that we’ve seen in years, and it’s well-made enough for us to forgive it some of its faults.

4 out of 5 stars


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  1. Great review and I agree completely. I for one am a Bats fan in the age old debate in Supes Vs Bats. And I absolutely find the Superman comics boring. Because of this I had written this off when I first heard about it. Once they hired Zach (because really his movies aesthetically are cool) and Nolan I was intrigued and by the time the trailer was released I had reversed my opinion. But I did not expect to be so pleased with the movie. I think its a 1st great movie for this new Superman franchise, and I think it is better than Batman Begins because of how epic the Zod Vs Kal-El battles were. But that said I dont think theyll be able to recreate the over the top action because of the villains that are left for Superman. I mean I hope they dont even attempt to make Lex a main baddie because seriously Lex on film is boring. The only considerable villains left are Braniac, Metallo, Bizarro & Darkseid, and I would think WB would use Darkseid for a JLA movie and I think Bizarro would not work well for the audience. So we shall see.

  2. Other than the odd pacing and weird editing in the beginning of the film, this was a treat of a movie to watch. The fight between Faora and Superman was one of the most incredible battles I have ever seen on film.

  3. Paul, I like very much your review. I loved Man of Steel very much. I know it is flawed at some points but the good things surpass the weak ones. I liked Cavill as Superman: I could see some shyness on him, enough to make him more interesting than the cartoonish Routh’s or the good boy looking Reeves. If we compare him to Christian Bale or Robert Downey Jr., Cavill will feel a little bit like a letdown, but he is way better than Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans on their own franchises.
    I like what they did with Louis Lane (is Nolan trying to prove he can write a good female character? Good for him), and I liked the chemistry Cavill and Amy Adams had. Seeing Superman on his knees seeking comfort from Louis Lane at the end of the film make me realized how much Adams deserved every Oscar nomination she has accomplished (and how much Cavill can grow in the part).
    A strange feeling I had while walking out of the theater still haunts me: Is it me or Nolan’s Batman can’t be part of this reality they are creating. I love Nolan and Bale’s Batman very much and I’d like to see more of him, but he will feel out of place in a world like this. Is Joss Whedon right when he says Batman is a Marvel character out of place in the DC catalogue? Now I can see it. Do you?

  4. I’m just excited that they hinted at the broader universe with the satellite easter egg, I would love to see DC match Marvel with a shared universe movie a la Avengers.

  5. It was a good movie and better than the Supes films before it (the original Reeves will always have a special place in my heart though).

    It did suffer from being too long and the end of the last fight did not sit well with me. It was not what I wanted my 7 year old to see but it was a PG13 flick so the blame there lies with me.

    I can understand why it happen and it could set up some interesting character development but I think that it really showed some lazy writing on their part.

    If some of the middle was trimmed, like most of the stuff on the ship and the fights (yes they were great to see but they ran way too long), then this would have been a much better movie.

    That said it was worth seeing and I hope that this leads to more and better DC universe films. They have a ways to go to catch Marvel but this is a good start.

  6. Thank you Paul, I find I frequently agree with you on a lot of things and I was hoping you wouldn’t be influenced by the prevailing critical backlash. You did not disappoint and in fact hit the nail on the head as to my same thoughts about the movie. I saw it at the midnight showing, and went back on Saturday to see it again and I have to say it was even better the second time (althought it may have had a lot to do with being a lot less exhausted at a screening that wasn’t midnight-3am). It’s not the Dark Knight, but it’s at least on par with Batman Begins, and far better than Superman Returns. It makes me cautiously optimistic for what Snyder and Goyer can do now that they’ve layed a rich foundation for the new Superman universe.

    As for the Justice League, they are making me worried with all of this talk of Man of Steel 2* in 2014 and Justice League in 2015. I wish they would take their time, maybe put out Flash and Wonder Woman films out ahead of Justice League. I feel like Flash could be DC’s Iron Man – the second tier hero who, if well casted and given an interesting script can be the POV center for the JLA movie.

    *I really hope Snyder/Goyer/(Nolan) follow the Batman titling formula and go with “Man of Steel”->”Man of Tomorrow”->”Last Son of Krypton” or something similar. I would hate to see “Man of Steel 2” on a theater marquis.


    Supes killed Zod at the end of the Donner flick as well. As a matter of fact, he kills him after he has taken his power, while he was completely helpless and before he attempted to murder an entire planet whereas in Man of Steel, Supes pretty much is completely justified in killing Zod.

    This so called debate about the ending needs to freaking die already; there is no debate.

  8. Oh, there’s a debate there all right, Chooch. As a character, Superman would never in a million goddamn years kill another individual for any reason. Being the bigger man and refusing to be judge, jury, and executioner simply because he has the power to do so is what he is all about.

    Having Clark Kent execute someone is like having Batman shoot someone with a gun. But Donner’s Superman wasn’t perfect either, and this ain’t the comics so it can slide. The way they did it was actually pretty great in that Zod pretty much forced him to do it, which is the single most spiteful thing he could have possibly done.

    Unfortunately, the film did a horrific job of developing Superman’s character so it could have been much better. Could have used less unnecessarily ridiculous action sequences of Jor-el flying around on dragons and skydiving and more development of the cast.

    I found it amusing that so many people knock Snyder for using too much slow motion so this time out he did the action scenes in super speed. Eat it, critics!

  9. *Spoilers*


    First off, we’re you just biting at the bit to spoil the movie? Yes you put a header above it but you didn’t need to spill the beans about what happen at the end.

    Second, he didn’t kill Zod at the end of the Donner flick. He crushes his hand and then tosses him down a crystal slide to the bottom of the FoS.


    Tossing a villain to an unknown fate and how the fight ends in Man of Steel are two different things. If you can’t see that then there is no need to discuss this.

  10. Nick, I think you and I are on the same page with this one. Except the Krypton sequence was easily my favorite part of the movie, top to bottom.


    The problem with the execution is that they didn’t build up to it. I get what they were going for — that this is the breaking point and Zod WILL NOT stop. It’s just hard to swallow the significance of that when the casualties caused by the rest of the fight probably number in the tens of thousands. There’s a way to sell the decision, but they didn’t find it. And it absolutely HAS to be sold, because it’s really not in character for Superman. If you want to write that into the story, you have to be aware of this issue.

    My main issue with the movie (aside from its that) is that it didn’t really answer its central question. “Is the world ready for Superman?” We really don’t see what the world thinks of him at all (minus the opinions of about three people), which isn’t really satisfying to me.

    People like to throw Superman Returns under the bus, but the ending of the movie at least answers THAT question pretty clearly. Speaking here of the hospital scene.

    As for the question of what kind of man Kal-El was going to be, that was resolved halfway through the movie. So… not all that dramatic either, IMO. Really, a lot of the characterization was lacking. That Zod and Jor-El were my favorites makes all kinds of sense to me because their motives were always clear and it was their actions driving the plot forward.

  11. Oh, also, sorry for the double post but I just have to point out that the Clark Kent/Kal-El dynamic is a HUGE part of Superman’s essence, and Man of Steel’s decision to partially (or almost wholly) ignore that is a large part of what makes this Kal-El feel rather thin in comparison to other versions of the character.

    I think I should have said that the characterization was my main issue, and the dramatic question thing was the secondary one.

  12. Okay now that everyone agrees that the movie was pretty good, we need to talk about the space dongs. Specifically, what was the deal with the space dongs? I mean, I know that they were supposed to be symbolic of the Kryptonians’ mechanical method of reproduction, but c’mon. One way to suck the gravitas out of any dramatic scene is to plop a bunch of dongs in there, and these were rocket powered dongs that penetrated a giant space vajajay, for corn’s sake.

  13. “Zod is a curious case. The dynamic between him and Jor-El is interesting, as are his motivations (“I was bred from birth to protect Krypton no matter what to cost. It is all I know.”).”

    I think it’s fair to say that krypton is a platonic society, (at one point clark is reading the republic, and his father is killed by Zod after accusations of blasphemy, just as Socrates was put to death for similar accusations.) keeping this in mind I think Zod is quite straightforward in regards to his motivations. I think Michael Shannon did well, but sometimes it did seem a little flat — ultimately though it seemed to work, so not much too complain about I guess 🙂

    It’s interesting, but I’d feel like I’d need to watch it again to see if there is anything really there beyond little story hooks and nods concerning Plato/’The Republic.’

    It was certainly a nice change from the average lackluster superman film, the action scenes were awesome, and unexpected. 🙂

  14. ****STILL SPOILERS***


    Are you kidding me? What, does Donner-man think that Zod is going to magically survive a toss into the abyss? HE JUST ROBBED HIM OF ALL HIS POWERS! Same with Ursula. Either Donner-man is incredibly irresponsible ala Dr Evil form Austin Powers in assuming the problem is taken care of or its the same thing cause why in the hell would Superman think that Zod would survive a toss/fall like that?. There is no wiggle room.

    Hell in Man of Steel at least he immediately shows remorse. In Superman 2, Lois Lane cracks a campy joke, KILLS HER CAPTOR and that’s it. Superman looks surprised for about 2 seconds that Lois did that then HE SMILES.

    @Nick: I don’t disagree in that Superman isn’t supposed to kill if you want to compare it to the comics. But we are simply comparing the movies, him killing someone IS NOT NEW AND SHOCKING LIKE IT IS MADE OUT TO BE. It was done in the second movie.

    Also, it was done in the comics too. WHOOPS:

  15. @Chooch

    Good catch, a lot of people seem to leave these things out (Just like batman has killed some people, that doesn’t change the fact that as a general rule it is something he eschews.

  16. Chooch —

    Regardless of whether or not we can find a few specific examples of Superman taking a life when he has to (obviously there are a handful), snapping someone’s neck is still a dramatic reversal of what we expect from the character. And it doesn’t automatically make the decision appropriate for this movie, either.

    Now, I don’t think that makes the act, free of context, wrong. What I do wish is that there had been a little more… shall we say, thought… with how it was handled. For the movie to go from enjoying the sight of Superman and Zod duking it out and killing thousands of people, to a brief moment of anguish when Superman did the deed, and then back to smiles at the end of the movie, minimizes the impact of the scene.

    Besides, that howl of anguish isn’t specific. Supes could be distraught at having to kill. At feeling no choice in the matter. At losing the last remaining member of his race. The moment is not dealt with in any depth, and as such it doesn’t feel dramatically significant. Which it absolutely, 100 percent IS. Superman killing is something that shouldn’t be dealt with in shorthand, especially when the tone of the movie appears to lend the drama of the character a lot of credibility.

    Whoever wrote that article you posted is a jerk, by the way. He attempts to paint the opinions of those who don’t like seeing Superman kill as the ranting of people who hate seeing a strong Lois Lane. I mean, what the hell. Not much of an argument, either.

  17. @David R

    Being a jerk =/= wrong.

    The point is this is NOT a dramatic reversal; this WAS an incredibly desperate and last choice, did we watch the same movie? The ‘choice’ was made when Zod stated he would never stop. It was then that Supes realized what he said earlier (this ends with one of us dying) WAS UNAVOIDABLE. He made a choice, and it’s obvious that for him, it was the wrong choice.

    The howl? Maybe it’s ALL OF THE ABOVE? The point still comes across, him killing someone was EMOTIONALLY SIGNIFICANT. My whole theater was DEAD SILENT WHEN IT HAPPENED short of a few “oh shit! had to get it on!” mumbles. No one mocked him crying or screaming and Lois coming to comfort him; seems like the point wasn’t lost at my theater.

    And the all smiles at the end? I’d rather have that than the campy joke when you kill someone and Supes smiling as Lois does it in the Donner film.

  18. Let me point out that the guy in that article said that Superman does not have a “no killing policy” and then he unironically posted a scan of a conversation with Lois Lane where he refers to breaking his “oath” (presumably the no-killing one he supposedly does not have). He also claims that anyone who has ever read ANY Superman comic knows Superman kills. That’s just ridiculous in that it implies Superman kills in EVERY ISSUE.

    Individual writers make individual choices and Supes has been around for many decades. A few instances of him killing in that time are very likely. Hell, Batman used to use guns. But past exceptions don’t necessarily obliterate the general character rule. And one should preferably avoid breaking said rules in the very first movie when possible in my opinion. It was no different than in Batman Begins when Bats pulled his “I don’t have to save you” out. It was out of character as Batman saves villains every chance he gets (even saving Joker from a state-sanctioned execution), but the movie was cool and clearly different from the comics so it’s not really a big deal. Same thing here. Worth a discussion, but it didn’t ruin the movie for me.

  19. Great review. I agree for the most part, though I lean more towards 3.5/5 because the first two acts are too dense, Snyder tries us to engage with both of the Kryptonian parents, both of the Earth parents plus Clark and Lois, all this while pushing the somewhat-complicated plot and it’s way too much for him to juggle with. Also, I get that he wasn’t going for “humorous”, but jesus, the movie and our hero got stuck in dead-serious mode for such large stretches and from so early on, that when the chance for a giggle finally came the audience sounded more relieved than amused. Another thing the film lacked was an identifiable soundtrack, or maybe the saturated sound editing didn’t allow it to shine. All in all, this is definitely the least hit-and-miss Snyder will ever be, and it’s a remarkable effort.

    I don’t understand the skimpy reviews either. The action spectacle alone is the biggest and sharpest I’ve seen since The Matrix. Snyder uses every camera and editing trick he knows -and he knows plenty- to give us a sense of dimension and speed, with a “boss-battle” feel straight from the videogame world. It’s truly mind-blowing. Some professional critics have given it 2/5 ratings. If a critic decides to rate a movie with numbers, and his system has any sort of common-sense meaning, 2/5 translates to “I don’t recommend you watch this movie, but should you do it, it’s passable”. Are the plot flaws that huge, so that you’d recommend not watching it at all? Ridiculous. MoS is average story-telling, but then again, so was Avatar, and it was a must-see because nothing quite like it had been achieved. Since film is a visual art, it’s always nice to see it move a step forward, as it recently did with Life of Pi. Some have even compared MoS to Transformers, claiming that both films have a lot of well-rendered destruction, and questionable plot. That’s nonsense. Even if MoS doesn’t succeed in all of its dramatic turns, it does achieve some emotional connection with the characters and it’s obvious that a HUGE effort was made to give as much meaning as possible to the final battle and to Clark’s decisions. Coming up a tad short is not the same as not even trying.

  20. Along with the Wayne satelite, there’s also a moment wher Superman throws Zod into a Lexcorp truck. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it thing, but it made me laugh out loud in the theater.

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