There is plenty of stuff in Man of Steel that veers between good and great. All of the young/wayfaring Kent stuff really works and Henry Cavill makes a great Superman. Amy Adams gives Lois Lane a credibility that most other depictions of the character have been lacking. In fact, almost all of the casting hits the right notes despite those characters being occasionally one-dimensional. Above all, the film's real super man was Kevin Costner though. His scenes all hit that sweet spot between sage know-it-all and exuding warm fatherliness from every pore.
Its biggest problem is that there's no such thing as a scene played small. A character needs a weighty death scene? A tornado. The baby Kal-El has to leave his dying home world? Precede it with a 20 minute all-out action spectacular. Lois Lane has to learn something about the Kryptonians? Take her into space.
It robs it of some well needed gravitas: ironically exactly the type of gravitas the trailers were built around.
It gets so much right in the build up as the narrative chronologically zips around faster than speeding bullet. So much emphasis is given to the build up of whether or not humans can, or will, accept this long hidden alien presence that when he finally is revealed to the world it's dramatically undercut by doing so in the midst of an event that overshadows it: the declaration of war by Zod and his alien cohorts. Almost as soon as Zod arrives on Earth, the structure and scale started to waver and everything else largely followed.
There's something lacking in Michael Shannon's take that just doesn't work. General Zod and his striking sidekick Faoro-Ul don't have clear enough motivations and don't seem to quite achieve the right balance between pantomime and serious. The whole terraforming subplot felt half-baked, as if only there because they needed *something*. Zod still managed to have an intense presence despite the fact that during his 33 years (Earth years? Kryptonian years?) tracking Kal-El down, he deemed the cultivation of a funny little beard as important enough to warrant spending time on.
Despite the fact the action scenes look astonishing there's no weight or consequence. Half of Metropolis is reduced to rubble with barely a mention and Smallville suffers a similar destructive fate. Of course it’s a film about superpowered aliens fighting each other but there was no semblance of there being a human toll to these events.
Secret identity, schmecret identity. Seemingly half of Kansas as well as every government agency know who (or could easily work out) Superman is. While making changes to ground it should be applauded, some of the devices were more welcome than others.
Hans Zimmer's score is fantastic and it's testament to his work that the John Williams theme wasn't missed.
It definitely missed humour. That's not to say there weren't the occasional lighter moments but the problem is that when they're entirely surrounded by heavy scenes of soul searching and mass destruction, their levity is foregrounded and they stick out a mile. While lightness is a nonessential component, its absence rendered the film glacially cold.
It's certainly not as successful a rejuvenation as Christopher Nolan's Batman films but there are promising things in Snyder's take and his visual style is a good match for the character. When the film focuses on that character and not falling buildings, it's at its best.