There is some minimal comfort: we're not the only ones subjected to director Snyder's assault. Throughout the picture, anything and everything that can demolished or bruised or beaten in any sort of way receives a grueling fate. Entire rows of cars go up in flames; skyscrapers pummel to the ground; windows are popped into thousands of shards one after another; and the occasional human neck is snapped like a dry twig. Snyder not only directs every single sequence in a fast-moving, relentless manner (with the camera lenses pushed in much too far), but he does not allow for any breather space. As soon as one object (or person) has been obliterated, something else is sent off to join it. It is nonstop noise. Everything is noisy; even the tapping of a pencil on a desk brim rattles the soundtrack. Let's also take note that Superman no longer takes off and glides before picking up speed. Now he launches from the ground with all the earsplitting frequency and velocity of a space-bound rocket. And that's simply ignoring the trombone-heavy score by Hans Zimmer, which is excellent enough on its own terms, but pushed up in volume too high by the sound editors, so that it seems to bleed through all of the explosions and screaming and collisions that are already assailing our ears.
So, what is the point behind all this? Even though Snyder directed "Man of Steel," the dominant artist involved in terms of storytelling and mood is the producer, Christopher Nolan, who made the three recent Batman pictures. Those movies (two of which I hold with immense respect and admiration) successfully transformed the Caped Crusader from a dork in a bat suit into an interesting and oddly fascinating character even with that silly and not-scary voice. Nolan's Batman went from silly to serious, and now he appears to be trying the same with Superman.
But here is the problem. Out of all of the superhero characters, Batman is the one you can afford to take dead-serious, because he's the one who is grounded closest to reality; he's flesh-and-blood; he's human and mortal in every way, except in his legacy and image. When dealing with a figure like Superman, who hails from an alien planet and can spew lobotomizing, crimson beams from his eyes, there needs to be some room for science-fiction wonder and spectacle.
You also, given his origins, need to evoke a human side. And here is where both Nolan and Snyder have utterly failed with their film. The alter-ego of Clark Kent is absolutely essential for the Superman character, because in that personae, he brings something credible to the table, something you can relate to and identify with. In "Man of Steel," we have to wait until the last half-dozen shots to see him don those awkward glasses and stuttering demeanor. Because of this, since he spends the rest of the movie in his impersonal, alien mode, this new Superman is nothing more than a brooding outsider. I usually refrain from comparing entries in a movie-franchise, but if I may say so, the alter-ego dynamic was what made the original "Superman: The Movie" from 1978 such a smashing success. As played by Christopher Reeve, the character spent most of his time in disguise, putting on an act, but still involving us in the story. And that's why there was such wonderful chemistry between Reeve (who in my mind, will always be Superman) and Margot Kidder as the feisty, go-getting reporter.
This is no condemnation of either Henry Cavill, as Superman, or Amy Adams, as the reporter, in "Man of Steel." Their biggest foes are not the alien invaders (whose ships resemble something out of the "Star Gate" television series), but the utterly bland characters thrown in their laps. With this script, Cavill is bland and impersonal. We never get any real chance to understand him as a character, because, again, the movie is constantly forcing him to go into muscle-man mode, saving people from exploding oil rigs and sinking school buses. The only time he shows any sign of a human side is during the film's one truly spell-binding scene where Superman discovers his ability to fly. When he first takes off, Cavill begins to laugh, tickled at his own ability, like a child. And it is only here that the movie allows any significant stretch of time for the material to develop and enhance and for the meanings to resonate with us. Before and after this point, it just goes on, banging away to no apparent end. And just when things seem to quiet down – lo and behold! – a satellite falls out of the sky, and the over-pumped Foley rattles our ears. No matter all the talent put before and behind the camera, "Man of Steel" is not much more than a big, impersonal bore.
Oh, and as for the love story. Forget about it. Not even Amy Adams, one of the most magnetic of actresses working today, can bring emotional life to this supposedly serious story.