Back in the summer of 1989, I was walking out of the most ginormous superhero movie ever made. Actually, it was the most ginormous movie release ever, at the time, bringing in $40 million its opening weekend. All of my friends were ecstatic and cheering, and my cousin wouldn't shut up about how the Joker had pulled that three feet long pistol out of his pants and shot down the Batwing, a moment I'd thought was especially stupid, and I wasn't really happy.
Yeah, I know. I hear all of you out there being oh so shocked.
But, see, the thing I kept thinking, the thing I still think today, was, "Maybe, if Burton had just been honest and called the movie The Joker, I would have liked it." [And I could go into a whole thing of all of the things wrong with having Burton make that movie to begin with and how the Joker was the only character he found interesting and how he didn't (and doesn't) like the movie nor, even, the idea of making it--he just wanted to be a part of what he expected to be a vast pop culture phenomenon. But all of that is for some other time.]
And that's how I feel about Man of Steel. If Nolan wanted to make a movie about General Zod, he should have just called it General Zod. As it is, I'm left with feelings of dissatisfaction because Superman was only included as what amounts to an afterthought. He's the guy that's going to defeat Zod, and there's only just enough information in the movie to let us know who he is.
Which brings me to what I think is the biggest issue with Man of Steel, which includes Nolan's abuse of the title (and let's not fool ourselves into thinking that this was not Nolan's movie, even if Snyder directed it. The story and style was Nolan's, which makes it his). Nolan exploits our outside knowledge of who and what Superman is to skimp on the origin, which he then changes. It's sloppy storytelling. Worse than sloppy. And I don't like feeling exploited. The truth is, if I didn't already know Superman's background, I would have had a difficult time with the movie.
For instance, my sister-in-law is a Marvel girl, so she doesn't really know about Superman, not the details, anyway. Her entire exposure to Superman was the godawful Superman Returns, so there were parts of Man of Steel that she didn't get. Like why we should care about Perry White. Within the context of the movie, the fact that we spend so much time watching Perry and friends run away from falling buildings makes no sense. We have no reason to care about that character UNLESS we already know about who he is from the comics (or previous movies or whatever). And she didn't feel any real connection to Clark because the whole reason we care about Clark is we know the Kents took him in and raised him as their own. They accepted him. But what we get from the movie is Jonathan Kent constantly telling Clark what an outsider he is. And don't get me started on the ridiculousness of Jonathan sacrificing himself to the tornado to "protect" Clark's secret. All of this includes the lack of context for calling the movie Man of Steel, which does not come from the movie. Unless you know that Superman is called the man of steel, there's no reason to understand the title, so, again, outside knowledge. Also, the name the "Man of Steel" was given to Superman when humans thought Superman was actually human. They never think that in the movie, so that particular moniker becomes inappropriate, so, in effect, it's a stupid title for the movie and something only chosen to distinguish it from the other Superman movies. He should have just gone with Superman or, even better, General Zod.
So, with all of that in mind, no, I did not like the middle of the movie. I thought the origin part of the origin story of Superman was very poorly handled. We have no idea of who this new guy is, no idea of the strength of his character, no idea of why we should trust him. Other than, well, he says we should, and that after trashing Metropolis (at least, I suppose it's Metropolis--the movie wasn't explicit with that). What we do know is that, when he was a kid, he saved a busload of kids and got in trouble for it. Later, after having a fight with his dad, he allowed his dad to be killed by a tornado.
Also, the idea of Clark having spent 15 years as a drifter while looking for his origins is... well, it's dumb. Why didn't he ever stick that key into the spaceship in the barn? The technology should have been exactly the same. Or is it that the spaceship was "broken"? I'm just not buying that explanation. And why would he even expect to find anything else on Earth from wherever it was he was from? There's no good logic for any of that. It's just a contrived way to bring Lois into contact with Clark and not a very good one at that. And I have nothing to say about the "symbolism" of having Clark be 33 when Zod comes to Earth. That, also, was just dumb. As was Clark learning to fly, basically, because daddy left him a super suit. For which, by the way, there is no good reason for it to have been on a spaceship buried under arctic ice for 20,000 years.
The beginning of the movie, though, I liked. Mostly. It was good to have a back story for Zod beyond "space criminal." The swimming scene and the codex being a skull, though, was, again, dumb. As was depositing the codex within the body of baby Kal-El. The rest was pretty cool, even if it was rather like watching Star Wars what with the big battleships while Jor-El flew around on some kind of giant insect. Yes, I'm overlooking the part where, basically, the entire population of Krypton chooses to stay on Krypton and die rather than evacuate despite having the technology to do so. [I'm also overlooking the fact that, evidently, every single Kryptonian colony failed despite having huge world engine terraforming machines.]
So... we open the move with Zod, and we end the movie with Zod. It was a movie about Zod. And the end of the movie just went on and on and the destruction was beyond my ability to accept. See, here's the thing, we, as viewers, accept that Superman is a good guy, because, well, we know he's a good guy. We have 75 years of prior knowledge that tells us he's a good guy. But the people of Earth in the movie have no such prior knowledge. They don't know who Superman is any more than they know who Zod is. What they do know is that two aliens showed up and destroyed a major city and tried to destroy the world. But, yet, they just accept that Superman is a "good guy," and Nolan gets away with it because he bases that on our knowledge of the character, not what's revealed of the character in the movie (who, remember, allowed his human father to die because of an argument).
But how was Zod? So much of the focus is on him, so how was he? Michael Shannon was, actually, very excellent as Zod. If you've seen him in Boardwalk Empire, it's apparent why he was chose, and it was a good call. He brings just the right amount of zeal to the role to make it believable.
Russel Crowe, whom I generally dislike, was pretty good in his role as Jor-El. Well, except for the hide-and-seek bit in the spaceship, but that was hardly his fault. Seriously? The virtual Jor-El is going to play hide-and-seek with his son upon being uploaded? Another bit of contrivance to get Clark out of the way so that Lois could injured. [And, um, just why didn't Clark hear her coming down the tunnel? It's not like she was being quiet. Or that that should have mattered at all.]
Henry Cavill was adequate as Superman, although I think he really got the part due to his resemblance to Tom Welling from Smallville. They have the same "farm-boyish" grin. I liked Costner as Jonathan, even if I didn't like the part, much, as it was written. I don't have, however, have strong positive feelings for Diane Lane as Martha. I also thought Amy Adams was good in her role. The rest were non-spectacular.
The final result is that I have a lot of mixed feelings about this newest Superman, which is a far cry better than how I felt about the last Superman. This new one is just too much Nolan for me, who seems to be more concerned on an ongoing basis with what seems cool rather than what makes a good story. Seriously, I didn't need more of the Inception-type building collapses. I am interested to see where Nolan is going to take the story, unless this just ends up being a setup for the JLA movie that DC and Warner Brothers are still trying to get off the ground, at which point, I will decide that DC needs to scrap all the previous movie history it's developed and start over, just like they keep doing with their comic book world. Maybe, someday, they'll get it right.