Man of Steel has been in theatres almost a week now, so I'm taking the opportunity to address some aspects of the film that it may have been premature to discuss ahead of the film's release.
As I did with my post-release analysis of Star Trek Into Darkness, I'm saving the really spoilery stuff until the end, so if you haven't seen the film yet, feel free to keep reading until you hit the warning.
1. The action more than delivers
The critical and audience reaction to Man of Steel has been all over the place, but one thing that cannot be denied is that the action in the film delivers and then some. What's surprising about this aspect of the film is how little the action resembles that in director Zack Snyder's other films, which were all pretty action-heavy themselves.
I found this to be an effective method for grounding the film in a more tangible reality.
Unlike some other action film applications of this documentary-style aesthetic (the Bourne films, Battle: Los Angeles), Snyder does an excellent job of making sure the clarity of the action is never compromised. The mechanics of the massive set-pieces are always perceivable, which I really appreciated.
The first Superman film sold itself on the technological advances in filmmaking it employed to make Supey's feats look realistic on screen - the poster's tagline was "You'll believe a man can fly". That film came out just as practical special effects were entering their golden age, and Man of Steel similarly fulfils the promise of a Superman film made in the digital era.
Special effects are now at a point where the gargantuan scope implied by Superman's powers can be fully exploited on screen, and Man of Steel steps up to this challenge.
2. It's a less radical reboot than was initially suggested
Much of the talk going into this film centred on how Bryan Singer's 2006 film Superman Returns failed because it adhered too closely to the world created by Richard Donner in 1978's Superman and 1980's Superman II. All parties involved suggested that Man of Steel would do a lot to set itself apart from the Supermen that had come before.
Which is why I was surprised by how much the plot of Man Of Steel ended up strongly evoking those of both Superman and Superman II.
Superman's origin story is more or less exactly the same - Kal-El's scientist father jails some Kryptonian traitors led by a guy called Zod in a weird prison called the Phantom Zone just before he sends little Kal off to Earth and his planet explodes.
Then the main conflict of Man of Steel comes straight from Superman II - Zod and pals escape from the Phantom Zone and come to Earth with murderous intentions for Kal-El and destructive designs on our planet. And just like Superman II, it culminates with a cataclysmic throw-down in the middle of Metropolis.
I'm not saying this is a bad thing - Zod and his chums are among the best aspects of the movie - but it appears the filmmakers were afraid to challenge too much of what the general audience knows about Superman. There's an incredible wealth of storytelling variety in the Superman comic books, and I had hoped this film might delve into those stories a bit more to provide a unique experience.
The lack of Lex Luthor is probably the biggest point of difference between this Superman and the one known to casual audiences, but that character has always been a crutch for the cinematic Superman. I'm not saying they needed to fully up-end the character in the way JJ Abrams once planned to, but some further ambition in this area would've been interesting.
All that said, I appreciated the film's take on the familiar story, and positioning it as an "alien first contact" story was a fruitful move.
3. The villains dominate
There can be no overstating how much Michael Shannon brings to this film as General Zod - unfettered menace bursts from his every pore, and he receives great support from his equally-menacing neck mole.
German actress Antje Traue is also fantastic as Faora, Zod's main flunky, and her scenes taking on the military are some of the film's best.
I left the theatre thinking a lot more about these two than I did about Henry Cavill's title character. The British actor is fine in the role, but he suffers for the mythic nature of the character. The film very much embraces the idea of Superman as an icon, a symbol, an ideal - this makes for numerous effective epic moments, but perhaps prevents Supey from really popping as an actual character. I felt like we got to know Russell Crowe's Jor-El more than his son.
It's most likely a result of Man of Steel's need to set everything up, but I really hope we get more time in Superman's head in the planned sequel.
4. Is Warner Bros/DC afraid of universe-building?
As I've discussed many times in this space, Marvel has become the master of cinematic universe-building, as evidenced by the huge success of last year's The Avengers, which had a five-film build-up beginning with 2008's Iron Man.
Marvel (which is owned by Disney) doesn't currently own the cinematic rights to all of its properties - Fox has the X-Men, and Sony has Spider-Man. But when it comes to the properties it does own (ie, The Avengers and everyone associated with the Avengers), it is very good at managing their ambitious interconnectedness.
Marvel's principle rival DC Comics and all its characters are owned wholly by Warner Bros, so they can dip into the DC Universe in any way they want to.
Which is why I'm constantly surprised by how they never bother to do this. There are more than a couple of so-called Easter Eggs in Man of Steel: blink-and-you'll-miss-it signage that points to the existence of both Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor - but I was really hoping there'd be something more tangible in there, something that could be picked up in a sequel. Some sort of dangling thread. Brainiac.
There is an argument to be made that a new Superman film should focus on making itself awesome, and not bother with universe-building, but the fanboy in me really wanted something along these lines. Or maybe I'm just angry I sat through the lengthy Man of Steel credits with nothing to show for it.
Incidentally, it's not only DC that fails to grasp the nuances of comic book universe-building - just look at Sony's offensively clumsy and open-ended attempt at a character tease in the credits of The Amazing Spider-Man.
(WARNING: BIG SPOILERS FOLLOW)
5. So about that ending...
There has been a degree of hand-wringing about the climax of Man of Steel, in which Supey snaps Zod's neck after he attempts to fry some innocent bystanders.
The reaction has focused on the fact that Superman traditionally never kills anyone, and he does so here, supposedly undermining everything virtuous about the character.
Screenwriter David S Goyer justifies the move in terms modernising the character, while Snyder goes beyond this to claim the scene creates a more interesting dynamic for Superman going forward.
I'm inclined to agree both of with them. There are many aspects of the 1978 film that simply would not fly (ahem) in today's cinematic environment - the decision to wear red outer-pants is only one. The 'boy scout' quality that Superman projects in the earlier film is all good and well as nostalgia, but it has no place in a modern movie. The blockbuster audience has matured, and Man of Steel reflects this.
The scenario in which Supey kills Zod may be somewhat contrived (ie, he HAS to kill Zod to prevent innocent deaths) but it can serve effectively as a microcosm of Superman's essential choice. And like Snyder says, it results in a Superman "that we know is capable of some really horrible stuff".
Plus, debating this is surely quibbling, because even though he doesn't physically wring their necks, Superman totally kills Zod and pals via in Superman II. Unless they're still plummeting toward the centre of the Earth beneath the Fortress of Solitude ...
And Man of Steel producer Christopher Nolan already sort of broke this 'rule' in Batman Begins, when the hero of that film (who is also traditionally against killing) totally allows the villain to die in the finale. Is there really that big of a difference between allowing someone to die and killing them? Case in point.
Whatever the morality of it, killing Zod is the most interesting thing Superman does in Man of Steel, and the film is richer for it, however bloody that sounds.
If Marvel has carved out the sunny section of the superhero movie landscape for themselves, then maybe it's up to DC to offer a more serious, contemplative approach.
By this rationale, Man of Steel succeeds with little qualification. Bring on the sequel.
* Agree/Disagree? Seen Man of Steel? Dig? Did you feel let down that he totally kills a dude? How awesome is the music? Comment Below!