Superheroes are the American equivalent to the Greek pantheon of gods. Everyone in our culture knows enough about the origins of popular superheroes that they've achieved a deity-like status in our society. While this idea has been successfully realized in various other storytelling mediums, film has always struggled to completely capture the godlike element of a superhero tale. There have been bits and pieces scattered throughout some movies (even previous Superman efforts), but never an entire piece devoted to fully realizing the legendary component inherent in all superhero fiction. Until Man of Steel, which is beyond appropriate considering the status Superman holds as the progenitor of all superheroes, making him the most reverential figure in the entire genre.
But, that's not the only thing the film has going for it. Another incredibly strong factor is director Zack Snyder, who may have constructed his visual masterpiece with this movie. Yes, I'm saying this film is more of a visual success than 300 or Watchmen (both films I highly enjoy) and the reason for that is because Snyder finds a way to reel in the more outlandish aspects of his style without sacrificing his unique eye. It's a level of perfect compromise that makes the movie look far more streamlined than his other garish efforts. He also proves that he is one of the greatest high-concept action directors working today, with every fight scene and set-piece doing its best to top the last. The level of inventiveness on display during these moments is incredible, with brilliant camera moves that somehow manage to capture the weightlessness of a being that is free from the shackles of Earth's gravity. The action in Man of Steel is stellar and certainly a selling point for the film. Zack Snyder's direction easily claims second place next to the mythic quality of the film.
Now we come to the honorable mentions, which is where the casting ends up. Henry Cavill does a wonderful job playing Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman as one inseparable persona. I also really enjoyed his more understated performance, giving Superman a kind of forced relaxness, which seems perfect for a character who has to constantly keep himself in check. He's certainly a worthy successor to the line of prestigious actors who have worn the 'S' shield. Russell Crowe has an unfortunate lackadaisical quality to his acting style which doesn't quite gel right with the character of Jor-El, Superman's birth father. He's not bad but certainly not noteworthy. The villainous General Zod, played by Michael Shannon, is much more suited to a low-key performance, and Shannon does gangbusters with it. He exudes authoritative menace in every scene he's in, and like all good villains, there's an element of his character that you can't help but sympathize with. His right hand officer, Faora (Antje Traue), is also a delight and gets almost as much action time as Zod. She isn't just relegated to sidekick status, and gets some of my favorite little bits from the movie. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Johnathan and Martha Kent both adequately fulfill their necessary roles, but do nothing to make them standout. Diane Lane does get one pretty badass and fun line though. Although he doesn't get quite enough screen-time to make a solid impact, Laurence Fishburne infuses his natural likability into his gruff interpretation of Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet. I'm really hoping we get some more face-time with him when the sequel comes around, because it'd be a shame to waste him. The last member of the cast that deserves mention is Amy Adams as Lois Lane. I don't really have a complaint about her performance, but I don't have anything to extol either. She has charm and tenacity, but the real issues with her stem not from her acting but from how her character is written.
This may seem like a strange complaint, but Man of Steel's pacing feels relentless. While the first act has the requisite "getting to know you" stuff, the rest of the movie is so unyielding that it borders on exhausting. When the film finally finished, I almost felt out of breath. For some, that may actually be a plus, and I can't really argue that, but for me, I like it when the pacing follows more a wave-like pattern than a steep and unstoppable incline. For a summer blockbuster though, it seems appropriate, so that's a much more personal gripe.