Don’t believe the professional movie critics. Just as Superman Returns has seen its reputation (deservedly) decline since it came out, Man of Steel is likely to see its critical reputation improve in the years ahead. The most puzzling critique of Man of Steel is that it lacks the “humor” of earlier Superman movies. This is not a flaw. The superhero movie is a surprisingly flexible storytelling form. The first Iron Man movie is, among other things, a very enjoyable romantic comedy with a healthy dose of slapstick. The key is that the humor in Iron Man was designed to draw you into the story. The humor in the Donner-Salkind Superman movies acted as a distancing mechanism. The jokes told the audience that the makers of the movies had contempt for the material and assumed that the audience shared in that contempt. The purpose of the jokes (which were almost never funny) was to remind the audience that only an idiot would emotionally commit to the conflicts on the screen. The critics aren’t complaining about the absence of what is good in the Donner-Salkind Superman movies. They are complaining that Man of Steel lacks what is terrible about those movies.
The scenes with Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent are haunting. It is appropriate that Man of Steel opened on Father’s Day weekend. By far the most affecting act of courage in the movie has nothing to do with violence and everything to do with love.
While Man of Steel is a very good movie, it also feels like an installment of a larger story. How that story plays out will impact the final judgment on the film. We are currently in the position of asking someone to render an opinion of book they haven’t finished reading. Very good so far. I liked Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins just fine, but I wasn’t crazy about it. I like it a lot more now because I can see it as the opening part of Nolan’s twenty-first century Oresteia about a society’s transition from failed state, to the rule of personal justice, to the rule of law. It will be interesting to see what grows out of this reintroduction of the Superman character.