Man of Steel is obviously an attempt at a Batman Begins–style intellectual-property makeover. And Henry Cavill gives great Superman: In Man of Steel, he smiles a lot, which is important. He moves like he doesn't fear stubbing a toe or, say, getting hit by a Mack truck, but he is always slightly worried about accidentally breaking something or someone. Amy Adams is a wonderful Lois Lane, a reporter guided by a strong sense of justice. And Michael Shannon is a good, creepy General Zod, the nightmare side of the Superman coin.
But while Begins delivered surprises in a layered reimagining of the Batman story, Man of Steel takes too long to retell a story we all know by heart. We open on a dusty and bleak Krypton, replete with incredibly phallic machinery, followed by Kansas's amber waves of grain. We very briefly meet the Daily Planet staff before Zod makes the movie a straight-on conflict. There's none of the adventure or fun that should figure into a Superman movie, only good-guy-versus-bad-guy schematics that play out just about the way you figure they will.
Zack Snyder's direction—credit where it's due—is beautiful. The camera sometimes scrambles to keep up with Superman's super-speed, and the flight scenes give off an air of respectful awe. But the last 45 minutes are basically one long fistfight. While the superpowered antics are impressive, there are about twenty 9/11s thrown into the climactic city- destroying battle, and it gets to be quite numbing. The effects become more and more abstract, until a bunch of gray pixels smash into a bunch of orange pixels for what feels like a solid half hour. Don't get me wrong: Man of Steel is way better than 2006's Superman Returns. I wouldn't even mind a sequel with this same cast and crew. But it ultimately misses the point of a Superman movie. The simplest, most archetypal superhero of all time is still the hardest for Hollywood to get right.