Like a Splash of Blue
So let's talk Superman. Not normally a character I care much about, Superman is usually so clean and tidy, so strong, invulnerable, it's hard to feel much for his stories. It always boils down to "Superman meets an evil super-being, and then punches it." Sometimes the super-being can hurt him. Most of the time it can't. So writers have to put other characters in danger (like Lois or Jimmy), effectively making every but Supes the focus of the stories. And Superman is reduced even further into the role of "strong dude that punches things whilst wearing tights".
It's not as though most Superman movies have done all that great a job of making Superman interesting. Sure, Superman: The Movie benefited from the then cutting-edge ability to make a man convincingly fly on screen. Decades later, though, the movie just comes across as cheesy and (even worse) kinda dull. I've seen the movie several times, and yet I'd be hard pressed to remember the detailed plot of it (something to do with Lex Luthor and missiles and then Superman flies backwards into time).
The only time Superman was ever really in trouble was when kryptonite came out. But he was able to escape that. And since Superman can somehow fly backwards in time and rescue anyone that might ever die, it makes you wonder just why he bothers fighting anyone at all. "Oh, you've got kryptonite? Well, I'll just fly out of here, fly back a couple of days, and watch you get it so I can then take it (in a lead lined box) before you even realize I know about it. Best of all, I can tell you this, since you won't remember it. Here I go!"
Superman II at least tried to work in a little more danger by introducing General Zod and his pack of crazy Kryptonians (that sounds like the best 70s funk band -- "tonight at the Apollo, General Zod and the Crazy Kryptonians, with opening act Mr. Mxyzpylk's Magic Musical Mastadon"). The plotting was still slow, and for some reason they introduced a plotline where Superman gives up his powers (because what we want from Superman is for him to not be all that super, right?). That's the problem with Superman in any form, really. Either you make him weak (and thus, no super) or you keep him as super as his name implies, and then nothing can ever be a threat.
Plus, Superman eventually gets his powers back, which makes me wonder why he then didn't fly back in time to when the Kryptonians first showed up and then defeated them then, saving countless lives.
But hey, even if you like the first two, I think we can all agree that DC was wise to remove Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace from continuity. I seem to recall Superman III was more "lighthearted" (read dumb, comedic, and cheesy), while Superman IV was intolerably boring. So bad.
Given a couple of decades, DC did try to get another Superman movie off the ground, but what we eventually got, Superman Returns, was another movie in the failed classic series. Ignoring movie three and four, Returns presumes that Superman leaves earth for five years (after the end of Superman II when Supes specifically told the U.S. President that he'd never leave Earth unprotected again -- good job, Superdouche!). When he comes back, Lois is in a relationship (married?), has a kid, and hates him (although she still is okay with Clark Kent, who was also gone for five years, but no one seems to give a shit about that). In a plot twist that stunned no one, this kid of a Super-kid, and Lois and Supes have a lot of talking to do.
Mostly though, the movie is concerned with a over the top performance by Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor (I'm sorry, but no one else can chew any more scenery -- Spacey ate it all). There was something about another land deal (one that makes even LESS sense than the one from the original movie if you think at all about it). Oh, and Superman effectively stalks Lois for half the flick. it's really awkward.
All of that is the say that Superman movies tend to be anywhere between mediocre and absolutely dreadful. So it was with trepidation that I went into watching Man of Steel. Everyone I had talked to complained about the movie, saying it was awful and violated Superman's whole character. I guess they gave me such low expectations for the movie, I was guaranteed to like it.
Like it I did, though. For one, Superman is actually pretty interesting. The movie is an origin story, so we don't get Superman in his tights and fancy cape until halfway in. But it's an origin story that doesn't spend too long making us wait for Clark to at least act like Superman (even if he doesn't get to have the S on his chest). Clark goes, bumming around Earth, working odd jobs and trying to find clues to his origins. What he stumbles on is a Kryptonian ship, the ghost (pretty well literally) of his father, and answers. He also calls down the fury of what's left of the Kryptonian race (featuring General Zod and his Crazy Kryptonians, limited shows through December, contact Ticketmaster for details). Supes than has to defend the Earth from a much more powerful threat than anything he's faced on screen before.
Interestingly, for as little plot as that seems to convey, there's a lot of story to get through (not just bits and pieces of Clark's time in Smallville, but also Superman's eventual reveal to the world, plus all of General Zod's crazy hi jinx). Thankfully, even though the movie clocks in at over two hours, it doesn't feel like a long movie. It moves at a much snappier pace than previous Superman flicks.
And yes, there is a controversial scene near the end (involving Supes and Zod, which I won't spoil). For me, the motivation made sense, and both characters were in a tough spot. Neither could give an inch, so the eventual resolution was well-earned and suited the story.
So yeah, despite what everyone else might tell ya, Man of Steel (Steel Man, the Man of Steel... Man) is well worth watching. The best thing endorsement I can give is that I'm actually eager for the as yet untitled Batman/Superman sequel that's in the works (Man of Steel and Dark Knight Go for a Picnic). I'm so surprised I can say that.