Man of Steel ★★½

Full disclosure: I have never found Superman to be a compelling character. But that doesn't mean that I discount any Superman film from being a compelling narrative, and I was eager to see how a darker portrayal of the Kal-El story would (or at least could) inject some new ideas into a character's legacy that has existed 1930s. That said, with the exception of a brave envisioning of Krypton in the first act, there's not much new here. It's the same story being told in a new vision and a new voice. And that's where the problems begin.

Man of Steel is a film that feels submerged, and is never really able to break the surface. It seems as though Zack Snyder struggles with his vision, in scenes both beautifully rich and horribly disjointed, as much as Goyer struggles with his voice – stuttering in places and far too long-winded in others. The character development is rarely compelling and relationships feel rushed or ham-fisted to make a point, no more evident than with the relationship of Clark and his earth-father. And though the film reminds us dozens of times what the stakes are, they rarely seem to hold much gravity. That's partly due to the ridiculous lengths of fight scenes that try to find anything breakable, collapsable, or explodable and ultimately get boring somewhere along the way.

The film establishes a track that its new ideas are guided along, but the film keeps jumping its rails before it ever reaches a destination. Man of Steel tries to do new things with the costumes and armour, but changes its mind by the halfway point and we get introduced jarringly to the usual iconic costume – albeit one that feels entirely out of place in the world as it's established. And we get an interesting take on where Kal-El's powers come from, which sets up a disparity between the protagonist and villains, only to completely ignore it when it becomes inconvenient towards the end. These are examples of how the film's new ideas have a crippling problem with follow-through, but the story has a similar problem with subtraction as much as it does addition as it tries not to dwell on Kal-El's moral compass – doing a huge disservice to the final battle, which could have really put that inner tension to good use.

Cavill is as much a great Superman as Routh and Reeve was, and Crowe and Shannon do a great job of flushing out their respective characters, lending a much needed sense of motivation to drive the narrative. But the supporting cast is largely superfluous, one-dimensional, and not really worthy of note. The story itself is a bit of a mess, and it would have been more interesting had it spent more time flushing out some of these characters and ideas and less time having them fight with one another.

Overall, the film is a clear representation of where Nolan, Goyer and Snyder could have taken this franchise, but I wonder if Superman – both as a character and as a story – is beyond saving if we keep presenting him as the same character we are familiar with, again and again.