The script manages to take its time showing you who Superman is, as a person. Who Clark is. By intercutting flashbacks to life teens/growing years, along with him in the present day we get a fuller picture of the man. He can't help it. He has to help. It's a driving force in him and won't go away. But then, so is his insistence to hold back and not engage. Importantly, it didn't come off as grim or broody, to me.
The key to that is Henry Cavill. His Clark is pitch perfect. He manages to look disappointed in people who force him to act with violence, but not angry (often). It's a wonderful note and his Superman is full of a calm grace that suits the character wonderfully. It's in the lines of his body as he floats from a prone position or simply walks down a street, at peace with himself. Actually after setting up younger Clark so well, the relief at taking up the concept of Superman is a physical thing. No longer is Clark hiding, he's going out into the world and revealing who he is. One father wanted to keep him safe, the other wanted him to go forward but both left him a choice and for Clark it never was a choice - it was always instinct and his heart. All of that is in Cavill's performance, thankfully.
All of which translates directly into the way the Lois and Clark relationship comes together. That relationship as well as the Metropolis life of Clark is wildly new and exciting. It makes Lois no-longer the award-winning journalist who is fooled for forty years by glasses while standing next to both Clark and Superman. Instead it grounds their relationship in the secret and makes perfect sense. She gets to become, again, his idol and what he wants to be. It strengthens her character beautifully.
Luckily, Zimmer's music also soars for this. No, his theme is not as distinctive as the Williams' march but that's just what it is. Zimmer still manages to craft a score that feels full of hope and flight.
And flight, ahhh yeah, a movie that remembers flight is fun, and takes the time to show us the joy in discovering you can fly. A beautiful note to hit.
And that's just it. The film works amazingly well at understanding who Superman is. It excels there, giving us a graceful, calm Superman who is aspirational. Watching how he changes people's lives, just by being himself works, every time. And that's what makes this a great Superman film.
Except there's also...
First of all, what, exactly, is left standing in Metropolis by the end of this film? There were so many shots of buildings collapsing and rubble I lost track of them. Snyder really did go overboard and it was distracting and problematic for me. Millions died. Square miles, seemingly, were leveled. This was almost destruction porn after a while.
Along those lines of unnecessary oddness, the breathing adaptation thing worked for me, but I can see it being a leap for others. And if it is a strange leap that doesn't work for you then everything falls apart. It also begs a set of strange questions from me, if it's air that makes his powers work (otherwise why would they all vanish when he was on the Kryptonian ship) - what does sunlight do, exactly, then, for a start. It just... torques things.
Turning back to Lois for a moment, she starts as a great character, pushing for things, and does spend the end of the film going "How do I start a car?" Granting it's a Kryptonian hoopty, but even so. Just fell flat for me given the good work they did with her otherwise.
And then there's the end. Oh, the end. The thing of it is that Superman's reaction to his choice helps the moment sell for me, but man is it a problem and is going to easily be the moment that splits fans opinions. I think it does sell given the film, given the set-up with Pa Kent's death before, everything. But it's a huge problem and sticks out badly.
I could sit here and list stuff all day, honestly, thinking it out. Man of Steel is the sort of movie that I will feel differently about each time I watch it. And those shifting feelings are all tied up in if I can shake off the structural, plot, and character missteps in favor of the pitch-perfect take on the main character. That will change, likely daily.
So I don't know. Maybe you'll love it, maybe you'll hate it - but either way there is room to sit and discuss the film. It tries for great things and attains a few of them. Are they enough for you to latch on to or not? Who knows. But either way the attempt makes me happy. I enjoy movies that try, even when they fail. Because trying is how we do get better films, all told.
But at the end this is a take on Superman I want to see more of. In that respect the film succeeds perfectly. This is a Superman I care about and that feels like Superman for the first time since Superman: The Movie.
Dropping the amount of humor didn't leave us with a soulless film, just an inwardly searching one. It's a good place to start, and now the trick will be taking it higher still with a sequel.
Adam P. Knave is an Eisner and Harvey writer and editor who has written fiction (STRANGE ANGEL, STAYS CRUNCHY IN MILK), comics (AMELIA COLE, ARTFUL DAGGERS, ACTION CATS, and more) and columns for sites such as threeifbyspace , PopCultureShock and MamaPop. He can be found online at adampknave.com and you can follow him on twitter @adampknave