As far as my history with Superman movies go, once one gets past the 1950's TV show and accompanying big screen serials, which incidentally are great fun, the first two Christopher Reeve ones from 1978 and 1981 are good, solid superhero movies. 1983's third installment was just awful, and it's followup in 1987, The Quest For Peace as it was sub-titled, is just cataclysmically bad. Then, after a couple of decades relegated to the small screen via Dean Cain and Tom Welling, the 2006 reboot, Superman Returns came around, and was not so much a bad movie, as just utterly forgettable. Seriously, did that film really happen? I am willing to bet the creators of this latest version, The Man of Steel, have cleaved it from their memories, and we probably should as well.
Now my personal history with the films of Zack Snyder are a bit more up and down, but consistently so. I loved his first film, 2004's Dawn of the Dead remake (the best damn remake, retooling, whatever, we have seen in a long long time), then hated his second, the atrociously ridiculous 300 (though some of the director's eye-porn visuals were fun at times), but turned around and loved his third film, 2009's oft-maligned Watchmen (my favourite comicbook adaptation, and a member of my top ten for the year), and again hated his fourth film, Sucker Punch (now I would never knock a bunch of plaid skirted naughty schoolgirls kicking ass, but wow is this film bad). Pretending that The Owls of Gagoobaly-Gook (or whatever that thing was called), was never even in Snyder's mish-mashed oeuvre (even more forgettable than Superman Returns), the critical algorithms of the director's life work is a clean yes no yes no. In theory, this should mean I loved Man of Steel, right? Yeah, well, not so much.
Do not get me wrong, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel is a more-than-capable superhero film (produced by Christopher Nolan, giving credit where credit is due), with all the requisite creation story, moral angst, and heroic action sequences and balls-out fight scenes, not to mention one of the most iconic of superhero outfits, and even though it plays at being both something serious and something quaint, it just never reaches the level of darkness of the Wagnerian Dark Knight Trilogy, nor does it manage the old school whimsey of such Marvel movies as Iron Man or The Avengers. What it does do though, is gives us two hours and twenty-some minutes of solid superheroic fun. Granted, I have never been the biggest of Superman fans, tending, comicly-speaking, to lean more toward the Mighty Marvel side of things, growing up on a steady diet of Avengers, X-Men, Daredevil, The Defenders, and The Fantastic Four, but there is no denying the inherent heroism in the classic character, and it is this same heroism that Henry Cavill channels in his role as Kal-El/Clark Kent. Having been born in the Channel Islands, there is probably some joke about the actor channeling the superhero, but we should probably just leave that in the aether where it belongs.
Actually, the British actor, complete with chiseled jaw and abs of (literal?) steel, is perfectly suited for the part, but considering that Supes, originally conceived by teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1933, and making his debut in DC Comics in 1938, helping to usher in the world of superheroes, has never been the most convoluted of characters - you will never see the depth that ones sees in a Batman or a Spider-Man - his acting prowess is never really brought into question. Others in the cast, such as Kevin Costner as Kal-El's adoptive Kansan father, Jonathan Kent, Russell Crowe as his Kryptonian dad, Jor-El, and Amy Adams as everyone's favourite investigative reporter, Lois Lane (more modernized than Margot Kidder's version, but still getting in just as much peril), do an equally capable job, but it is really Michael Shannon as General Zod (of course) who steals whatever show there happens to be to steal. In the end, after Superman does what no other Superman has done before, we are left with a good, if not great, action movie, and a movie that, despite its flaws, will still make you believe a man can really fly.