I haven't written in forever, but I feel compelled to add my two cents to the Man of Steel debate that is tearing Superman fans apart this month.
I liked the movie. I don't think it was a perfect Superman movie, but it was an interesting first part of a trilogy. I am glad it is doing well in theatres because I really want to see more with this cast. And we shouldn't overlook how very, very good looking Superman was in this movie. He was very good looking.
Now for some specific, spoiler-filled notes on what worked and what could have been better in this movie.
I loved the depiction of Krypton in this movie. I liked that they used the idea from comics that Kryptonians are pre-programed in the "womb" to serve a specific purpose. It allows us to better understand Zod's point of view. I generally liked the style of Krypton, except for those weird 3D-image floating computer things that followed everyone around.
I actually really liked Russell Crowe a lot in this movie too. I liked his Gladiator accent and his calm, in-control persona. The movie, overall, was more the story of Krypton than a Superman origin story. Kal-El is just the innocent third party caught in the middle of a feud between Jor-El and Zod. It's an interesting approach to a new Superman series, and I was thankful that it allowed them to tell the origin story in a refreshing, non-linear format that assumed that people knew the story well enough to fill in the blanks.
Much like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, or Wolverine, Clark "Joe" Kent is a drifter for much of his young adult life, just trying to go unnoticed wherever he is. Unlike Bruce Wayne, he doesn't have a specific purpose to his journey, other than a hope to find out more about who he is and where he comes from. He obviously went to work up in the Arctic because he somehow found out that there might be a space craft there. It's not explicitly shown in the movie how he learns this, and it doesn't need to be. It's one of the things I liked about the movie: it assumed an intelligent audience who didn't need everything explained. I don't think it was lazy storytelling; I think they just wanted to get to the good stuff. I'm assuming the military guys in the bar he worked at in Nova Scotia (!!!) could have inadvertently led him to the spacecraft. He can hear everything, after all.
I loved Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent. Not only was he extraordinarily handsome, he also perfectly pulled off the Superman persona. Quiet, but able to shut someone up entirely with one look or one perfect sentence. He basically makes everyone around him look and feel like complete garbage by comparison. It's not intentional. He's just way more wonderful than any of us could ever hope to be.
I think the scene where he busts through the door of the oil rig, shirtless and covered in flames, could have been extended. Just ten straight minutes of him standing there while the other guys stare at him. I would have been ok with that.
3. Lois Lane
Again, great casting. I liked her a lot. She was tough, she was smart, and they looked great together. I like that they set up his career at the Daily Planet at the end of the movie, but also established that Lois and Perry know exactly who Clark Kent is. It just makes sense.
As an aside, I don't mind at all changing things like that if they make more sense. The Dark Knight trilogy worked really well by creating a "real" world for the characters and mythology, and dropping aspects of the comic books that didn't fit with that world. The story of Superman (or Batman) has been told a million times by a million different writers. I welcome different interpretations. Is Man of Steel the definitive Superman origin story? No. One movie doesn't erase countless great comic books, or previous movies, or cartoon series, or radio dramas or whatever. In the world of Man of Steel, it makes sense that smart people, and especially those who are close to Superman, know who Clark Kent really is. The rest can be fooled. I liked that kryptonite was replaced by a change in atmosphere. Could there be kryptonite in the future movies in this series? Sure. Does there need to be? No. Same with the Fortress of Solitude, or ice breath. The characters were all perfectly portrayed in this movie, and that's what's important. The rest is just frivolous.
Michael Shannon was fantastic. Just the opposite of Superman in every way. I loved him. The fights between Zod (and the other Kryptonians) and Superman were incredible. I thought the speed and power of those battles was perfectly captured.
Should Superman have killed him? Probably not. If he could break his neck, he could also turn his head away from that family. Also: he can break his neck? That doesn't seem possible. I guess it is because it happened, but it surprised me. At any rate, Superman killing Zod didn't really bother me, because he was new at the hero thing, and put in a very difficult position, and was probably at the end of his rope anyway. It had been a pretty shitty couple of days. What bothered me a little is that he didn't really agonize over it. He did a bit right after doing it, but then in the next scenes he's just telling his mom he's going to be a reporter, and telling the military to leave him alone. A scene where someone is helping him work through what he did would be good. Or maybe him being upset that the whole world just about ended because of his presence on Earth? Maybe he thinks about leaving? Or living in isolation? It just seemed like a scene was missing. Also: did he help clean up any of that destruction he caused in Metropolis and Smallville? Those cities were both annihilated. It was like a thousand 9/11s up in Metropolis. He was deliberately throwing Zod into skyscrapers (the city is on the water! Use your head, Supes!). Again, a couple of aftermath scenes would have been good. If you are going to make as bold a choice as having Superman murder someone in cold blood, you really have to justify it a bit. I remember people were very upset after Batman Begins when Batman claimed that he wouldn't kill Ra's Al Ghul, but he didn't have to save him. And then Ra's died in a train crash. The cardinal rule for both Batman and Superman is No Killing, so it is alarming when it's tossed aside.
5. Pa and Ma Kent
I do think Pa Kent was more dickish about his son using his powers than he needed to be, but the man died unnecessarily in a tornado to protect his son's secret, and that's hardcore. This happened right after a car fight where Clark laid down the classic "you're not even my real father!" burn, natch.
I loved the casting of Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. They were like the movie versions of John Schneider (right down to the country music career) and Annette O'Toole. I hope Ma Kent is featured in all future Superman movies in this series.
6. Lex Luthor
It's happening. Get ready people. Next movie, for sure. Superman will learn that Earthlings can be just as psychotic as Kryptonian generals.
There was none. Not one moment of humour in this movie, and that was a real let-down. There was one terrible joke after Lois and Superman kissed that fell completely flat, and also was kind of a burn on Lois? Something about relationships going downhill after the first kiss, but then Superman says "that's only if you're kissing a human" or something? Lois is a human, dude. Smooth.
I think having him work at the Planet will open up more opportunities for humour in the next movie. I hope.
In conclusion, I liked the movie a lot. I would probably like it less if I weren't certain that it sets up a trilogy (at least) because obviously there were a lot of aspects of Superman that we know and love that we didn't get to see yet. I could do with more jokes and less Christ imagery, and way more Superman. Shirtless Superman, specifically. In Nova Scotia.