Man Of Steel is basically three movies wrapped up into one, but all three major acts come together to form a cohesive, fascinating story. The first act of Man Of Steel deals with life on an alien world.
Man Of Steel opens on Krypton. It’s a Krypton unlike any that has ever been shown on the big screen before. It’s a visually dazzling world of grandeur, unusual creatures, and mind-blowing technology. If the whole movie had been set on Krypton, it wouldn’t have been disappointing, because Krypton was a wonder to behold.
As beautiful as it is, Krypton is a world in chaos. Jor-El believes that the planet is in danger, and Zod wants to take things over. Even though both men find themselves in direct opposition to the Kryptonian Council, they have very different manners by which they attempt to rectify the situation. Jor-El and Lara defy the council by having Kal-El through natural child birth. Jor-El also steals the Codex, which contains the genetic structure for all Kryptonians.
As Zod wages war for control of Krypton, Jor-El readies a spaceship to carry Kal-El and the Codex to Earth. When Zod confronts Jor-El, it’s obvious that the two are old friends, but Jor-El defies Zod and launches Kal-El’s ship. In anger, Zod stabs and kills Jor-El, but it’s too late, as Kal-El’s ship is already speeding away.
The Kryptonian Council regains control of Krypton, and they banish Zod and his allies to the Phantom Zone. Ironically, Zod and his army’s punishment actually turns out to be their salvation, as Krypton’s core does explode.
While many movies suffer from having a slow beginning, director Zack Snyder wisely used the Krypton story to captivate viewers right from the start. Thirty minutes into the movie, Man Of Steel has told more of a story than most movies tell in their entire running time.
After the satisfying Krypton introduction, the action shifts to Earth. The second act of Man Of Steel tells the story of Superman’s origin on Earth. Instead of starting with baby Kal-el, Clark Kent is immediately shown as a full grown man with the story of his childhood told through flashbacks. Surprisingly, this sort of narration actually comes out working better than if Snyder had attempted to tell a linear story. Fans get to see all the high points of Clark Kent’s life, while skipping over the boring details.
The parts or Clark Kent’s life that Snyder chooses to show are compelling, though-provoking moments with a dash of humor occasionally mixed in. When an adult Clark Kent tumbles with some truckers at a bar, he restrains himself from physically hurting the men. However, in one of the funnier scenes in the movie, a trucker who poured beer over Clark’s head leaves the bar to find out his semi-truck has been totaled in a superhuman sort of way.
A young Clark Kent struggles through the perils of childhood, as a boy who is at first overwhelmed by the emergence of his powers. Despite his great powers, Clark is powerless when other kids bully him, because his father Jonathan Kent has taught him that he must keep his abilities a secret.
In one very powerful scene, a tornado hits Smallville. After Clark helps get several people to safety under a bridge, Jonathan rushes back to rescue the family dog. Even though Jonathan gets trapped, he waves Clark off from saving him from the tornado, indicating it’s more important for Clark to keep his secret.
Throughout this second part of the movie, viewers get a real sense of how Clark Kent grows into the man that he becomes. The Fortress of Solitude, a ghost of Jor-El’s consciousness, and Lois Lane are all introduced. The second act is essentially a set-up for the storm that is about to come. And does the storm ever come.
The third act of Man Of Steel deals with Superman’s battle with Zod. It’s the most intense, action-packed, destruction-filled sequence of events ever shown in a superhero movie. The battles between Superman and Zod are brutal slugfests. Zod wants to terraform Earth into a new Krypton. There is a real sense that not just a couple lives or even just one city is at stake, but the whole planet is in jeopardy. I'm going to include a second spoiler warning, because I'm about to drop the biggest spoiler in the movie, but it's an important part of giving the plot review. Don't say you weren't double-warned if you choose to read on.
Ultimately, Zod tells Superman that the only way this can end is either with him killing Superman or Superman killing him. As Zod turns his heat vision toward an innocent family, he proves himself to be a prophet. Superman is left with no other choice but to snap Zod’s neck. It’s a powerful and shocking moment, which will no doubt have fanboys debating, given Superman’s general rule against killing.
As a longtime Superman fan, I even found the moment somewhat unnerving, but it worked magnificently well in the overall context of the movie. Without the Zod death scene, Man Of Steel wouldn’t have been as a powerful a movie as it turned out to be. In everyday life, most policemen would likely tell you they would prefer to never use their guns, but there are situations where life or death choices have to be made, and there are no other answers. Superman encountered one of those situations, and he had to make his choice.
After the shocking nature of Zod's death, there is a little bit of wrap-up to give the movie a little happier ending. In the final scene, Lois Lane introduces Clark Kent as a new reporter at the Daily Planet. It's a nice ending that leaves viewers with a smile, and it also sets the stage for the sequel.
Overall, the plot of Man Of Steel is one of the strongest ever in a superhero movie. The first act is the origin, the second act is character development, and the third act is all out war. Why I've classified Man Of Steel as the best comic book movie ever is because the film doesn't just tell a good action story. Man Of Steel is a movie packed with heart, emotion, life, death, and consequences.
Director Zack Snyder could have taken the easy, non-controversial way out and had Superman just imprison Zod back in the Phantom Zone. It's the ending that most would probably have expected in a Superman comic book movie, but such neat and tidy endings aren't a part of real life. The ultimate success of Man Of Steel is that Zack Snyder takes viewers into a fantastical world and actually makes them believe it could happen.