When Man Of Steel opens, an unprepared member of the audience will take a few moments to find his ground - this is the victory of the comic book and science fiction nerds, writ large on a tent-pole summer film from a major studio. The sheer amount of world-building detail expended on Krypton, Superman's home planet, is staggering to behold. Mixing futurist design with Geiger aesthetic and a surreal sense of the other-worldly, the opening shows an alien planet in the most alien, and yet relatable, way imaginable.
Right after Krypton is destroyed and Kal El reaches Kansas to become Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), the film slows down to a somber and slowly-paced story about a man hiding from the world. This part of the movie also contains most of the flashbacks that give us a glimpse of Clark's life as a kid, and none of it has any joy to it whatsoever.
Man Of Steel takes Clark and his overall demeanour very seriously, and never once lets up. Humourless as it all gets, it is still highly engaging, save for some bad writing.
With an absolutely pedestrian dialogue that is now a hallmark of writer David Goyer, serving as the backbone, the film plunges into a third act, where General Zod (Michael Shannon), a war criminal from Krypton, arrives on Earth to take Kal El - something that is never in doubt is a bad idea.
As Kal becomes Superman, he also unleashes a series of action set-pieces that have so many buildings totaled, so many railway cars destroyed, and so many lives ostensibly lost, that it feels incredulous that no one thought of the loss they depict.
These action set-pieces are the most incredible ever committed to film. Zack Snyder lets loose from his previous crutches, and does a stellar job of letting us feel heft and geography to the action at hand.
After 2006's Superman Returns
, and its real estate scam plot point, this feels like major step up, and it is - the invincible guys punching each other feels dynamic, and suitably threatening for life on Earth.
As long as Snyder doesn't let Goyer's dialogues come from Henry Cavill, the action and spectacle on display wows thoroughly. The emotional heft, obviously, is lacking simply because Cavill, as handsome a figure he cuts in the ol' supersuit, does not exude the charisma or presence of a Christopher Reeve. He's fine, but for the most part, that is how we see Lois, or Perry or any of the other familiar faces from the Superman world. They're all fine, but are second to the spectacle unfolding in front of us. The only exceptions are Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner, both lending gravitas and elegance to the film.
While most other characters suffer from less screen time and a dour film that forces them to be a certain way, the action takes center stage, and delivers. It lacks the emotional punch you'd require of it, but the action is genuinely amazing to behold.
The movie, too, is a microcosm of that - it's a fine film, with great times even, but without a central character that feels like he has genuine motivation and forward drive as a character, it flounders for a long time till the spectacle take over.
And ultimately the spectacle is why we will watch this flawed film again and again - this is simply the best, most mind-meltingly amazing action set to screen in a Superman movie. It is gorgeous to behold, and were it not for the lack of well executed emotional context, it would be a minor classic. As it stands, we have gotten a flawed but almost certainly one of the best, Superman films, and a great summer blockbuster. We now have a Hero we need, but may or may not deserve.