Review: Despite Flaws, 'Man of Steel' is Still the Best Superman Yet
by Jeremy Kirk
June 14, 2013
Even for those who grew up loving Richard Donner's direction and Christopher Reeves' portrayal of Superman, it's hard denying Man of Steel as the best film version the last son of Krypton has had. Epic in scope and alien - get used to that word - in nature, Man of Steel catapults onto the screen with raw intent. Thanks to the fresh take Christopher Nolan and David Goyer have for the screenplay and the bombastic attitude director Zack Snyder has always been a pro at, the film easily makes us forget Superman was ever a hokier than thou comic book character who just couldn't get a decent big screen adaptation.
Right from the start, Man of Steel trumps expectations. The first 15-20 minutes of Snyder's film shows us a Krypton we've never seen before, a world torn by civil war, and though the planet's fate is certainly sealed well before the Warner Brothers logo even appears, it shows us a series of space battles that amp the suspense to the highest magnitude. This is Snyder's Star Wars in the opening moments. The grand scale visuals aren't necessarily what make Man of Steel the best Superman movie, but definitely the biggest.
Though the team behind the film is set in place to reboot the franchise, there's definitely an understanding of the basic premise behind Superman's origin. A baby born on a dying planet. A father's (Russell Crowe) choice to send him to a remote planet where he will be perceived as a God. The ensuing childhood and parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) in small-town Kansas that instill in the "all powerful" boy a notion of absolute morality. These are staples in the story of Superman, but Snyder/Nolan/Goyer, knowing full well they are necessities, make bold attempts at bringing originality into the story at every turn.
We jump 30 years after Krypton's destruction. We are introduced to Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) as an adult, drifting around the Earth with an understanding of his abilities but nothing of a sense of place. Taking the same approach that made "Smallville" such a hit, Man of Steel shows us a Clark Kent at odds between what he can do and not knowing how the world would react to exactly what he is, an alien.
This is the best decision Man of Steel makes. Somewhere in the first iterations of Superman on film the notion that he is an alien being got swept under a rug of righteousness and hokey Americana. Those films gave human beings too much credit, if you were to ask the people behind this film. And with that understanding of Clark Kent's alien nature and mankind's reaction to such a thing comes the science fiction genre Superman has always deserved to fit into.
With this audacious, new structure comes Man of Steel's biggest flaw. Snyder's pacing is uneven for long stretches of the film, ramping into action as soon as a scene begins as if we've come into the middle of something massive that we don't understand and leaping back and forth, in and out of flashbacks that build the conditioned origin we've seen before.
In between those flashbacks and Clark Kent's incongruity we're introduced to Lois Lane (Amy Adams, already a comic book character name). Once again, she's the adventurous nuisance…er…reporter of Metropolis' Daily Planet, but instead of her knowledge of Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman only coming when the man walks through the newspaper's doors, Nolan and Goyer allow her to be precisely what she is, a damn good reporter (or nuisance depending on which end of the snooping you're on).
On the other side, fresh as her character is here, that awkward pacing never allows the love story between the two to blossom. There's very little chemistry between the two, and it's hard to lay that at the feet of the actors. The two characters seem to fall in love because that's how the Lois & Clark story goes. There simply isn't enough room for breath here to allow the relationship to build. Before we know it, the real threat of Man of Steel rears his ugly head, and when I say "ugly", I'm really just talking about Michael Shannon.
His General Zod is the protector of Krypton, its people, and its way of life, flawed as that may be. Once his ships enter our atmosphere - somewhere near the 90-minute mark of this 143-minute-long film - and gives Clark Kent the ultimate ultimatum to reveal himself, Man of Steel's frustration in pacing is completely swept away by roaring, epic, and yes, awesome escapism. It's what Zack Snyder does best, and do it well he does very well this time around.
The action on display in the last hour of Man of Steel is among the biggest and best Summer blockbusters could possibly offer. Giant ships land on our planet. Massive explosions rip through Clark Kent's world, first his hometown of Smallville and then his future home of Metropolis. We even get the fight-and-flight treatment the Superman films have never been able to perfect, that idea of two characters who can defy gravity beating the hell out of each other in mid-air. Once the blue suit and red cape come on, the excitement takes off, and any issues one might have with Man of Steel are quickly forgotten.
It helps that every actor in the film seems to be giving 110%, especially Cavill if you count the hours he very clearly put in at the gym - My God, that man is as handsome as he is ripped. Despite the lack of chemistry between he and Adams, their every individual scene works effortlessly. So, too, does Shannon, who has gone from creepy to downright terrifying as Zod. If the threat level isn't made clear by the the size of his plot in the film - aided by that magnificent budget and Snyder's use of it - it absolutely is by his energy on display.
But the clear acting winners here are Crowe and Costner, two former Robin Hoods who represent the internal struggle of our superhero protagonist. Those first 20 minutes are all Crowe, and the man gets to star in his very own, sci-fi, action epic for a little while, dragon riding and machine gun firing included. Costner, on the other hand, is the subdued Jonathan Kent, whose love for his son - and well-deserved cynicism of the world outside Kansas - outweighs the greater good that son's powers can achieve. Both actors nail their respective roles. It's Costner, though, whose every line delivery determines the pace of the film he's in. Even when his presence feels awkward, the power he exudes overshadows any faults the film throws at him.
And Man of Steel is flawed to a point. 20 minutes of awesome, 60 minutes of stilted origin, and 60 minutes of incredibly epic action still has parts that feel more wooden-flimsy than metal-solid. Nonetheless, imperfections and all, Man of Steel remains the best Superman film we're allowed to have. As with any of these reboots, it leaves us yearning for a sequel where the origin story isn't as front-and-center. Regardless, this fresh, ironically grounded Clark Kent tale Nolan and Goyer have decided to tell is a welcome return for comic book's most iconic figure. With any luck, Snyder will be back to make Man of Steel 2 just as awesome.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10
Reader Feedback - 61 Comments
Thanks Jeremy. I am going to check this out after work!!!
DAVIDPD on Jun 14, 2013
me as well, IMAX 3D!!
Adam Lubicz on Jun 14, 2013
All I hear is that hear is no humor and its not Donner. I'm seeing it pronto.
Xerxexx on Jun 14, 2013
There are a couple humorous parts, but very few.
Chris R. on Jun 14, 2013
yea a laughed a few times, but its not Iron Man... superman isnt a comedian
Sky on Jun 14, 2013
But isn't the "S" on his chest stands for "Stand-up Comedian"? just asking
Guapo on Jun 15, 2013
No it stands for Soap
Sky on Jun 15, 2013
OK so i posted this last night: Just got home from MOS (walmart advanced screening). Very awesome film! The action is the best of its kind ie any recent Marvel, Transformers, etc. To see super fighting from super hero/villians was incredible. The interesting parts about Krypton, Superman's revised origins were that- interesting. Unfortunately, i must agree with critics reviews about the "heart" or human element of the film. I did not get the tingles up my spine and goosebumps i expected. Having seen the Chris Reeves original in theatre when i was about 6 or 7 and then watching again few years ago i have to say that movie hits you somewhere this one doesn't. So to me it is a testament to Donner and Reeves. The trials of Clark in Smallville in that original SM film are much more "relatable" and give you more feeling/concern for him as a youth dealing w being different. I also believe this films use of flashbacks to his childhood contribute to not feeling too attached to the "poor kid" dealing with it. Those scenes are spread out through this film so you dont get to hang with him as he grows up (too much jumping around). So final words: best action film of SM ever but Reeves (and younger teen actor that played him) gave you the most "human" portrayal. Thanks for reading, and enjoy your viewing because i gaurantee you will! Not sure if i can agree w "Best SM ever".
Wish01 on Jun 14, 2013
I loved it. I mean, no more of that redundant Kryptonite, just a superbrawl with a villain just as strong, if not stronger, than Superman is. That's what I've been asking for in a long time.
Ben on Jun 26, 2013
This is a very fair review. While I'll be the first to admit there were some pacing issues, it was still some of the best super hero action ever presented in film. In fact, I honestly don't believe the pacing issues were any worse than that in Avengers but somehow MoS has a 59% critic approval rating where the Avengers received 92%. Kind of makes you think a lot of these guys are on the Disney/Marvel payroll somewhere down the line... I personally am so glad they didn't tie up 20-30% of the movie's screen time with Lois and Clark romance--not for the introductory chapter of the franchise. There is plenty of room for that relationship to develop over time as it would in real life.
Kevin Laymon on Jun 14, 2013
I am glad the reviewer mentioned that it is Snyder's Star Wars. Given Nolan had his input in this,I can't wait to see what he does with his own space and Sci fi movie Interstellar
Great actor on Jun 14, 2013
I just want to know, as a 24 year old mature man, will I enjoy this movie or not? I had really high hopes for iron man 3, but it turned out to be mostly made for a younger audience. Also, does it have many fantasy elements? I really don't like fantasy at all.
andrew on Jun 14, 2013
You'll love the movie--especially if you disliked Iron Man 3.
Kev on Jun 14, 2013
I fell asleep in IM3, hah.
Jason Luthor on Jun 15, 2013
This Superman isn't for kids. Very violent at times and strong language every so often too!
Chris R. on Jun 14, 2013
I was asking if it's more mature and grounded, somewhat logical, not if it has violence in it, a movie can have violence and still be perceived as immature and illogical, something a 12 year old would dream off.
andrew on Jun 14, 2013
MoS insults your intelligence. Check out the prequel comic and you'll see what I mean.
Save Your Money on Jun 14, 2013
It has a flying dragon. Pretty fantastical elements indeed. I'm 24 and thought it was meh. Waiting for Elysium myself.
suit up on Jun 14, 2013
No 'Game of Thrones' type stuff. No Jor El reading cue cards either. There isn't much humor. However, the one humorous bit I remember in the film is a joke I certainly never saw coming, and it certainly isn't a gag one would see in an Iron Man or Batman movie...it's all Superman, hehehe. I agree with the majority...it's better than Iron Man 3, but not quite as good as Avengers. It would be hard to top the "Hulk Smash", "Punch", and "Puny God" gags. The main difference between Marvel and DC is that Marvel never really has taken itself too seriously, while DC was always a bit more serious, even about being silly. This Superman 'looks' like he's in Bruce Wayne's world, even without the Easter Eggs. It's very easy to see how the JLA would now form due to the fact that Earth is no longer alone in the universe.
ComicMan on Jun 14, 2013
I actually didn't think the Avengers was a good hero movie. I would have preferred those guys in an ensemble comedy without the heroic stuff tacked on.
Jason Luthor on Jun 15, 2013
Good write up! Saw the 7pm showing last night and enjoyed it for the most part. I did think the destruction was over the top. Superman being a being who wants to protect us sure causes some destruction! Maybe because it's all still new to him, he can be forgiven? Couple other notes, the 3D was not worth it. As with most movies, the 3D is subpar unfortunately. And be ready to hold in the tears when the tornado hits. Damn, that was a rough scene to watch. One of the last scenes was hard as well. The train station one, not to give anything away; but not the family part, but after that, between Superman and Lois. I thought that was a terribly touching scene and shows that this "Superman" has feelings. Hope I didn't give too much away!
Chris R. on Jun 14, 2013
The 3D was totally not worth it. Just an excuse to charge high ticket prices.
Leroy on Jun 14, 2013
Superman does NOT kill! Hated that part.
Hurly on Jun 14, 2013
He did kill Zod in the comics as well for the very same reason and swore to never take a life again.
mooreworthy on Jun 14, 2013
He sure does, read the comics.
Jason Luthor on Jun 15, 2013
The others are right, also in the 90s Superman Cartoon, as well as the Justice League Cartoon, and a lot of Comics Superman has both killed Darkseid and tried to kill Darkseid only to be stop by other heroes who are much darker like Batman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman.
RootBeerMaster on Jun 15, 2013
Uh, Superman did killed Zod - a helpless de-powered Zod - in Superman 2. And he didn't even had to kill him. Instead, Superman decided to toss Zod into the freezing waters of the North Pole.
Alex Atienza on Jun 15, 2013
I have to agree with the negative reviews I've been reading after having seen Man of Steel. The action starts out with a bang and never let's up, but that's not a good thing. Often times it was hard to follow and what you could see was not very extraordinary. The characters are dull. No chemistry between Lois and Clark. And they materially altered the Superman mythos but not in a good way.
Hal Jordan on Jun 14, 2013
This review is way too kind and forgiving. You should expect more out of a Superman reboot. Don't settle for less. If you support a film like this, WB will never learn.
Kevin on Jun 14, 2013
Didn't settle, it was pretty good.
Jason Luthor on Jun 15, 2013
Just to add in my two cents... This was the best Superman I've seen on the screen. I've watched the old black and white episodes. Stood in line as a kid when Reeves first portrayed the character.. I've seen the animated pieces old and new blah blah blah. The "tone" says it all. Personally I like my superhero movies to be on the serious side. I sometimes get tired with the campy comic relief when its used too much. I think it sometimes cheapens super hero movies. People complain about the lack of humor... well it's not a m****** *****n' cheesy action comedy buddy cop flick. Its a what if this really happened and "if I don't stop Zod we'll all be dead" kind of flick! Some critics say that the movie isn't good for a variety of reasons... But the bottom line is that you need to see if for yourself. I recommend it for people who want to see a movie with a solid tone. If you want to see a comedy go see This is the End. If this is any indication of what the next installment and Justice League will be like, I look forward to it! Oh and to the critics that don't even like super hero movies... do us all a favor and stop reviewing super hero movies. I give it 4 stars out of 5. I'd do a few things different but I really enjoyed it.
DJ SID on Jun 14, 2013
Full 10 for me. So galvanizing I had tears in my eyes. My favorite super heroes movie was Watchman. Now it is Man of Steel. I love you Zack.
Gianni Persello on Jun 15, 2013
I haven't seen the movie yet and have my doubts after reading the critical reviews. Why? I want to remember Superman the way he was. There's a reason why the older crowd are naysaying the new version. The older SM's represented their core beliefs. Think of it this way, everyone has serious issues whether it's loss of a loved one, being adopted, trying to pay bills for a place to live and eat etc. Through all the hard times they accepted it and kept going. They tried their best to mentally work through their issues without shrinks or counselors, they internalized it BUT put on a brave face to the world and smiled. That WAS Christopher Reeve, both in character and real life! It seems like we moved into a darker era and this SM is a harder and more pessimistic superhero. I don't know about anyone else but I want a superhero in the movies that I can escape with that gives me hope and that is uplifting.
OkI'llSayIt on Jun 15, 2013
I saw the movie and I liked it it fit well with the times and made a logical sense of who the man of steel is. Instead of a tired cliche we get a real person with incredible powers trying to live among us. If you are worried that this superman is different he is. He is both more human and more a symbol of what we can be. He is someone who has had loss and stands up tall still. I have a slight issue with the plot inconsistencies created by the use of genetics in the film but none about the portrayal of superman himself.
Nicronous on Jun 15, 2013
Then don't see it. It will just tarnish the image you have of Superman. Just go and keep re-watching the Chris Reeve version.
Alex Atienza on Jun 15, 2013
Stick with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
RetiredCop82 on Nov 13, 2013
And comic books??? Isn't DC KNOWN for their uplifting and inspiring characters, with ONE gritty angst-filled member?
B.Allen on Oct 14, 2014
DO NOT WASTE YOU MONEY ON "MAN OF STEEL!!" Did Sack Snyder even go to film school? What in the world was he thinking" I cannot believe what a messed up cluster of "*&^%^&" he made of a beloved superhero film. This was not a superman, just another attempt at making money off people. Why didn't the studios consider Spielberg, Lucas, heck even Costner himself could do this gig, and not screw up so badly!!! Singer was even better!!!!! Snyder needs to learn one major word.... TRIPOD. It's a tool used in storytelling so people don't throw up on the theater floor! If you want to see a film shot like home movies, go see this, but I must worn you, even AFV videos are better!!! On a 3 inch screen this will probably rocks, but nothing else. Who hired this guy??? Are the studio execs seen his crap? This film was a big disappointment for me and my wife. First, the studios should hire a real director who knows how to tell a story, not just close ups of fists punching, and building blowing up.... Can anyone tell me what happened in half the film? There were no Master shots, except in slow moving space shots which were a welcome relief from that scatter crap. I perfer to not be in it where half the action is missing, but a witness to it! Worse than that was...... With all the hot woman in Hollywood, who did Amy Adams sleep with to get this role. She is like watching paint dry, and not attractive enough for such a good looking superman. She is perky at best! This was not Superman at all, Again Snyder dropped the ball and thought he knew better then a time honored theme song by a great composer. Hans my friend, you should have listened to Williams version, it is loved and makes the Superman Character have people believe in him. The music was just another film score, boring white noise behind the actors for no reason. Snyder should apologize to all the great actors, who gave him solid performances and he felt it was more important to shake the damn camera! Costner was perfect, Diane Lane was Wonderful as always, Russell Crow played it perfectly, and the Villain Michael Shannon was great, even Superman himself Henry Cavill gave a solid performance. To have great acting, it is more important to capture the performance then run up to someone with a camera on my shoulder. And no, you have to stop using "twitch" it's for gamers who get shot in game play, not for feature films on a thirty foot screen. Honestly, Snyder keeps getting work and who makes that decision, they should be fired! And I would gladly do it!
Not a god film! on Jun 16, 2013
Obvously the dude above must be a really good home movie maker!!! Or maybe used car sales! Haha
just one comments on Jun 17, 2013
Clearly a review from another film school grad who doesn't know sh*t from Shinola. Clearly the best superman version yet!
RetiredCop82 on Nov 13, 2013
Care to explain why its ironic? or was that picked straight from the interview with Zack Snyder a week back?
nathan on Jun 17, 2013
I SAW IT IMAX 3D IN NYC!!! AWESOME AS HELL. MOST OF THE CRITIQUES ARE DEAD ON BUT IT IS STILL AWESOME SEEING SUPERMAN LIKE THIS!!
Reborn on Jun 18, 2013
Chris Reeves superman movie was crap compare to man of steel
randy on Jun 18, 2013
Somebody, anybody, PLEASE take away Zack Snyder's sledgehammer!
AgentEd on Jun 18, 2013
no...it isn't. It should have been.
Kal-El-1983 on Jun 19, 2013
If earth atmosphere made them stronger, faster and gave them all kinds of power why do they want to change it???
leito on Jun 19, 2013
The SUN gave them powers. It was never explained why they were terraforming earth, as apparently they can adapt to it.
Tom on Jun 23, 2014
Anyone else notice Cavil "morph" into Christopher Reeve when he was underneath the pulse of the World Engine?? I think this was a deliberate homage to Mr Reeve....anyonre else see this?
rivz33 on Jun 19, 2013
Did they pay you to give it 8 out of 10??? Ugh!! It sucked.
Charley Linden on Jun 25, 2013
Holy Sh*t! Best Superman ever? Clearly you don't know movies or film. MOS is convoluted mess. Overly complicated - tries too hard and resembles a weird mishmash of Dark Knight and Star Wars prequels. Absolutely zero magic or fun in this movie.
danno604 on Jun 26, 2013
I sure respect your opinion, but am on the other side of the fence on this one. Saw this movie with my two sons (19 and 13) and my nephew (also 13). We all left the theater disappointed; this was a plodding, dull, and uninspired movie I can't possibly recommend. The plot was insipid - a clunker from end to end.
Moviefan on Jun 27, 2013
it's not "30 years" after the destruction of Krypton, because you have to think about it in terms of space travel
jbee on Jul 3, 2013
Not in my world. Supersuit for one thing, but an even bigger disappointment is the lack of original dialog. Movie has taken whole scenes worth straight from the pilot for the animated series.
John Taylor on Jul 17, 2013
Listen I almost missed one Awesome Movie!!! I was almost swayed by these negative reviews it was receiving. If you are a super hero action movie fan. This ranks among the BEST!!! If your a Superman Fan "This Really is the Best One Yet" They made the story more realistic. The special effects were pretty Awesome!!! And if you ask me Henry Cavill made just as good a Superman as Cristopher Reeves maybe even better. His character was a little more believable. Imagine growing up having these amazing abilities that you can't use or tell anyone about. you're bound to grow up a bit socially unadjusted and kind of a loner. Reeves Superman was more of a bumbling Idiot as Kent. Not to spoil anything but if you are a Superman movie fan from the 80's The story line and Characters are like a Combo of the first 2 movies from 78 and 80 and they did a FANTASTIC Job with it!!! I thought the movie was amazing. My kids loved and my wife even said she liked it. Go see it in IMAX 3D!!!
Eder Ramirez on Jul 18, 2013
It was a good movie -- stop bitching trolls!!!
jason Macdonald on Nov 22, 2013
First 20 min was a tearjerker....Good Movie
Che Aragon on Dec 7, 2013
The Donner original is imo far superior. Reeves brought a noble charisma and awkward goofy charm to the two very separate roles of Superman/Kent. Theres a depth to his relationship with Lois Lane. She too has two has a hidden identity: she's a brash pro hack but reveals a vulnerable warmth to her persona only Superman and the audience see; neither is able to reveal all that they are to each other and this perhaps explains the attraction and tragedy. The chemistry is there in spades. Gene Hackman's Luther is a more interesting villain. Brilliant and funny yet sinister! All very human. 'Man of Steel' isn't a bad film, but by comparison it's scenes are disjointed, lots of the standard faire blowing up stuff in cities as filler and riding giant dragonfly shotgun (something the dignified original advanced Jor-El would never do). The characters are dull and the plot just as silly as the original but here they are all intent taking it and themselves far too seriously and expecting us to do the same. I'm not biting.
Guest on Jan 5, 2014
The Donner original is superior because it has more interesting characters and doesn't take itself very seriously. C. Reeves played Superman and Clark Kent as two separate characters and brilliantly I might add. We understand his attraction to Lois Lane someone who also hides the persona of loving vulnerability beneath a tough, professional shell. Yet tragically neither is able to reveal all that they are to the other. Yet we are privy to both. This builds both the suspense and chemistry so lacking in the remake. I won't even touch on Gene Hackman as a much more interesting villain. 'Man of Steel' isn't a bad film but by comparison it's scenes are disjointed, the action:character ratio excessive in action, the characters are dull and the plot just as silly as the original but here they are all intent on taking it and themselves far, far too seriously and expecting us to do the same.
KimVo on Jan 5, 2014
Man Of Steel is a bad film. I feel confident in saying after repeated and much forced viewings. (a 3 with breaks just to make sure) It's long. Running time is on par with the Donner originals. But, humor and joy make up for action pauses. Then by the time action kicks in, it's the opposite extreme with 30 minute cgi scenes. Smh
Morris_b on Apr 23, 2014
Notice that last minute of the film? Clark dons the trappings of the Kent everyone knows and loves, dorky glasses, hair tidied, employed at the Planet. The filmmakers know what they're doing : they leave that til last not just because it allows for a sequel but because it lets this film take a far different approach than the Donner film : asking 'What did it take to get to this point?' This movie inherits a host of preconceptions from viewers that the Batman reboot, for example, did not : Burton's 1989 film was a Joker origin but took Wayne completely for granted - he was just 'there', and that allowed Nolan, Goyer and co to do something fresh and exciting. People seem to either love it or hate it : I'm of the former. I think it's been horribly misunderstood : it's not 'Superman : Year One' but 'Superman : Day One.'
mike alexander on Apr 29, 2014
This movie wasn't perfect but it was far better than the original Richard Donner film. I don't know why everyone loves that movie so much; it's hokey, there's barely any action, and humanity's curiosity (or lack thereof) about a god-like alien living amongst them is expressed in a single underwhelming line: "So, you're from Krypton, huh?" I thought some of the dialogue in MoS was kind of bad (example: Faora's boast that "evolution always wins". What does that even mean?) and the mix of Nolan's pretentiousness with Snyder's more self-aware :"yes-this-is-a-comic-book-movie-and-that's-okay" style didn't mesh well in every scene. But overall I had a great time, even more so on my second viewing. I can't wait to see how WB expands this universe with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
ScienceSokka on Sep 19, 2014
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