It introduces a navel-gazing Superman, eschews the spiky humour of the Christopher Reeve films in favour of jaw-dropping spectacle and imagines a Lois Lane who doesn't seem to share much chemistry with Clark Kent. Yet Zack Snyder's Man of Steel already looks on course to be one of the best-reviewed blockbuster films of 2013.
Conceived by the Dark Knight team of Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer and written by the latter, this latest attempt to reboot the world's first superhero has built slowly to become one of the year's mostly highly-anticipated films. It stars Britain's Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent, with Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Michael Shannon as the nefarious General Zod. The movie currently has an 83% "fresh" rating on the review aggregator site rottentomatoes.com, putting it behind only Star Trek Into Darkness (with 87%) of the year's top 10 films so far at the box office.
Empire's Dan Jolin notes how "very seriously" the film takes itself in comparison to previous iterations of the Superman mythos, but decides that's probably for the best. "Apart from anything else, with Superman returning to a cinematic landscape that now also has that other god-alien Thor, not to mention Iron Man, Hulk – hell, all the Avengers – it wasn't a daft move to avoid any winks to his inherent absurdity," he writes. "And while Man of Steel won't outdo The Avengers in terms of dialogue-snappiness and sheer laughs, it certainly tops it when it comes to spectacle. [The film] aches for more depth and warmth and humour, but this is spectacular sci-fi – huge, operatic, melodramatic, impressive. It feels the right Superman origin story for our era, and teases what would be a welcome new superfranchise."
Drew McWeeny of Hitfix knows a thing or two about covering Superman movies. It was he, while working as a blogger for the Aintitcool News fanboy site in 2002 under the pen name Moriarty, who destroyed JJ Abrams' chances of bringing back the Man of Steel with a famously derisive review of the Star Trek director's proposed reboot.
Fans of the character should therefore take some solace from McWeeny's gushing review of Man of Steel. He writes:
"Snyder's film, written by David Goyer and starring an impeccably cast ensemble, is remarkable mythmaking, a canny spin on the oft-told details that have defined the character over time. While there is plenty about it that can be described as new, the bones of it are instantly familiar. Make no mistake; this is Superman. For my own personal sensibilities, this is the most interesting, emotionally-satisfying, richly imagined version of the story. Ever.
I could spend page after page talking about what I love about this film. First and foremost, I am blown away by the sheer scale of it. Marvel's biggest film so far, The Avengers, looks like a charming episode of the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk by comparison, and while size doesn't always make something better, if you want to sell the idea that these are godlike beings battling, then the only way to truly sell that idea is to show what they would do to our planet in the process. No one has ever staged superhero action like this. No one."
The Guardian's Andrew Pulver is less convinced. Man of Steel gets three stars from him, thanks largely to an opening section that "creates a plausible context for the introspection and self-doubt that dogs the adult version of [this] costumed warrior". But our man is concerned that a Superman movie where Lois and Clark don't seem to "get" each other seems a very strange beast indeed, writing:
"The failure to cook up much in the way of meaningful interaction for the pair throughout the film's midsection means that Man of Steel begins to labour even as the visual spectacle intensifies," he writes. "No amount of whip-pans and crash-zooms, spaceship flameouts or collapsing edifices can compensate for an inert focal relationship. The whole film ends up feeling weighed down: though Man of Steel bounds from one epic setpiece to another, you're left with the nagging feeling that you just can't work out what the central twosome see in each other."
Crave Online's Witney Seibold goes further, labelling Snyder's reboot a "painfully soulless enterprise" which desperately lacks the warmth and wit of the Richard Donner/Richard Lester movies. "[It's] just another boring bloated action blockbuster in a long string of boring bloated action blockbusters," he writes. "There is nothing in the film to raise the pulse, even a little bit. It's an impressively constructed, awesomely designed, and completely forgettable entertainment that is indistinguishable from its peers. It's the first proper misstep in a long string superhero films that, I sense, the public may be finally tiring of."
Closer to a representative verdict, however, is Alonso Duralde's review for The Wrap. "Man of Steel sets out to darken up the last son of Krypton and to fit him to the current trend of brooding, haunted vigilantes. He writes:
"For the most part, it works. In the previous big-screen treatments of the character, we've never seen a pubescent Clark Kent deal with the disconcerting sensory overload of suddenly realising he can hear things from miles away and see through everyone's skin with his X-ray vision. Nor have we ever seen a beginner Superman fall out of the sky.
"All in all this Man of Steel flies, even if it doesn't quite soar. Snyder's direction feels far more assured than it did in the misfires of Watchmen and especially Sucker Punch, and now that the requisite first-movie origin story has been accomplished, the movie lays the ground for what could be some thrilling sequels featuring a Superman who's both exactly what people want to see and a significantly different take on a well-established character."
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk