Director Zack Snyder (“Watchmen”) is tasked with updating Superman for the 21st century in “Man of Steel,” a potentially herculean task he accomplishes with mixed success.
The screenplay by David S. Goyer (“Batman Begins”) takes elements from the 75-year history of the character, and adds in new pieces as well, to make a Superman movie that's unlike any we've seen before.
Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is the pre-eminent scientist on Krypton, a distant planet filled with a mix of high-tech wonders and fantastical creatures. Jor-El has determined that Krypton has very little time left, and has taken unusual steps to ensure the continuation of his people. Meanwhile, General Zod (Michael Shannon), Krypton's military leader, executes a coup against Krypton's ruling council. By the time Krypton meets its end, Zod and his cohorts have been exiled, and Jor-El and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) have sent their only son to Earth. On Earth, the yellow sun will endow young Kal-El with extraordinary powers.
Kal-El's youth and young adulthood are explored in a series of scenes interspersed with scenes of the older Kal-El performing scenes of largely anonymous heroism. Kal-El was raised as Clark Kent on a farm in Smallville, Kan. by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent. Clark's anonymity is threatened when he must rescue journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who is investigating a Kryptonian artifact. As Lois digs for the mystery man's identity, another threat looms. The revived General Zod and his minions have found their way to Earth, where they demand the immediate surrender of Kal-El of Krypton.
Kal is on a race to discover his past and protect his, and his adopted planet's, future, as he remembers lessons from both of his fathers.
The casting is spot on. Cavill looks born to play Krypton's last son. Amy Adams is a different Lois Lane than we've seen, but completely inhabits the go-getting journalist. Shannon is appropriately menacing and convincing as Zod. Russell Crowe's Jor-El starts the movie with appealing pace; it seems as if this Jor-El could have carried a movie on his own.
The film suffers from a few problems in pacing, plot and moral center. Furthermore, as with most superhero movies of recent vintage, the ending is overlong with a lot of over-the-top digitally created action. But for fans who want a Superman who throws a punch, “Man of Steel” provides quite a haymaker.
Ultimately some of the problems the film faces involve living up to the legacy of the character Superman. Most of the film's flaws — or perhaps, choices — are amplified when applied to that standard. Whether that's a problem with the film, a problem with society or not a problem at all will be up to each viewer to judge.
— Matthew Price