Here’s the central problem with Superman as a character: He has one material weakness. Get your hands on some kryptonite and you’re on to something. Beyond that, you probably won’t muss his hair. That’s why Superman stories — be they comics or Smallville — need a Lois Lane. You have to make Superman less super and more man for him to be relatable. You can’t feel for someone who feels no pain.
Man of Steel infuses some much-needed humanity into the journey of Kal-El/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). Unfortunately, it lasts about 15 minutes. And much of that time is spent in flashback to a young Clark getting his bearings on this foreign planet. Cavill is primarily stoic, but that’s not his fault — it’s an epidemic that swallows most of this movie whole.
The origin story presents itself again, with a longer sequence on Krypton than in the campier Richard Donner film from 1978. Kal-El’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is in a political wrestling match over the fate of his dying planet with General Zod (Michael Shannon). After Jor-El jettisons his son into space, Zod spends the next three decades trying to find the refugee child of Krypton, tracking him to Earth just in time for Kal-El to finally embrace the hero he was meant to be.
And then, for 45 dull, lazy minutes, director Zack Snyder CGI-rapes New York City. Or Metropolis, or whatever. Dull because digital destruction simply isn’t interesting anymore. This looks like leftover footage from The Avengers. Lazy because it has no rhythm or guiding principle. The catastrophe just is.
This goes back to the central problem with Superman, because if you can’t hurt him, it doesn’t matter if you do a quadrillion dollars’ worth of damage to a city built to the sky, because nobody cares about fictional cities. But the central problem with Man of Steel is slightly different: Nobody making the movie really seems to care about Superman.