So in order to write this review, there will be more than a few spoilers. This is your warning. Get out now with one bit of advice: save your money, 3D is not worth it for this movie.
The themes of the movie are many and have bothered more than a few. Let's face it, Superman as the original superhero has always been a savior-figure. While the Christ figure theme didn't really bother me as much as say the extreme blatant images of the third Matrix movie, it does seem to bother a few. The studio is so okay with this connection that the actually have a resource web site which includes information for using the movie in Christian teaching. (SPOILER)Of course, there is the slight issue that Christ didn't kill anyone. Another theme early on is the failure of leaders to act. It is clear that Krypton dies because of the political inaction and ineptitude. This is what forces Zod, who is programmed as a defender of the planet, to revolt and revealing him as the villain. It is a clear statement about those who only act for political reason rather than govern. There is also the theme of our inability to trust anything we do not understand or more aptly the lack of trust we seem to have these days. The hopeful future of ET and Close Encounters have been replaced by a more cynical time. This theme, if current polls are accurate, is right on the mark. Are these themes thinly veiled? They are. Like most of the comic books
Zack Snyder, the director of the movie has made a film with little joy. So if you go in expecting the humor of say a certain red and gold iron avenger movie, you won't get it. The movie is darker in a tone more along a Batman line. I know a few critics have remarked on this, but to make a review on a movie because it is a comic book movie and all comic book movies should be have humor and romance, is to limit the genre. What damages the movie is pacing. It needs balance. I do like the creation of how Kal El becomes Clark Kent and how he becomes Superman by using flashback as a good way to build the character. Henry Cavill is appropriately brooding as Superman. We don't actually ever get to see much of the bumbling Clark Kent reporter, and we still don't know how Superman shaves his super beard. Gone in Man of Steel are the red boots and briefs and the bright blue costume. Gone too is the Superman hair curl. This Superman has a new costume. I must admit that during one fight sequence when the evil General Zod grabs Superman's cape, I kept hearing the refrain of "NO CAPES!" echo in my head for some reason. Still the story is good if a bit out of balance between action and dramatic scenes. I am still in awe when I see a British actor doing an American accent so well. I guess it's because so many American do British accents so very badly.
The villain is General Zod played by Michael Shannon. Shannon as villain is an interesting choice. Having seen him interviewed, I have to admit I was surprised at Shannon's performance. Given that most comic book villains are generally very two-dimensional, Zod is well-portrayed by this somewhat mild-mannered actor. Even his vocal portrayal is strong.
The love interest in the movie is, of course, Lois Lane who is played by the versatile and seemingly everywhere-you-look actress Amy Adams. While Amy Adams looks nothing like her comic book alter-ego, we finally get a Lois Lane who isn't fooled by a pair of glasses or in this case a beard. Lois is not just smart in everything except when it comes to Superman; she is smart all the time. While she still is the damsel in-need-of-saving, she also gets the opportunity to at least help stop Zod, even if it does take a scientist to finally make the plan work.
Finally, is Jor El played by Russell Crowe. Crowe has remarked that at least he had to get back in shape. He is suppose to be Superman's spiritual guide as he comes to realize he is an alien among very fragile humans. Crowe really doesn't turn in much in the way of his acting skill but then again, there really isn't much he could do with the part.
Like most comic book heroes, Superman is given to deal with being an orphan who watched the death of the man who raised him and charges him with his responsibility to his great power. He has angst in that he must keep his identity a secret, feels responsible for the death of anyone he has ever loved and is raised by his loving adoptive mother. Sound at all familiar?
Another problem lies in that the supporting cast is under-utilized for the back story. Good actors are given little to do. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Johnathan and Martha Kent lack the build to make them strong characters. The most under utilized of all though is Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. If you didn't know who Perry White is in the comic book, you probably wouldn't notice except for the fact that we are surprised to see Fishburne used in such a bit player way.
It is the end of the movie that has caused the most controversy. In all honesty, I am tired of long special effect battles that use CGI with blurred motion. It does not make them more exciting, it just makes them hard to follow. Has no one learned any thing from the failure of the effects in the Transformer movies? Longer is not better. Just longer. What upsets so many fans is that Superman kills Zod. That's right the Man of Steel takes a life. Welcome to a true reboot. I personally liked the risk that this change in the character of Superman took. Left with no other alternative, Superman must kill Zod to save the humans he has adopted. The problem is that the battle sequence before this is clearly devastating to the city, and surprisingly no one seems to get killed despite the number of buildings that are demolished by Kal El and Zod. Still, to have Superman kill someone was a great risk, but then again, comic books do this kind of thing all the time.
As I said, I liked the movie. It could have been better, but it is still the best Superman movie to date. Man of Steel II has been fast tracked by the studio which has also committed to a third possible Justice League movie to follow. I will most likely buy the DVD.