As for the movie itself, I will admit that I was into it while we were watching it in the theater, although I wasn't absolutely loving it or thinking it was one of the greatest things ever, but when it was all over and we walked out of the theater, I must say that it didn't leave much of an impression. I felt it was entertaining enough and the acting was decent, for the most part, but didn't feel like it had much heart or soul, unlike the first Donner movie. As a result, I never felt compelled to buy it when it hit Blu-Ray and didn't see it again until several years later, when it started playing on TV, and even then, I didn't watch it all the way-through a second time. I did, however, watch the whole thing online a couple of times when Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice came out, since I was planning to do it then but, after reviewing Batman: The Animated Series and three DC-animated films, I was very burned out and decided to wait on doing Man of Steel. Regardless, those subsequent viewings did reaffirm my feelings that this movie is, at its best, just okay. It does have interesting ideas and concepts in the way it tells the origin of Superman and General Zod's relation to both him and Krypton, action sequences that are well-done and nice to look at, and it doesn't feel like they were half-assing it and did try to give it some depth, but in the end, it doesn't come across as that spectacular and I agree with a lot of the criticisms leveled against it. Most significantly, though, as I'll get into, I feel that the attempt to try to make a darker and more grounded Superman story is what really hurt it.
On the planet Krypton, after his wife, Lara, gives birth to their son, who is the first baby to be born naturally in centuries, Jor-El, chief scientist and advisor to the planetary council, warns them that the planet's core has become unstable as a result of its being over-harvested and it will soon collapse. Knowing that there's nothing that can be done to save the populace, he asks the council to allow him to take the Codex, the key to the genetic engineering of Kryptonians, and find another habitable planet to ensure the survival of their race. However, the planet's military leader, General Zod, begins a destructive coup to take control and asks Jor-El to help him save their people. Jor-El, refusing to go along with Zod's totalitarian plan, manages to escape and take the Codex, bonding it with the cells of his infant son, Kal-El, before preparing to launch him away from Krypton towards Earth. Zod finds them and demands Jor-El hand over the Codex but a fight breaks out between them, during which Lara manages to launch the space-pod containing Kal-El. Zod kills Jor-El and attempts to bring the pod down, knowing the Codex is inside, but he's stopped by the council's forces and he and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone for their crimes, though not before he swears to Lara that he will find her son; soon afterward, Krypton's core collapses and the planet is destroyed. Kal-El, meanwhile, finds his way safely to Earth, where he grows into Clark Kent, a strong but introverted drifter who has been spending his adult life wandering, holding down various jobs under assumed names. Having known from an early age that he was different from everyone around him, which led to his adopted father, Jonathan Kent, who always told him to keep his abilities hidden until the time was right, revealing to him that he's from another world, Clark is intrigued when he overhears a couple of soldiers talking about a large object that's been discovered up in the frozen north of Canada. There, he stumbles into the interior of an enormous spaceship near the drilling site and finds that a small, metallic-like object found in the pod that brought him to Earth acts as a means of activation for it. After saving journalist Lois Lane, who was in the area to cover the drilling operation and followed him, Clark is taken to the Arctic in the ship and meets a sentient hologram of Jor-El, who has appeared thanks to the "key" he used. Learning about his true home, his people, their fate, and the reason for his powers, Clark is given a blue and red suit with the S-shaped symbol of the House of El on its chest, as Jor-El tells him that he will be their guardian and give them an ideal to strive towards. But, just as he begins to test his limits in preparation for his purpose, Clark's identity is threatened with exposure by Lois; even worse, General Zod and his forces have escaped the Phantom Zone and found their way to Earth, which they plan to destroy to create a new Krypton. Now, Clark must come forward to save the planet and hope that the people will trust and fight alongside him.
On that note, before we go any further, I think I better lay the line down a little bit here. I've seen the sheer insanity that people like Ramboraph4life and his friends on YouTube and others like Brad Jones and his crew have gotten themselves swirled up into whenever they criticize a big comic book movie like this (Jones has described how he and the others got death threats for their not liking this movie when it was released), especially when Christopher Nolan's involved, as his fanbase goes absolutely rabid and attacks people who have even the slightest problem with his films. Well, let me say right now that, while I'm not going to hate on it to the extent that they did, this isn't going to be the most positive review either and I will not tolerate anybody having those kind of reactions on here. If you disagree with me, that's fine, and you're more than welcome to tell me why... but be nice and civil about it. I will immediately delete any hateful comments that I see on here. Okay, now that I've gotten that out there, let's begin this proper.
Much like the Richard Donner movie, the main goal of Man of Steel is to show the journey of the title character and the events that shaped him from Kal-El of Krypton to Clark Kent of Smallville and finally, after learning of his origin, his abilities, and his purpose, to Earth's guardian and protector as Superman while also working as a reporter at the Daily Planet. And as much depth as that film went into it, this goes even further, if that's possible. The movie literally begins with Kal-El's birth and soon afterward, you see his father bond the Codex with the baby's cells, making him a literal living embodiment of all of his soon to be destroyed people, before launching him into space to escape Krypton's impending destruction and General Zod's coup. Throughout the film's main narrative, we see flashbacks of young Clark Kent's (Cooper Timberline at 9 and Dylan Sprayberry at 13) childhood, as he had to learn to cope with being different from everyone else for a reason he didn't understand, harness and focus all of his abilities and powers to keep from going crazy as a result of the massive sensory overload they were causing him, and grapple with a need to help those who are in danger while also keeping his abilities hidden because of his parents' fear of what would happen if others found out. His father eventually revealed to him how his significant his presence was when he showed him the space-pod he arrived in and the metallic-like object that came with him, a revelation that put even more of a weight on his shoulders since, as Jonathan Kent told him, he was the answer to the question of whether or not man is alone in the universe. His father also told him that he feels he was sent to Earth for a reason and that, when the time does come for him to reveal himself to the world, everything will change. Eventually, though, Clark tired of repressing his abilities, wanting to achieve his potential, and grew frustrated with his father's continuously trying to shelter him, saying that he wasn't even really his father. Clark would come to regret that last statement, as immediately afterward, Jonathan was killed by a tornado, an act that Clark could've prevented but, to the end, his father gestured for him not to expose himself. Following that, Clark drifts from place-to-place, holding down different jobs under various aliases, trying to find his purpose in life, but can't go against his instinct to help people, as seen early on when he saves a crew of men trapped on a burning oil rig. Eventually, he overhears two soldiers talking about a mysterious craft that's been discovered frozen up north and, hoping that this would lead him to discover his identity, Clark heads up there.
Sure enough, when he makes his way into the ice and finds the spaceship, he learns that the object that arrived with him acts as a key that operates the ship and also activates a hologram of Jor-El, who tells him of Krypton, the source of his powers, and that he is meant to be a symbol of hope for the people of Earth, saying that his example will give others something to strive for. That's when he's given his suit and begins testing and pushing his abilities, such as learning how to fly at almost limitless speed. Now that he understands his purpose, Clark, after getting Lois Lane to stop trying to expose his identity, reunites with his mother and tells her of what he's learned, as he waits for the time to officially become Earth's protector. That time comes sooner than expected, though, when General Zod arrives and demands that Clark be handed over to him or the Earth will be destroyed. He grapples with the dilemma, knowing that Zod, from what his father told him, is untrustworthy and may destroy the planet even if he surrenders, but he's also worried about whether or not the people of Earth will trust him. Deciding to take a leap of faith, per the advice of a pastor whom he confesses to, Clark turns himself in to the military and allows them to, in turn, turn him over to Zod. Learning of Zod's plan and the Codex's part in it, Clark, after managing to escape his captors with the help of Lois Lane and his father's hologram, is told by Jor-El that he was originally meant as a bridge between Earth and Krypton and that he can still save them all, which he sets out to do. In his efforts to do so, he initially runs into resistance from the armed forces but they eventually realize that he's not their enemy and begin working along with him. In saving the world from Zod's scheme to create a new Krypton, Clark, as Zod tells him, destroys what's left of his home-world when he uses his heat vision to tear apart the ancient scout ship containing a gestation chamber, deciding that Krypton had its chance. Afterward, he battles and is eventually forced to kill Zod, a decision that caused him a lot of agony and trauma. The film ends with him having officially taken on the role of Superman, although he's having to dissuade the military from trying to discover where his home on Earth is, and in order to stay informed about crises in the world and in a position where he won't be questioned about heading into dangerous areas, he becomes a reporter at the Daily Planet alongside Lois Lane.
So as you can see, after this long journey is over, what's ultimately occurred is the establishment of the familiar status quo of these characters, much akin to Batman Begins. In fact, they wouldn't have been that off-base in calling the movie Superman Begins, because it's very similar, with the non-linear narrative switching back and forth between the main story in the character's adult life and key moments in his childhood, one of the defining moments being the death of a parent that the character feels an ounce of guilt about, and the character finding his purpose in helping people and scoring his first major victory in it, setting up everything the way it's expected to be. What's more, as it was with Bruce Wayne in that film, the main character is really Clark Kent rather than his alter ego of Superman; even more so, in fact, as it's not firmly established until pretty much near the end and the name is only mentioned twice in passing, whereas in Batman Begins, Batman, despite not getting a very concrete moniker, is established as Gotham City's new guardian very early on. Now, as for Henry Cavill and his role in making it all gel, I'm a tad bit mixed. On the plus side, I think he has a really good look to him, like a more hard-edged Christopher Reeve, especially when he's in the suit, and during the first act when he's trying to find himself and his place in the world, his performance is suitable, albeit not great. But, when he puts on the suit and is ultimately forced to reveal himself to the world, his performance and the way he's written doesn't feel right to me, as he says and does things that fly in the face of what he supposedly stands and are also not very Superman-esque. For instance, when he surrenders to the military, he says he'll only do so if they guarantee that they'll free Lois, whom they're holding due to her connection to him, in exchange, basically saying that, otherwise, the Earth will suffer. I guess that talk with the pastor about taking a leap of faith only went so far, unless his own personal one is counting on them to comply to be. Afterward, he allows them to handcuff him when they take him in, telling Lois, "If it makes them feel more secure, then... then all the better for it," which is sensible enough... and then, after he makes it clear that he can see General Swanwick, Dr. Hamilton, and the soldiers behind the two-way mirror, he breaks the cuffs and tells them, "You're scared of me because you can't control me. You don't, and you never will. But that doesn't mean I'm your enemy." Well, you're not doing much to help your case, man. So much for making them feel comfortable and secure. Then, there's all of the collateral damage he causes, which I'll expound upon shortly, and at the end, when he's downed a surveillance drone (which he caused to crash right in front of Swanwick and Captain Farris while they're driving), he tells the former, "I know you're trying to find out where I hang my cape. You won't," and, "Look. I'm here to help, but it has to be on my own terms. And you have to convince Washington of that." Again, it'll be kind of hard for him to do that given your attitude and unwillingness to really work with them, and it still doesn't feel like you took the pastor's words to heart. Everything his father said aside, they deserve his trust as much as he does theirs, especially since they now know what he can do; otherwise they will always be suspicious of his motives. And he needs to give them better encouragement that he won't some day turn on them than, "I grew up in Kansas... I'm about as American as it gets."
Another thing: for somebody who's been actively trying to keep his true identity a secret since he was a young adult, he hasn't been doing the greatest job of being discreet about it. Aside from Lois Lane and the pastor, both of whom, admittedly, could be trusted with his secret, and all the kids on the school bus who saw that he was the one who saved them from drowning when he was 13 (one of whom Lois later interviewed, was ultimately the link that led her to the Kent farm, and who briefly sees Clark as Superman during the battle in Smallville), you have all of those people who saw him in action on the oil rig, the people he worked with on the fishing boat who have to note how he just disappeared into thin air right before the disaster at the rig, and that asshole trucker who, after treating Clark like absolute crap when he stepped in while he was harassing a waitress at the truck stop he was working at, found his logging truck impaled and gutted by the very logs he was hauling. A lot of them may not know his real name but they're still many points on a map that could lead to him, as shown when Lois uses all of them to eventually find him, and if a journalist could do it, who's to say that some high-ranking government officials who are suspicious of his motives couldn't? If that happened, not even those glasses could protect him, and they're already moot given how, again, so many people saw him doing superhuman feats long before he even settled into his dual role of Superman and reporter Clark Kent. He may have been more scruffy-looking then, especially when he had that Brawny Man beard, but it's not that much of a task to look past that. What a way to shoot a bunch of holes in a character trope that's always been a flimsy excuse for a disguise to begin with.
Now, let's talk about that collateral damage. Yeah, people always seem to bring it up whenever talking about this movie but there's a good reason for it. I didn't really think about it in the theater, as I was, admittedly, enjoying the action scenes, but when I heard someone else mention it, I thought to myself, "My God, that is right," and now, I can't not think about it. The two major battles between Superman and the villains take place in the midst of populated areas, like the heart of Smallville and downtown Metropolis, and by the time they're over, it looks more like Godzilla came through rather than a hero fighting to save innocent people (in fact, Superman causes more damage here than Godzilla did in the first Legendary Pictures movie the following year!) To be fair, General Zod's terraforming plan caused the initial massive destruction that Metropolis suffered, making it look like Los Angeles after SkyNet took over, but when he and Superman are having their climactic battle afterward, they're smashing each other into and through buildings, throwing enormous projectiles at each other, and causing explosion after huge explosion, which is what I meant when I said that this movie sometimes feels like Michael Bay had a hand in it (it also doesn't help that some of them are uncomfortably close to looking like 9/11 imagery). The same goes for Superman's fight with Faora and Nam-Ek in Smallville, and while he can't be blamed for the destruction his enemies cause, Superman doesn't do much to minimize the damage and loss of innocent life, which is what he should do. There is a big battle in the middle of Metropolis involving Zod and his forces in Superman II, which did result in a fair amount of property damage, but there, it really felt like Superman was doing everything he could to make sure more didn't get destroyed than was necessary, like when he used his super breath to cool a truck engine they overheated to the point where it was threatening to explode, he showed genuine concern for the citizens, and he eventually led the battle away when he realized how destructive things were getting. Here, Superman does nothing to lure his enemies away from the populace, even during the Smallville battle when the military, who still see him as a threat at that point, join in (making them look like trigger-happy idiots), and, again, he adds to the destruction in the battle instead of trying to keep things from escalating. His advice to the populace who are caught on the streets? He tells them to get inside because it's not safe out there. Given what follows, staying inside isn't going to help one bit! He should've warned them to flat-out evacuate, if nothing else. Finally, the way they try to transition from these devastating battles with bits of tenderness and humor is rather inappropriate, like how the one girl says, "He saved us," after the World Engine has been destroyed, despite the fact that so much of Metropolis in charred ruins, and Superman and Lois having their first kiss amidst the devastation, with the latter joking about how it's all downhill after the first one. Again, does that not feel like something Bay would do?
Another qualm many have with Superman's character in this film is that he ultimately kills Zod by snapping his neck, an act that's then played off as being very traumatic and painful for him, given his morals. Again, going back to Superman II, this isn't unprecedented, since Superman does kill Zod at the end of that movie as well, and while the way it was handled as a suitable comeuppance, the overall tone of the piece, and Christopher Reeve's performance managed to make it acceptable (to me, at least), it's still a little disconcerting to think that he actually killed someone, particularly in the theatrical version of that movie where you don't have it being quickly retconned by Supes turning back time like in the Richard Donner version. However, the way it was handled here was pretty clumsy for several reasons. First, given the attitude that Superman had taken beforehand and all of that aforementioned collateral damage, which had to have resulted in more lives lost, it's difficult to buy that this would get to him as much as you're led to think. Second, some have argued that part of his pain came from the notion that, by killing Zod, he just killed the last known surviving Kryptonian aside from himself, making him truly alone, but that loses its impact when you consider that Superman already wiped out any chance of his race being reborn by destroying the genesis chamber in the scout ship and even said to Zod before he did it, "Krypton had its chance," as well as by the fact that was no way he could reason with Zod, given his inherent nature, to stop and join him as Krypton's last two sons, something that Superman himself had to have known. Third, the way they try to make it seem like he had no choice but to kill Zod to stop him from frying these innocent people does not work because he could have done something else like cover up his eyes to stop the heat-vision he was using or try to force his head to aim it somewhere else, and also because those people had plenty of time to get out of the line of fire before the lasers got dangerously close to them. Finally, the scene that follows is as awkward in context as Superman and Lois sharing their first kiss amidst the ruins of Metropolis. Superman lets out a mournful yell, is clearly shaken by what he's done, to the point where he has to be comforted by Lois... and, in the very next scene, he's downed a surveillance drone and informs General Swanwick that it's his way or no way. Obviously, some time has past in-between scenes, but the editing really hurts the impact of what we just saw, as does Captain Farris' comment to Swanwick that she thinks Superman is hot.
Visually, I think Superman looks really good in this film. Not only do I think Henry Cavill himself looks good in the role but the same goes for the suit, which I like more than the suit that Brandon Routh wore in Superman Returns. The color tones are darker than usual but I don't think they look as dull as those in Routh's suit and the same goes for the "S," which I just think looks better than it did there when it catches the light, although the overall texture of the suit is very similar. I also think it was a smart move to get rid of the red trunks, especially given the tone they were going for. As classic as they are, it's always felt really awkward to see someone who's supposed to be this big, powerful figure basically wearing his underwear over a bodysuit, and that goes for all the classic superheroes as well. In some instances, they can make it work (like when they make Batman's shorts so dark that they don't stand out from the rest of the suit), but mostly, I feel it hurts the seriousness of whatever story they're attempting to tell. Most notably, I feel that the suit here has a both a badass quality and an elegance to it, and in no part of it do I get the latter vibe than in the cape. I like that it feels like it's made out of cloth like Reeve's suit, rather than the leathery feel Routh's had, and the deep, vibrant red and the way it flows in the breeze make it come across like a piece of royal clothing, like something you'd expect to see a prince or king wearing. As for his powers, he has all the basics you would expect, like the heat-vision, super-strength, highly attuned senses, x-ray vision (although that's only seen as part of the sensory overload that he experiences before learning to focus his senses and is something that Zod also struggles with when he's first exposed to the Earth's atmosphere), and the ability to propel himself at incredible speeds. Speaking of the latter, I like that we get to see him testing himself and having to hone it before he can do it effortlessly, and that, like in the past movies, he can either fly fast enough to break the sound barrier, gracefully glide right above the ground, or just hover in midair.
The filmmakers did some things with the character of Lois Lane that I really approve, more so than I do their choices for Superman himself. For one, I am so glad that they decided to have her know who he is from the very beginning, dispensing with that old, tired cliche of her not figuring it out no matter what happens, which always made her seem like she's not that smart for a reporter. Furthermore, I like that her learning his identity is a result of her considerable skills at her job, following whatever leads she can find about him after she first encounters him in the frozen north and deduces pretty quickly from everything she went through that he's not of this Earth. And finally, I like that they make her an integral part of the struggle to stop General Zod, rather than having her only purpose be a damsel in distress that Superman can save all the time. He does do that a few times, granted, but otherwise, not only does she prove herself to be a tough, independent-minded woman who will not back down no matter what (as seen when she allows another source to leak her story about what happened up north when Perry White refuses to print it), she helps Superman to escape captivity by using his key to upload the Jor-El AI into Zod's ship, learns from him the way to stop Zod's plan, which she then relates to Superman and the military, and takes part in the final battle. So that's great stuff to do with her but, unfortunately, it's offset by some other stuff that isn't so good. Performance-wise, Amy Adams is certainly better than Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns, who had no personality at all, but regardless, she doesn't bring that much depth to Lois, in the end coming across as little more than tough and independent, save for some understanding moments where she respects Clark's wishes not to make his story and identity public and when she comforts the distraught Superman after he's killed Zod. Speaking of which, the chemistry between her and Henry Cavill could've been a lot better and their romance really comes out of nowhere, as it doesn't feel that they've been through enough to become as close as they suddenly are (and certainly not enough to suddenly be a full-on couple in Batman v. Superman but let's not get off-topic). And, while she's not as much of a damsel-in-distress as you'd expect, the moments where Superman does have to save her come about through very arbitrary means, like Zod demanding she brought aboard his ship with him for no reason whatsoever or her being aboard the main military plane during the final battle when she could've simply shown them what to do with Superman's key and his space-pod.
Since we've now talked about Lois, I figure this would be a nice time to mention Perry White. It seems like in recent years, Laurence Fishburne has been cast in roles in anticipated movies that end up not panning out and seem to have been a waste of his talent. You had Predators, where he only appeared for maybe 15 minutes and was then unceremoniously killed off, which really sucked because a Predator movie with him sounded awesome (there's a lot of reasons why that movie was a disappointment, though), and now, you have him as Perry White, a role that, as he's written here, could've honestly been played by anybody. Perry's always been nothing but a supporting character but the past actors who've played him, particularly Jackie Cooper and Frank Langella, managed to bring something to him; it feels like the only reason they cast Fishburne was so they could have the first African-American Perry, because otherwise, he feels like he's doing little more than spinning his wheels. For the most part, all his performance consists of is coming across as a stern authority figure to everyone under him, especially Lois, refusing to print her story about her experiences up north because of how ridiculous it is and becoming enraged at her for giving it to another source and leaking it out, to the point where he suspends her. However, when she suddenly says that she's not going to go any further with it because her leads didn't pan out, he becomes suspicious about her true motives, since he knows how she is, and it convinces him of her earlier claims, as he tells her, "I believe you saw something, Lois. But not for a moment do I believe that your leads just went cold. So whatever your reasons are for dropping it, I think you're doing the right thing... Can you imagine how people on this planet would react if they knew there was someone like this out there?" Later, when General Zod makes his presence known and threatens the entire world if they don't turn Clark over to him, Perry tries to convince Lois to talk him into turning himself in to the authorities, warning her that the FBI is after her because of her connection. One thing I really do like about Perry, though, is how he's shown to look out for those around him, as seen during the climax when, while evacuating, a co-worker named Jenny gets trapped beneath some and he risks his life to try to get her out, telling her, " I'm not going to leave you," and then yelling at another employee, Lombard, to get over there and help him. What's more, just when it looks like they've had it, Perry holds Jenny's hand as they try to brace themselves for getting vaporized together, but, of course, it's right then when Superman manages to turn the tables on Zod's plan. Finally, when Clark arrives at the Daily Planet at the end, Perry introduces him to Lois and tells her to show him the ropes.
It's a shame that Russell Crowe has, over the years, proven to have a really bad attitude and violent temper because I do think he's a good actor and for me, his performance as Jor-El is one of Man of Steel's greatest aspects. Like Marlon Brando before him, he's able to bring the required sense of dignity and gravitas to the role but what really helps is that, unlike Brando, Crowe seems to not only actually give a crap about what he's doing but he's also very proactive in setting his plan in motion. He not only seeks to save his only son from Krypton's impending destruction but also to ensure the future of his very race, bonding the Codex with his son's cells before sending him off to Earth. As much as he disagrees with the decisions of the planetary council, Jor-El refuses to take part in General Zod's takeover and his desire to ensure that the "right" bloodlines survive, telling him, "You have abandoned the principles that bound us together. You've taken up the sword against your own people. I will honor the man you once were, Zod, not this monster you have become." His disagreement with Zod's methods is an extension of his ultimate goal, represented by Kal-El being Krypton's first natural birth in centuries rather than being created in a genesis chamber and designed for a specific purpose. As his hologram later tells Clark, "Your mother and I believed Krypton lost something precious, the element of choice, of chance. What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater? You were the embodiment of that belief, Kal... That's why we risked so much to save you," and tells Zod before launching the pod, "He will be free, free to forge his own destiny." I also like that Jor-El doesn't sit idly by when things start going to hell but takes steps to ensure his plan succeeds. When Zod attempts to take him prisoner after he's attacked the council, Jor-El manages to beat the crap out of his captors and escape, head to where the Codex is stored and take it, and put on an awesome battle-suit in order to fight off Zod and his men so his son's space-pod can be launched, which ultimately results in his getting killed. Even as a sentient hologram programmed in the command key he sends with his son, Jor-El is still awesome, able to help Lois Lane escape Zod's ship when she uploads him into the mainframe, as well as tell her how to stop Zod from destroying the world, and continues to tell the general that he won't succeed, saying, "My son is twice the man you were, and he will finish what we started. I can promise you that."
However, in thinking about something in Jor-El's plan that didn't make sense to me, I believe I've found a major flaw in his character. He talks about Krypton losing something with the genetically engineered means they began using to birth the populace and yet, he merges the key to that very process, the Codex, with his son's body before sending him off to Earth. Given his pleas with the council to allow him to take the Codex to ensure the Kryptonian race survives and how he later tells Zod that they can co-exist with Earth, that has to mean that he intended for his son to some day create new Kryptonians using the Codex within him, possibly with the genesis chamber found in the ancient scout ship up north. If so, then wouldn't they still have to be engineered to be whatever they're needed to be or what that be bypassed now? And that leads me to this point: for all his claims that, once on Earth, Kal-El would be free to choose his own destiny, Jor-El sure does seem to have quite the plan for his son even before he launches him, telling Lara how the sun will make him powerful, like a god to everyone else. While Crowe delivers his dialogue about Superman being meant to be a symbol of hope and giving them something to strive for very well, he's still basically forcing him to assume this role, so I guess it's a good thing Clark had a father on Earth who made him forget about not wanting the burden of being mankind's proof of life elsewhere in the universe and such. I thought for a bit that maybe it would be his choice to figure out how he'd go about setting this example, perhaps in a way that didn't involve being a superhero, like maybe a great doctor, inventor, or even a leader, but I don't know what else he could do with that suit Jor-El presents him with (how did that thing manage to be on this random scout ship to begin with?) Maybe I'm missing something but all of this seems to be very contradictory.
|Don't save me, even though you totally could. It's not right.|
Like Jor-El, Zod doesn't want to be enemies with Superman, and when he admits to him that he killed his father, he says that it still haunts him, but then adds, "But if I had to do it again, I would. I have a duty to my people, and I will not allow anyone to prevent me from carrying it out!" In essence, Zod is the prime example of a villain who doesn't think he is a villain. Rather than being completely mad with power like Terence Stamp's original portrayal, it's more a case of his single-mindedness towards the purpose he was engineered for keeping him from recognizing how evil his actions are. Jor-El's line about Zod having become a monster indicates that he was once more reasonable than he is now, and you can also see whatever respect he had for Jor-El disappear when he angrily argues with his hologram about the genocide of the people of Earth, sneering, "And I'm arguing its merits with ghost," and then threatens to extract the Codex from Superman's corpse out of a desire to cause him pain even in death, but for the most part, Zod simply sees his acts as a necessary evil to preserve his people. However, when Superman foils his plan by obliterating the World Engine and the scout ship with the genesis chamber onboard, destroying any chance of recreating Krypton, Zod, realizing that he's essentially rendered his existence pointless, becomes absolutely enraged and shows how cruel he inherently is by threatening to kill all of humanity to make him suffer. No matter how much punishment he takes, Zod makes it clear that he won't stop unless either he dies or he kills Superman, and continues trying to cause him heartache by threatening innocent people even during their fight, leading to Superman having to kill him. But, like I've already said, that moment isn't played off nearly as successfully as it could have been. And that's the thing about Zod: in concept, he's very fascinating, but in actual execution, it leaves something to be desired for. The final battle between him and Superman, which is meant to be them finishing what started years ago with him and Jor-El, doesn't feel as grand or as epic as it's meant to be, mainly because of how little we know of what Zod and Jor-El's relationship was like before and for how rushed the growing conflict between him and Superman is. Also, while Michael Shannon is a good actor, his performance has basically two notes to it: monologuing about his purpose and his dedication to it or yelling and snarling that's just downright hammy (all with the same scowl on his face, I might add). Stamp definitely had his moments of chewing the scenery, with all of his, "Kneel before Zod!" exclamations and the like, but he still managed to bring dignity and class to the role, while Shannon is sometimes laughable, particularly in the scene where he repeatedly yells at Lara, "I will find him. I WILL FIND HIM!", and this little gem, "I was bred to be a warrior, Kal. Trained my entire life to master my senses. Where did you train? ON A FARM?!" Alright, Shannon, calm down. You sound like you're a little hocked up on the crank there.
Among Zod's forces, the most ferocious and loyal one is Faora-Ul (Antje Traue), which is the original name of the character who was dubbed Ursa back in Superman II. She may not kiss up to Zod and eagerly seek his approval as much as she did but there's no denying that she'll follow him to the ends of the universe if need be and do whatever she needs to help him carrying out his plan to create a new Krypton. She's also a very fierce fighter, able to go toe-to-toe with Superman thanks to the effects of Earth's sun, and for those who fall by her in combat, she feels, "A good death is its own reward," a saying that Col. Nathan Hardy throws back at her right before they both die when Zod's ship is destroyed. (Interestingly, Gal Gadot was originally considered for this role but had to turn it down because she was pregnant at the time, which cleared the way for her later being cast as Wonder Woman.) While he doesn't get a lot of screentime, Zod's science officer is Jax-Ur (Mackenzie Gray), who takes a sample of Superman's blood when he's weakened by the effects of the Kryptonian atmosphere on Zod's ship, as well as rubs his nose in the fact that he can do nothing... then, Superman regains his powers when the Jor-El hologram reconfigures the atmosphere to make it more like that of Earth, prompting Jax-Ur to run off like a coward, especially since, by that logic, he should have super-strength all his own. Significantly, Jax-Ur also informs Zod that the Codex is bonded with Superman's cells and that he doesn't need to be alive for it to be extracted, leading to a significant change in Zod's plan. Finally, there's Nam-Ek, a big, nonspeaking bruiser of a Kryptonian who joins Faora-Ul in the battle with Superman in Smallville; in other words, he's this film's equivalent to Non.
Rounding out the cast are Col. Nathan Hardy (Christopher Meloni), a U.S. Air Force officer whose call sign is Guardian, who's in command of the drilling operation up north, and initially thinks Superman is just as much of a threat as Zod and his forces but ultimately becomes convinced that's not the case; Lieutenant General Calvin Swanwick (Harry Lennix), who is the first military officer to become alerted to the presence of General Zod's ship when it appears in orbit with the Earth, who later leads the team that hands Superman over to Zod, and becomes the one whom he trusts with telling Washington that he has to do things on his own terms (his line to Superman, "Are you effing stupid?!" after Supes downs that surveillance drone in front of his vehicle is really lame); Captain Carrie Ferris (Christina Wren), who acts as Swanwick's assistant when she's not commenting about how hot Superman is; Dr. Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff, who I hadn't seen in a movie in a while, so it was a welcome surprise), a scientist who works with the armed forces and is introduced as part of the drilling operation, is also the one who realizes what General Zod plans to do to Earth, and goes along on the suicide mission to take his ship down; and Steve Lombard (Michael Kelly), a Daily Planet employee who, during the crisis in Metropolis, you think is going to leave Perry White and Jenny (Rebecca Buller), the intern who becomes trapped beneath the rubble, behind but ultimately runs over to help and, at the end of the movie, tries to ask Lois out on a date. Also, you have the character of Pete Ross, who's introduced as a high school classmate (Jack Foley) of Clark's who picks on him initially but, after Clark saves him and everyone else on the bus, stops bullying. He doesn't do anything to stop these other bullies who try to beat him up but he sheepishly help Clark to his feet after they've stormed off. In the present time, he (Joseph Cranford) works at an Ihop in Smallville and manages to lead Lois to the Kent farm when she's trying to track Clark down, and also gets caught up in the battle between Superman and Zod's forces, appearing to recognize him when they crash into the restaurant. And finally, the girl who tells Pete to leave Clark alone on the bus is apparently meant to be Lana Lang (Jadin Gould); I was expecting them to say that it was a young Lois but that wouldn't make sense, given how she clearly sees that Clark is the one who pushed the school bus out of the river.
By far the biggest reason why I never felt compelled to buy this movie on Blu-Ray or revisit up until I began planning to do this review is because of how soulless and, more importantly, joyless it is. While I can appreciate the attempt to take this material seriously and to try to explore the depths of it, all of the philosophical and metaphorical dialogue makes it feel very pretentious. This kind of dialogue is a common trait in movies that Christopher Nolan actually directs, especially when he has a hand in the screenplay as well, but there's something about the way he puts everything together, as well as the fact that his movies are often meant to be dark, thinking-man's pieces, that make it successfully thought-provoking. Here, it feels like 90% of the dialogue is either Jonathan Kent talking about Clark's place in the world and that he must wait for the right moment to reveal what he can do, Jor-El telling his wife and son the symbol he's meant to be for the people of Earth and giving Clark a history lesson of Krypton, Clark talking about how he doesn't know if he can trust the people of Earth or General Zod, Zod going on about the purpose he was genetically engineered for, or Lois Lane talking about her attempts to track Clark down while Perry White tells her of the ramifications of doing so. It gets to the point where, despite some of the interesting concepts behind them and the actors trying their best, the characters feel like non-entities whose only purpose is to constantly remind you what the filmmakers were going for with their concepts, especially when it comes to Superman himself, and as a result, they don't leave much of an emotional impact on you. And speaking of which, in case you forget that Superman can be seen as a Christ-like figure, they give you the visual representation of it twice: when Clark's floating in the water after the scene on the burning oil rig and when Superman floats out of Zod's ship after Jor-El tells him to go and save the Earth. Yes, we get it. If you insist on doing that, at least be subtle about it.
And as for the joyless part, it comes down to their trying so damn hard to make this movie so serious. There's very little humor, save for the offhanded comment now and then, so much angst and despair that goes along with all of the philosophical and expositional dialogue, numerous shots of characters looking out and pondering or, in Clark's case, sitting and brooding, and even the action sequences, which there are plenty of and they're always on a big-scale, lose their entertainment value after a while because of how long they go on and only remind you of the recklessness of this Superman. Then there's the film's actual look, which is anything but super. It's so muted and dreary-looking, especially in those scenes in Canada early on and in all of the stuff in Metropolis, even before things go south, and the scenes in the desert are so stark in the way they look that it feels like Superman got dropped into Terminator: Salvation but at least that movie, despite my not being that big a fan of it, had a reason for it looking the way it did because of the story they were telling (ironically, McG was considered to direct this). Even the scenes in Kansas, both during the flashbacks to Clark's childhood and the present day, often don't look as lovely and idyllic as you'd expect them to, as there are still many gray, muted colors and scenes shot in dark, melancholy shadows. This is what I was talking about when I said I was shocked when I first saw the movie, given Zack Snyder's involvement and what I had seen of his past movies at that time. There are still some nice shots and instances of good cinematography in the movie, for sure (I personally think that the scenes in the Arctic where he first puts on the suit and is testing out his abilities is where the movie looks the best), and Superman's outfit, despite having darker colors than usual, does often stand out well amongst everything else around it, especially the cape, but for the most part, you may be tempted to tell this movie to lighten up.
That brings me to my final point here: Superman probably wasn't the best character to go with in this direction. It's no secret that the successes of the first two Nolan Batman movies, especially The Dark Knight, set a template that so many other comic book movies tried to copy. Save for the movies produced by Marvel Studios, which somehow manage to consistently strike a nice balance between complex, deep storytelling and pure escapist fun, it feels like every superhero movie that's been released in the years since then has tried to be as dark, serious, and realistic as possible, with notable examples being the two Amazing Spider-Man movies and Josh Trank's notorious Fantastic Four, aka Fant4stic, with various results. But, no matter how good these movies manage to sometimes be, when every single one of them has this same type of tone, you start to wonder what happened to just making an entertaining comic book movie. The dark and realistic approach works well for Batman because he's a dark character to begin with and also because he's just a normal man, with no fantastical powers, but not every hero can be forced into that mold, least of all Superman. You can certainly do Superman seriously and make it work, like the 90's animated series and the DC animated movies, which feature a more stern portrayal of Supes who's still, at the end of the day, a really good, down-to-Earth guy you can trust with your life, and even the Christopher Reeve movies, as light-hearted and humorous as they got, had their serious moments, like when Jonathan Kent unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, Superman going insane with grief when he's unable to save Lois, and the realization that he's given up his power when the Earth needs him the most, but if you get carried away with it, you're going to detract from the sense of wonder and fun that makes him such a great character. And there's a limit to how seriously you can go with this concept anyway, so trying to take the Batman route with it is not a good idea inherently (Tom Mankiewicz realized that when they originally tapped him to help work on the first Batman movie due to his involvement with Superman). But, unfortunately, this is the modern-day standard for Superman that we now have and, given how Batman v. Superman turned out, unless Justice League is a lot different, it's unlikely we're going to see any change for a while.
In keeping with the overall dark tone, Krypton is depicted as being a far cry from the lovely, welcoming place that it usually is. It's a dark, rocky planet that's very barren in many spots, the terrain of which is composed of a lot of mountains and valleys, and has a moon that's broken up into large, floating chunks. There are other creatures living on the planet besides the human-like Kryptonians, including this strange, buffalo-like animal you see in one shot and, most notably, H'Raka, a four-winged, dragon-like thing that Jor-El has managed to tame and rides on to reach the area containing the Codex and make it back home. In short, this Krypton is more than a little reminiscent of Pandora from James Cameron's Avatar, just without the lush jungles and floating islands in the sky. We don't get to see the interiors of many buildings and dwellings, save for the council chamber and Jor-El and Lara's home, but what we do see doesn't come across as very comfortable or inviting, looking like just very barren rooms of various sizes with only the most minimal of comforts (Jor-El and Lara's own home feels especially so, with all those strange machines around and the kind of claustrophobic feel; even though they have a landing platform and their home is a dome-shaped structure atop a mountain, it really feels like they're living in little more than a cave in the side of it). The council chamber itself is within a large structure that appears to have an enormous hollow underside, full of valleys and canyons, as well as the most striking area on the planet: the birth chamber, a large, twisting, underwater space within another rock-like structure where unborn Kryptonians are seen in small bubbles attached to large, reed-like stalks. This place is also reminiscent of something else, namely the real world of The Matrix, where the machines are shown harvesting humans (in fact, you see similar-looking robots taking the fetuses off the stalks here). Up in a shallow section at the top of the chamber is where the Codex, the small, skull-like object that contains all of the genetic information to be programmed into future Kryptonians, is housed (given how important a MacGuffin it is, I've always found its looking like a portion of a small skull to be rather underwhelming, especially since this genetic engineering idea is the most fascinating part of this interpretation of Krypton). This leads into their technology, which is very interesting in the way it looks and functions. The various machines and apparatuses have a slight H.R. Giger quality to their designs and whenever they're activated or in use, their mainframes and screens appear to be made up of dull pinheads with a liquid quality to them, moving around and reshape to form various images, such as when Lara uses Kelex, an artificial intelligence that assists her and Jor-El, to contact her husband and a part of the floating drone that houses it reshapes into her face (it's weird, I know, but I think it'll make sense once you see it). Also interesting is when General Zod and his men are banished to the Phantom Zone for, as the council describes it, "300 cycles of somatic reconditioning,"; they're quickly frozen up into small space-pods (which are very phallic-looking, I might add,) and then launched up into the Black Zero, the ship that becomes his command craft later in the film. Finally, I have to comment on the Kryptonian clothing, which is also unique in that it basically consists of tight-fitting bodysuits over which they wear either really elaborate robes and headpieces, which look like the Italian Renaissance gone awry, or really tough-looking, heavy armor, which can also deploy see-through helmets and breathing apparatuses for when they're on another planet, like Earth. And like before, the Kryptonians all wear the symbols of their individual houses on their chest.
Of the spaceships and similar vehicles present in the film, the most notable one is the ancient scout ship Clark finds up north, which is one of many such ships that were sent out earlier in Krypton's history when they attempted to colonize other planets. It's basically a smooth, long spacecraft, with the unmistakable Kryptonian look to the skin, that's narrow up front and much wider in the back, and it's controlled by the small key with the 'S' symbol on it that arrived with Kal-El in his space pod (it turns out to be the shape rather than the particular key that makes it work, although I don't know why the Superman suit is onboard). While there's not a lot of detail to the interior, aside from a bunch of doors, long corridors, a spot in the center where the main control panel is guarded by a sentry, a large chamber where a long-dead Kryptonian is found mummified in a pod, and a room that shows Clark a computerized visualization of the history of Krypton, you see enough to know that it's definitely enormous, with the most striking feature being the genesis chamber meant to be used in conjunction with the Codex to create new Kryptonians. The Black Zero, the ship that was used to send General Zod and his cohorts to the Phantom Zone and later becomes his command ship, is a large, vertical craft that's kind of spider-like in design, with three, enormous "legs" attached to the underside of a circular body. Again, you don't get much detail when it comes to its interior, as it's mainly just a bunch of twisting hallways, small dark holding cells, a large bridge with a gigantic window, an airlock full of escape pods, and a type of examination room that Superman is temporarily kept in, but its most significant attributes are the Kryptonian atmosphere onboard, which weakens Superman, and its Phantom Drive, which Zod and his men modified to allow them to journey throughout the galaxy (in a big example of plot convenience, Jor-El was the one who designed the ship, allowing his holographic AI to be uploaded into its mainframe so he can take control). The Phantom Drive proves to be its undoing, as the pod that brought Kal-El to Earth, which is a long, narrow little craft with a rounded end displaying the 'S' symbol, is also equipped with a modified Phantom Drive and they fire it at the Black Zero, which creates a black hole that sucks them all into nothingness. There are also some smaller, black ships that Zod's forces use to get around that are insect-like in their shape, with what look like small, fat wings on either side of the bug-shaped bodies. Then, there's the World Engine, a terraforming device that Zod and his crew found one of the now extinct Kryptonian outposts in the galaxy. It looks like a larger and more intimidating version of the Black Zero, and when Zod deploys it to the Indian Ocean and activates, the two become linked via an energy beam it shoots directly through the center of the Earth, which begins the process of creating a stronger gravitational pull and making the planet itself more dense. And when Superman attempts to destroy it, he discovers that it has a very powerful defense mechanism in the form of gigantic, liquid-like tentacles that attack him, forcing him to go under the Engine and head up directly into it. And finally, there are some attack ships under Zod's command on Krypton that are also kind of shaped like large insects, along with some large battle-cruisers that fill the Kryptonian skies as Zod's coup rages on.
Aside from Superman himself and everything else dealing with Krypton, the rest of the movie is pretty grounded in terms of its locations. All of the stuff up north looks as rainy, cold, and snowy as you would expect it to be, especially on the fishing boat where we get our first look at Henry Cavill, and the film spends a little bit of time at a typical truck stop where people go in to kick back and have some beer. The same goes for Smallville, which looks and feels like a typical, nondescript, middle-America town, both in the present and during the flashbacks to Clark's childhood. Although, this is where there's a lot of product placement that tends to irritate people, like the Sears and especially the Ihop, which gets caught up in Superman's battle with Faora-Ul and Nam-Ek. And finally, like Gotham City in the Nolan Batman movies, Metropolis feels like a down-to-Earth with big city, albeit one with little character since we don't spend much time there until the third act and even then, the only thing notable about it is how it's reduced to looking like something out of a post-apocalyptic story. The sequences set in the Arctic and at the military base in the desert are where the movie starts to feel a little fantastical at points again but that's mainly due to Superman's mere presence; otherwise, it's not much of a departure from everything else.
As much as I don't care for the way it looks (not just because of the color palette but also because there are many shots where there's an irritating flare of bright light in the background), the movie does indeed have some nice visuals and good pieces of cinematography to it. The large, sweeping shots of the landscape of Krypton at the beginning look nice and feel even more epic due to the enormous battle going on, and the shots inside both the birth chamber and the genesis chamber aboard the scout ship on Earth are really cool-looking. While the scenes in Smallville do suffer from the muted color palette, there are some shots during the flashbacks to Clark's childhood there that are nice to look at, such as this big wide-shot of him sitting on the back of a pickup truck with the sun setting in the horizon and that shot of him standing in front of his dog, with a makeshift cape wrapped around his neck, posing like a superhero (I don't care for the context of that image but the way it's actually framed is nice). For me, the best-looking scenes in the whole movie are those in the Arctic after the scout ship has flown Clark there. The way the Arctic landscape looks is quite beautiful and the shots of him stepping out of the ship and walking through the snow, having now officially become Superman by wearing the suit, look really good and have kind of become iconic, since I often see them whenever this movie is being advertised. After Superman has been brought aboard the Black Zero and passes out from being exposed to Kryptonian atmosphere for the first time, he has a dream-like vision of what will happen when Zod uses the World Engine to convert Earth into a new Krypton, which is the Kent farm completely destroyed in a horrific example of hell on Earth, with an enormous explosion in the background and the ground littered with thousands of skulls, which Superman sinks beneath like quicksand as he futilely yells at Zod. The way the x-ray vision looks to both of them when they haven't learned to focus their powers is also pretty nice. Finally, the third act has plenty of good-looking visuals, particularly the scenes involving the World Engine, which are as dark and nightmarish as possible, the condition of Metropolis following its destruction, which really looks like a city that has very nearly been destroyed, and moments during Superman and Zod's battle, like whey rush at each at the beginning and do the same in front of the face of a building later on.
Not surprisingly, the visual effects in the film are all CGI and the amount of them is so massive that they had to get three effects companies (Weta Digital, MPC, and Double Negative) to accomplish it all. The quality of them varies given what they entail. For my money, the digital shots of the landscapes, like Krypton, the Arctic, and the devastated Metropolis, as well as when Superman is taking off and flying, all look really good, while others like the Kryptonian wildlife, the CG whales that are seen swimming near Clark after the oil rig explodes, and the tornado in that one flashback are a little sketchy (the effects in Twister look better than the latter and that was nearly twenty years before this). As for the spaceships and the birth and genesis chambers, while you inherently know that they are computer-generated, they look well enough and serve their purpose, and the same goes for the green screen and compositing of real actors into digital environments, although it tends to vary more depending on the quality of the effects work behind them (for example, the shots of Superman and Lois against the devastated Metropolis look pretty good, while those of Clark amidst the fire and explosions on the oil rig sometimes look a tad suspect). All of the close combat battles between Superman and his enemies involved a lot of switching between the real actors and CG doubles, which proved to be a real challenge for the effects artists, and it tends to vary from looking quite good from being obviously digital and cartoonish. The bigger-scale action scenes, however, often look better, as they seem to be a nice balance of actual components like real actors and environments and CG elements like explosions, projectiles, and smoke and dust, and they do often feel very epic, although you can sometimes tell when something is digital by looking at it. But, besides going on a little longer than they sometimes should, the action scenes suffer from that problem of their being a little too kinetic and quickly edited to tell what's going on sometimes, which is going to make the breakdown coming up quite a challenge.
Man of Steel is a movie that wastes no time in getting to the action. Less than three minutes in, as Jor-El pleads with the Kryptonian council to give him the Codex to ensure the survival of the Kryptonian race, when there's an explosion in the hall behind him. A group of shadowy figures blast the guards with laser cannons and General Zod marches in, leading his cohorts, proclaiming that the council has been disbanded on his authority. He immediately shoots an elderly female council member and has his followers take the others prisoner. He tries to persuade Jor-El to join him but when he refuses, Zod has his men take him away as well. When they're escorting him down a corridor, they run into the AI known as Kelex, who asks him if everything is okay. He then nods to her and she suddenly emits a blinding light, causing one of the guards to misfire his weapon and hit a comrade. Jor-El quickly goes into action, headbutting one, slamming another into the wall and appearing to break his arm, grabbing one's rifle and shooting another, kicking away one that charges at him as he and the one struggle, elbowing him in the face, wrenching the rifle away, shooting another, and finally taking care of the gun's owner. Jor-El has Kelex contact Lara, who immediately warns him of two more guards behind him, who he quickly shoots down, and tells her to prepare to launch their son away from Krypton. Rushing outside, he sees that a devastating battle has broken out between Zod's followers and the planet's security forces. In order to make it through the battlefield, he calls for H'Raka, a Kryptonian dragon that he's tamed. He flies down to the platform and lands in front of Jor-El, who climbs on his back, along with Kelex, and they fly straight down from the council's tower to an area near its underside where the Codex is housed. Stripping down to his bodysuit, Jor-El jumps down into a pool of water and swims down, through a tunnel, and entering the enormous birth chamber. Swimming to the top of it, coming up for air in a small, shallow spot, grabs the Codex as it floats in mid-air in the center of three streams of light, and when the alarm goes off, he quickly dives back under the water and surfaces on the other side. As he does, a large sentry ship appears and warns him to surrender the Codex, but he instead jumps off the platform as the drone fires at him and falls quite a distance before H'raka catches him. Riding the creature towards the outside, he's fired upon two sentries and he has to do some fancy flying to get around two battle-cruisers that run into each other on the other side of the canyon leading out. Seeing that H'Raka is injured on the side of his neck, Jor-El tells him "easy," as they fly back to his home, H'Raka crashing on the landing platform outside.
Later, after Kelex warns them of five attack ships approaching, Jor-El and Lara prepare for the launch, placing baby Kal-El in a small seat, his father then bonding the Codex with his cells and placing the operating key for the pod in the slot on the seat's side. The seat then floats up and attaches to the rest of the pod. Zod's forces are then shown approaching and Jor-El prepares for the fight he knows is coming by getting in his armor. Zod tells his men to concentrate their fire on the dwelling's main doors and they do so, eventually blowing it open. Lara makes final preparations for the launch, while outside, Zod tells Faora-Ul to hold the platform while he and two of his men head inside. They're confronted by Jor-El and when he tells Zod of his and Lara's naturally born son, he tells his men to destroy the pod. Jor-El quickly blasts the two soldiers before they can do so but Zod grabs the rifle and punches him in the face. He tries to wrench it from Jor-El's hands but he manages to pull it and hit him in the face with the butt twice, the second strike leaving a long, bloody scar on the right side of Zod's face. Jor-El blocks a punch from Zod but he then slams his up against the wall using the rifle, causing it to misfire off to the right. Lara continues preparing the launch, as Jor-El gets the rifle knocked out of his hands while trying to push it off his chest and the two of them go into a round of hand-to-hand combat. Jor-El totally dominates Zod in this, blocking everyone of his hits and landing blow after blow to his head and gut, eventually flinging him to the floor nearby. Jor-El grabs the rifle and uses it to keep Zod at bay, as Lara now only has to press one button to launch the pod. Zod tries to persuade her to abort the launch by telling her that the Codex is vital to Krypton's future but she ultimately presses the button and the pod lifts off through an opening in the ceiling, as she and Jor-El watch. Enraged, Zod quickly deploys a blade from the armor on his right arm and swings around and fatally stabs Jor-El, who gives him a shocked expression as his life gives out. Zod pulls his blade out and Jor-El falls backwards onto the floor. Lara runs to her dead husband's side and Zod demands to know where they've sent their son; all she tells him is that he's beyond his reach. Heading back out to the landing platform, Zod orders the space-pod to be brought down and one of his attack ships follows after it, the pilot preparing his weapon and locking onto the target. Suddenly, the attack ship is blasted out of the sky and the pod's Phantom Drive then causes it to disappear in a flash. A Kryptonian security ship comes flying and tells them to surrender.
In the next scene, Zod and his men are sentenced to the Phantom Zone, but not before he vents his anger at the council and promises Lara that he will somebody find her son. They are all then frozen up into small pods that are launched up into the Black Zero, which itself lifts off into the sky, meets with the Phantom Drive in orbit above the planet, and is completely encased in its energy. Following that, Lara takes one last look at Jor-El's armor before closing it up in its case and walking out to the opening of her home as enormous explosions and spouts of fire and molten rock rip through the landscape, as Krypton's core begins to collapse. Kelex asks if she should see refuge but Lara, knowing that there's no escape, watches and waits for the explosions to reach her. She says to herself, "Make a better world than ours, Kal," before her house is engulfed by the eruptions and Krypton blows apart, becoming nothing more than a floating debris field in space. Elsewhere, Kal-El's pod emerges back into real space near Saturn and then passes by the moon as it heads for Earth, slashing through the atmosphere and the clouds, zooming over a farmhouse, and landing in a nearby field.
The film then cuts immediately to a fishing boat on some rough seas, where we're introduced to Clark Kent who, while working, nearly gets hit by a cage that falls down from a crane above him and is tackled out of the way by one of his co-workers, who admonishes him for not paying attention. The captain then tells them over the PA system that they just got a distress call from a nearby oil rig and, in the next scene, they join a Coast Guard helicopter in heading towards the rig. The Coast Guard tells them to forget those left aboard the rig, saying that they're already dead, but within seconds of being told this, Clark is hanging onto the side of the rig, as it's rocked by an explosion that sends bits of burning debris tumbling past him. Aboard, some workers grab the last of their oxygen and fear that they can't hold out much longer, when the door is suddenly ripped off and Clark steps in, flames all over him but not scathing him one bit. As the Coast Guard makes one more pass at the rig, Clark leads the men up top to the helipad. The helicopter lands and Clark helps the Coast Guard hustle the men into it. Another explosion occurs and hearing the sound of creaking metal, Clark looks up to see the rig's tower beginning to fall right at them. Just as they're about to get him onboard the helicopter, Clark jumps off the helipad, onto the burning walkway past it, and uses his strength to brace the tower, as the Coast Guard lifts off. Clark lets out a yell as he keeps it braced with all his might, the metal beneath him buckling under the weight, and the helicopter flies away just in time. The tower comes down on the helipad and they both collapse into the rig, the people on the fishing boat watching from afar. Clark is then shown floating on the water and we get a flashback to when his mother had to help him to focus his senses when he became overloaded one day when he was at school.
After making it back to shore and getting some clothes, Clark spots a school bus in the small town he's ended up in and it reminds him of another moment from his childhood, this time from his early teenage years. Riding the school bus home, Clark is harassed by Pete Ross, when the bus suddenly has a blowout and the driver, swerving to miss a car on a bridge, crashes through the side of it and the bus hits a river below. As the driver of the car who was nearly hit watches, the bus quickly sinks and the inside fills up with water. The other kids panic but Clark, staying calm, heads to the back of the bus. The kids attempt to catch what little breath they can in the air pocket near the ceiling and try to kick open the windows but it looks as if they're doomed, when the bus suddenly rolls up on the entire bank. Once she composes herself, Lana Lang looks to the back and sees Clark standing right at the back of the bus, realizing that he literally pushed the bus out of the river. They look at each other for a few brief moments before he turns around and dives beneath the water, surfacing a few seconds with Pete, pulling him to safety on the bank. This leads into the scene where Jonathan Kent explains to Clark where he's from.
Following the scene where Clark, while working at a truck diner, gets beer splashed in his face and a can to the back of his neck when he tries to get this dickhead trucker to stop harassing a waitress, and getting back at him afterward, he heads up north to check out what he overheard from a couple of soldiers about an object that's been found buried in ice. The next major sequence begins when, while trying to take some pictures of the camp set up at the site, Lois Lane spots Clark walking along a ridge on the cliff where the object is frozen. Following his trail, she comes across a very narrow ledge that leads to a hollowed tunnel in the ice, which is then shown to have been made by Clark using his heat vision. He continues melting the ice, unaware that Lois is following him, until he reaches a large chamber housing the object, which turns out to be a large spaceship. Inside the ship, Clark reaches a large, curved corridor and is surprised when a panel pops up next to him. Looking at it, unaware of a drone dropping down from the ceiling behind, he realizes that an opening on the panel is the same shape as the object that was found in the space pod with him and he inserts it. He then turns around upon hearing something and the drone attacks, hitting him with an energy whip and causing him to recoil. Realizing that he needs to push the key in all the way, he tries to go for it but the drone grabs his left arm with a tentacle. Pulling against it, he finally turns around and smacks the drone away, giving him enough time to push the key all the way in. With this, the drone stops its attack and floats off. Clark then sees the figure of a man in the corridor across from him and calls to him when he walks away. As Lois climbs up into the ship, Clark continues to explore it, seeing what's obviously meant to be the pilot's seat, when he sees the same figure in a nearby hallway. He follows him but, when he steps in the hallway and looks in the direction he went, he's nowhere to be found. Lois walks into the chamber Clark entered earlier and encounters the same drone, as he finds a small pod containing a mummified Kryptonian and looks to see a similar chamber across from it open and empty. Back with Lois, the drone, at first, simply hovers around her in a nonthreatening manner, but when she snaps a picture, the flash sends it into attack mode and it rushes her and throws her up against the wall with its tentacle, smashing her camera when it hits the floor. Hearing her cry out, Clark rushes to the chamber and grabs the drone from behind as it closes in on Lois. He struggles with it as it tries to get loose and then crushes it in his hands. Calming down Lois, who panics and tries to crawl away, he examines her and finds that she's hemorrhaging internally. He tells her has to cauterize the wound and proceeds to use his heat vision, causing her to scream in pain. Back at camp, a sleeping solider is awakened by a violent rumbling and seeing the readings on a seismograph on a computer, runs outside as an alarm goes off. Everyone else joins him and watches as the ship emerges from the ice before flying off into the night, with Lois being found nearby the next day.
Once the ship has taken Clark to the Arctic and the hologram of Jor-El has explained everything to him, from the history of Krypton to the meaning of the symbol of the house of El, he shows him the suit for the first time. In the next cut, Clark steps out of the ship and onto a ledge overlooking the frozen landscape, having officially become Superman. As the conversation between him and Jor-El continues in voiceover, with his father explaining the source of his powers, Superman walks across the snowfield, with the sun shining in the horizon, and then stops to look up into the sky. As Jor-El says that he must continue testing the limits of his abilities, Superman launches himself into the air, taking several gigantic leaps across the landscape before managing to push himself to fly through the clouds. He laughs happily, amazed at what he can do, but is then reminded that he's still just learning, as he loses control and crashes through the top of a mountain before hitting the ground behind it. Picking himself up and taking some steps, he remembers Jor-El telling that the people will Earth will race behind him to follow his example and will stumble and fall, just as he has, but will soon join him to accomplish wonders. Taking this to heart as he looks over at the sun, Superman gets down on his knees and fists and, channeling his power, causing the ground to shake, he shoots into the sky again, heading straight up through the clouds and then shooting off in the distance with a sonic boom. This time, he manages to steady himself and flies past the snow, through a barren landscape beyond it, and is then shown flying above the African savanna, past herds of animals, through trees, and diving down past the edge of a cliff and flying right above the ocean, sending waves in every direction. He then flies through valleys and canyons, past mountains and under rock archways, zooming along at incredible speed before angling himself straight up and leaving the atmosphere with a thunderclap, making an arc around the planet before heading back down with another clap, all the while enjoying his newfound power.
Through her following every lead she can find, Lois eventually makes it to Smallville and comes across Clark at the local cemetery. When she brings up his need to save people and how it makes difficult for him to keep a low-profile, he tells her what happened to Jonathan Kent. One day, when Clark was a young adult, he and his parents are driving down the highway, as he and Jonathan argue about his being tired of having to keep himself hidden away. It gets particularly bad when Clark says that Jonathan's not his real father and he appears to be quite hurt, saying that maybe what they've been doing just isn't good enough for him anymore. Clark, feeling guilty, tries to explain to his dad what he meant when Jonathan stops the car and tells him to hold on. Getting out of the car, they see that a tornado is forming up ahead and everyone who was on the road in front of them is now running for cover. Jonathan tells him and Martha to use the overpass behind them as cover and does the same to everyone else, as the tornado comes down in all of its fury. Jonathan runs to a nearby car and helps a woman get her kid out before rushing to join the others at the overpass. Martha tells Clark that their dog, Hank, is still in the car and he goes to get him, when Jonathan stops him and hands him the kid, telling him to get his mom to the overpass. As Clark does, Jonathan rushes back to their car, the tornado now engulfing everything in its path on the highway, and tries to get Hank out. The dog, however, is frightened and takes over under the steering wheel, with Jonathan having to duck down with him to avoid being crushed by a car that's sent flying towards them. Clark has to restrain his mom under the overpass, while Jonathan, laying across the front seat, his foot stuck where the passenger door is now crushed down by the other car lying on top of theirs, opens the driver door, allowing Hank to run for it. As the tornado approaches and sends more cars flying, it lifts the one car off the Kents' and Jonathan is able to pull his foot out and tumble onto the road. Clark and Martha watch as Jonathan gets to his feet but he can barely move with his crushed foot and obviously can't make it to the overpass. Clark is just about to go for it but Jonathan motions him not to reveal himself and just smiles softly as his son, who watches the tornado pass over him. Clark screams out a muffled but mournful cry, as he and Martha mournfully embrace each other.
The main conflict of the story starts when General Swanwick is informed of an object that's now in lunar synchronous orbit with the Earth. Swanwick theorizes that whoever's piloting it is probably looking to make a dramatic entrance and he's proven right, as news of the ship's appearance in the sky is soon all over the news. At that very moment, Clark, who has reunited with his mother, is called outside and the two of them are able to actually see the craft themselves. At the Daily Planet, where everyone inside has gathered to watch the news report, the lights suddenly go out and the same happens at the Kent farm. The television then comes back on with a bizarre, high-pitched sound and lots of static, and as Clark and Martha walk back inside, the message, YOU ARE NOT ALONE, is both displayed and spoken over and over again. It's then shown that the message is being transmitted on airwaves all around the world, in different languages, and then, a badly pixelated and obscure image of General Zod appears. He informs everyone watching, including the military, of the presence of another Kryptonian on the planet and requests that they turn him over or suffer the consequences, giving the same direction directly to Clark. The next day, Lois, while Perry White is trying to convince her to reveal Clark's location, sees several unmarked cars pull up outside of her apartment building and realizes that they've come for her. She runs out of her apartment and tries to escape out of an alley but is cut off by a van full of armed men led by Col. Nathan Hardy and taken captive. Meanwhile, in Smallville, Clark is standing in a church, overhearing radio news reports of the ongoing situation, and remembers back to another moment from his early teen years. He was just sitting in his dad's truck, reading, when some bullying jocks showed up, yanked him out, and threw him up against a nearby fence, daring him to fight back. He threatens him but, before he can do any further, he's warned that Jonathan and another man are working in a garage right behind them. They then leave, with Pete Ross helping Clark up, and it's then shown that he crushed one of the fence's posts in his grip while he was sitting there.
Deciding that he has no choice but to surrender, Superman appears in the sky above a desert military base and, with weapons trained on him and General Swanwick joining his men, telling him, "Alright, you've got our attention," he asks to see Lois, as he knows that they're holding her and that he'll surrender if they guarantee her freedom. The next cut shows Superman being escorted through the base in handcuffs and then seated across from Lois in an interrogation room with a two-way mirror. After they talk about his surrendering, and Lois coming close to suggesting what the 'S' on his chest could stand for, he makes it known to those watching from the other side of the mirror that he can see them and that he's not their enemy. When Swanwick tells him that he's been ordered to hand him over to Zod, Superman simply tells him to do what he has to do. Next, Superman and Lois are standing in the desert on the outskirts of the base and they share a moment, when they hear one of Zod's ships approaching. Reluctantly, Lois heads towards the safety of the armed forces, as a black, insect-like ship comes in for a landing in front of Superman. Faora-Ul and an armed guard step out and, after extending Zod's greetings to Superman, she tells Swanwick that Zod wishes for Lois to come with them. Col. Hardy is reluctant to allow her to do so but Lois agrees to go and she joins Faora, Superman, and the guard aboard the ship, which zooms off into the sky to meet with the Black Zero above the Earth's atmosphere. On the way, Superman hands Lois the key with his symbol on it and Faora, having not seen this, gives her a breathing mask since the atmosphere on the Black Zero is not compatible with humans. Once aboard, they meet Zod, who extends his greetings and says that this meeting is a cause for celebration, not conflict. Superman begins to wince and his hearing starts to echo. He says that he feels strange and, commenting that he feels weak, he collapses to the floor, coughing up blood. When Lois asks what's happening to him, Zod explains that his body is rejecting the ship's atmospherics, a result of his having never adapted to Krypton's ecology. As Superman convulses, Lois asks Zod to help him but he says that what's happening to him will simply have to run its course; Superman then blacks out.
He then awakens as Clark on the Kent farm, where Zod appears and explains to him what happened to him and colleagues after they were sentenced to the Phantom Zone. They were freed from their imprisonment after Krypton was destroyed and managed to escape by retrofitting their Phantom Drive into a hyperdrive and used it to seek out the old colonial outposts. All of them had long since died and Zod and his men salvaged what equipment they could, including a World Engine, and waited 33 years until Clark found the scout ship on Earth and activated it, unknowingly sending out a distress beacon that led them to the planet. Zod explains to Clark that he can now save what remains of his race, as he watches as the World Engine lands in a nearby field. He tells him of the Codex and that Jor-El sent it with him to Earth for the purpose of recreating Krypton. The World Engine then fires a beam into ground, creating a wave of dust and debris that washes over the both of them and destroys everything around them. Clark morphs into Superman when the dust flows by him and Zod asks him where the Codex is; he asks Zod what will happen to Earth if this comes to pass and he simply says, "The foundation has to be built on something. Even your father recognized that." Now standing on a ground littered with skulls amidst the ruins of the farm, Superman begins to sink within them and tells Zod that he can't be a part of his plan. He yells no as he sinks completely underneath the skulls and then awakens to find himself strapped to an examination table, unable to break his bonds in his weakened state. Zod then admits to killing Jor-El and tells Superman that no one is going to stop him carrying out his duty to his people. Two small crafts are then shown disembarking from the Black Zero and heading towards Earth; this doesn't go unnoticed by the military, and General Swanwick is told they're heading for Kansas. While Superman is unable to prevent Jax-Ur from a taking blood sample, Lois is thrown into a small, claustrophobic holding cell by Faora. Looking around the room, she sees an opening in a nearby control panel that's the same shape as the key Superman gave her and slides it in. Pushing it all the way in, she turns around and is startled to see Jor-El standing in front of her. He explains who he is, how he happens to be there, and after saying that he can reconfigure the ship's atmosphere to that of Earth's, adds that he can also tell her of a way to send Zod and his men back to the Phantom Zone.
As the spacecrafts enter Earth's atmosphere and fly to Kansas, Jor-El reconfigures the atmosphere, allowing Lois to breathe without the mask, and he tells her that they need to move quickly, as the ship's security has been alerted. He tells her to retrieve the command key and then opens the door for her. They step out into the hall and he closes a nearby door on some weapon-toting guards, causing one of them to drop their weapon. Per Jor-El's instructions, Lois picks the gun up, and he leads her down the hall. In the examination room, Jax-Ur looks at the blood sample he took from Superman, who realizes his strength is back and very easily rips one of his bonds, as the science officer retreats. The two spacecrafts reach Smallville, while Jor-El continues leading Lois through the ship, telling her to fire to her right at one point, taking out a guard, and warning her of another behind her. He closes the door on a group of them and points the way to where the escape pods are housed, telling her to secure herself inside the open one. He tells her that they probably won't meet again as she straps herself in the pod and reminds her that the Phantom Drives are the key to stopping Zod's forces. He then tells her to move her head to the left and, within an instant, a female Kryptonian soldier punches through the hologram and rips a hole in the back of the pod. Lois attempts to blast her before she can attack again but the Kryptonian grabs the weapon and wrenches it out of her hands, falling to the floor. The pod's doors close right before she fires and is deployed out of the ship towards Earth. But, as it enters the atmosphere, the damage dealt to it begins to cause it to malfunction, threatening Lois' life. Meanwhile, Superman breaks completely free and, faced with Jor-El, asks him if Zod was telling the truth about the Codex. Jor-El tells him to strike a panel on the wall and when he does, he bashes a hole in the hull, leading to the vacuum of space. Jor-El explains to him their intention to make him the bridge between two worlds and draws his attention to Lois' escape pod, telling him that he can save her and everyone on Earth. Floating out in space, Superman then rushes after the pod as it begins to disintegrate as it enters the atmosphere. He flies after it through the clouds and, catching up to it, grabs onto the top of it. Unable to slow its descent, he smashes through it and pulls Lois out before it hits the ground with a large explosion, Superman turning them around in midair to use his body to shield her. At the Kent farm, Martha is greeted with the sight of one of the ships landing in her yard, while elsewhere, Superman sits Lois down on the ground by the crashed pod. Assuring her that she'll be safe, Superman senses that something's wrong and quickly flies off, as Lois flags down a passing cop car.
Martha is confronted by Zod, who demands to know where the space pod that brought Clark to Earth is, but her answer to him is a simple, "Go to hell." Faora then storms up to Martha, grabs her by the neck, and lifts her up off the ground, before glancing over at the nearby barn. Satisfied that's where it is, Faora tosses Martha to the ground and leaps over to the barn, crashing through the roof and landing right in front of the pod. She forces the front open and glances inside, only to leap back to where she started and inform Zod that the Codex wasn't there. Frustrated, Zod flips the pickup truck he's standing next to, sending it crashing into the top of the house, and stops up to Martha, demanding to know where the Codex is. Before he can go further, Superman comes rushing in and barrels into Zod, hurtling him through a cornfield, through a couple of silos, and slamming him along the ground through another cornfield, punching him repeatedly in the face while yelling, "You think you can threaten my mother?!" The two of them hit the ground and tumble into downtown Smallville, going through the back of a gas station and out the front, exploding the gas tanks into a big fireball. Superman skids along the ground, while Zod gets to his feet, his back in flames and his breathing mask malfunctioning. He rips off his cape, as the overhead behind him collapses, and approaches Superman, ripping his mask completely off. As a result, he's hit with a barrage of sensations, from x-ray vision to all of the sounds in the area and becomes disoriented from it. Recognizing what's happening, Superman tells him that he hasn't learned to focus and is getting everything at once, as Zod is forced to his knees, wincing and grimacing from the pain, and eventually ends up on his back. Just then, one of his spacecraft appears and blasts Superman away, into the back bumper of a nearby truck. It lands and two of his men disembark and help him to his feet before guiding him to the ship. Superman watches as it flies and at first, feels that it's over, only to look down the street to see Faora and Nam-Ek approaching, sending the civilians running for safety. Walking down to meet them, Superman tells those around him to take cover, which they do, getting inside where they can and locking the doors. At that time, Col. Hardy is leading a squadron of helicopters and fighter jets to the area, telling his men that they are authorized to use lethal force.
As the three Kryptonians prepare to battle, the fighter jets reach the area from behind and, locking on, begin firing on all of them, blasting down the street and prompting Superman to rush out of the line of fire. However, the force of the onslaught blows him into the side of a nearby house and the same happens to Faora and Nam-Ek when it reaches them, sending them flying across from each other. The jets come back around for another pass, when Faora and Nam-Ek get to their feet and the latter, itching for a fight, bounds across the street and launches himself at one of the jets, landing on its nose, ripping the cockpit apart, and causing it to crash in the center of town, creating a massive wall of fire that sweeps down the street. Faora then attempts to do the same to another fighter jet but is tackled in midair by Superman, the two of them flying across town and crashing through the top of an Ihop, smashing down hard in the middle of the restaurant. Superman and Pete Ross, who's hiding nearby, exchange glances, when Faora slams into him and flings up against the wall across from her. Superman lunges at her at top speed but she's able to dodge his attack. She calls him weak and unsure of himself, and when he goes for a punch, she grabs his arm, the two of them then very briefly exchange blows, and she bashes him across the floor near the exit. She then tells him that their lack of morality gives them an advantage over him, and when he flies at her again, she grabs him by the neck, lifts him up, and bashes him back to the floor with a punch to the face. Saying, "And if history has proven anything," she grabs him, tosses him out the hole in the wall behind her, and sends him smashing into a bank across the street, slamming into the door of the vault, before reaching the spot in a flash and finishes with, "it is that evolution always wins." Superman then launches himself at her with a ferocious shout, crashing her through the wall, into a cargo truck outside, and flinging her back into the bank and out the other side. He flies up into the sky and launches himself at her while she's on the ground, but she dodges him, and when he tries to attack again, Nam-Ek steps in, grabs him by the legs, slams him into the concrete, picks him back up and slams him down again head-first, and kicks him to Faora, who makes him smash into her fist and hit the ground behind her. They both turn to look at him lying on the ground, when the helicopter squadron led by Hardy arrives, several landing and deploying their troops. Faora then nudges Superman onto his back with her foot and when he tries to sit up, Nam-Ek rushes at him and scrapes him along the concrete down the street, before bashing him in the head. Faora rushes in but Superman manages to trip her down and avoid getting stomped by Nam-Ek but when he tries to escape, Nam-Ek catches him and slams him down. Faora tries to attack but Superman grabs her and pulls her down. Nam-Ek tries to grab him but he hits him with Faora's body and then flies off with her, only for Nam-Ek to catch him in mid-air and send them all crashing back to the street. He tries to bring his fists down on Superman but he dodges it, only for Faora to hold him down by the head. Holding them both back, he activates his heat vision, burning Faora's hand and hitting Nam-Ek in the torso.
Circling the battlefield from his chopper, Hardy tells the troops on the ground to engage the targets, including Superman, as they take up positions. The two choppers come in behind Supes and open fire, clipping him in the face and prompting Nam-Ek to grab a parked van and fling it at them. The vehicle hits the tail-blade of the chopper housing Hardy, sending it spinning out of control and causing the gunner hanging on the outside to lose his grip and fall. Quickly, Superman zooms across the street and catches him, putting him down safely. He asks the soldier if he's okay, but before he can say anything, Nam-Ek comes in and whacks Supes in the head, sending him tumbling down the street. The one chopper continues spinning through the air and slams down on the side of the street. The ground troops move in on Faora upon seeing that Hardy's chopper is down, but she jumps in the midst of them and very easily dispatches them, grabbing and flinging them, throwing one into several others, and bashing and slamming the others full-force. Meanwhile, Superman flies at Nam-Ek and they trade punches before he gets grabbed, lifted into the air, and thrown back to the ground, managing to avoid an air-stomp from him. Getting out of the wrecked chopper, Hardy tells the other chopper to put down and, seeing Faora, grabs an assault rifle and fires at her, but she manages to bound into the air, dodging the bullets, and land on top of a car across from him. He whips out a handgun and empties an entire clip into her, the bullets bouncing off her armor like they were rubber. Superman continues battling Nam-Ek, beating him in the face, grabbing him, flying him up, and punching him, sending him into a nearby railway station, where he crashes into a train car housing fuel. Back at the standoff, Hardy takes out a dueling knife, with Faora taking out her own, and the two of them prepare to fight, her telling him, "A good death is its own reward." Just as they're about to charge at each other, Superman tackles her and slams her into the concrete. Hardy takes the opportunity to help a nearby injured soldier, as Superman closes in on Faora, whose helmet has been damaged and is then hit with the sensory overload. An incoming plane fires a missile at the spot, while Superman is distracted from finishing Faora off when a flaming train caboose is chucked at him, sending him crashing through a Sears behind him. Faora faces the oncoming missile and holds her hand out as it explodes into her, as a ship comes up behind the two planes and rips them apart, sending the flaming wreckage of one into the middle of the town. The ship lands and Nam-Ek picks up Faora, who was knocked unconscious by the missile, and carries her into the ship, which then flies off. The remaining troops approach the decimated Sears with their weapons drawn and are startled when Superman emerges from the wreckage. Unsure of what to do, they allow him to walk past them and out into the street, where he is approached by Hardy, who proclaims that he's not their enemy. Thanking him, Superman shoots upwards and heads back to the Kent farm, where he finds that his mother is alright, simply picking up what she can, particularly a family photo album. He then tells her what Zod is planning, when Lois shows up and tells him that she knows how to stop them.
Learning from Jax-Ur that the Codex is bonded with Superman's cells and that he doesn't need to be alive for it to be extracted, Zod decides to begin the terraforming of Earth, telling them to release the World Engine. The enormous machine detaches from the Black Zero and slowly drifts down to the planet, as Zod watches. General Swanwick is alerted of this turn of events, with the two halves of the ship traveling in opposite directions, the World Engine impacting in the south Indian Ocean. They then see that the Black Zero itself is heading for Metropolis, hovering right above the city, much to the amazement of both sightseers on a nearby ferry and people in the city, from pedestrians and drivers on the street to the office of the Daily Planet, who stop what they're doing to watch. Once the enormous craft is in place above Metropolis, Zod orders his men to bring the Phantom Drive online and when they do, the Black Zero fires an energy beam out of its bottom, into the ground. The World Engine does the same on the other side of the planet, bring droplets of water up towards it and creating thick clouds of steam. Zod orders them to initiate the process and with that, the Engine blasts down into the Earth, the energy shooting up forcefully to the Black Zero in Metropolis. The effect instantly begins wreaking havoc, causing a gravitational pull that sends cars and other projectiles up into the air before sending them back down, as well as destroying buildings and creating enormous clouds of dust and debris. Civilians begin running for their lives and falling over each other, as the buildings begin collapsing all around them. Dr. Emil Hamilton then tells Swanwick what's happening, that they're terraforming the planet and that at this rate, they won't survive for much longer; the general is then informed that Col. Hardy has arrived with Superman. The space pod that brought him to Earth is delivered with him and he explains to Swanwick and the others that if they hit the Black Zero with it, the crafts' two Phantom Drives will create a black hole and vanquish them; Hardy suggests that they can drop it from a C-17. Superman then says that he needs to stop the World Engine or otherwise, the gravity field it's creating will continue expanding. Lois asks him if the Engine will make him weaker since it's making the atmosphere more like that of Krypton and he says that it probably will but he's not going to let that stop him. He then flies up straight into the sky with a sonic boom. As the gravity fluctuations continue to inflict serious damage on Metropolis, Zod tells Faora to take command while he heads out to secure the genesis chamber on the scout ship, as well as to, "Pay my respects to an old friend," while at the same time, Hardy takes off in the C-17 carrying the pod, accompanied by a squadron of F-35s, and Superman heads for the World Engine.
Landing at the site of the scout ship in the Arctic, Zod deactivates his helmet and manages to will himself into focusing in order to halt the sensory onslaught. He then heads into the ship and uses his own key to activate the genesis chamber within. Jor-El's hologram appears and, as he did in life, tries to talk him down, but Zod tells him that he's in no position to stop him, that his key is overriding his authority. At that time, Superman reaches the World Engine and, sure enough, begins to suffer from its atmospheric effects, plummeting out of the sky while coughing, but he manages to compose himself and hovers near the machine, ready to attack. However, the Engine shows that it's not defenseless at all, deploying tentacle-like structures with claws on their tips out of its side, which chase after Superman through the skies. Meanwhile, the F-35s in Metropolis get the go-ahead to attack the Black Zero, firing missiles, only for the gravitational pull to divert them and cause them to crash into the city streets, further endangering the people; the pilots realize they have to get close to ensure they make their target. Seeing this turn of events from the Daily Planet offices, Perry White tells everybody that it's time to evacuate. Back in the Indian Ocean, the tentacles continue chasing Superman, grabbing him by the legs when he flies straight up into the air and wrapping around and pulling him back down, but he manages to break free and continue dodging when they attack again. People are then shown pouring out of the Daily Planet, joining the running hordes, while up in the sky around the Black Zero, the F-35s' attempt to hit the ship by getting closer continues to send their missiles flying in every direction and the gravity plays havoc with the jets themselves, causing some of them to lose control and explode. One tries to fly up away from it but is pulled back down towards the street and, even though he manages to level out, the increase in speed causes him to clip the corner of a building and crash into the side of another down the street (yeah; no comment). A police officer directs everyone where to go, but when Jenny follows his directions, she's faced with a skyscraper coming down right at her. Perry grabs her by the arm and they run down the street, Steve Lombard leading around the corner of another one nearby. Back aboard the scout ship, Jor-El's pleas continue to fall on deaf ears, with Zod telling the ship's computer to terminate his program. Their last exchange is Jor-El telling him that Superman will finish what the two of them started and Zod, after asking the hologram if he can experience the real Jor-El's pain, replies, "I will harvest the Codex from your son's corpse and I will rebuild Krypton atop his bones." And with that, Zod pushes his key all the way into the control panel, terminating the hologram once and for all, and the ship lifts off.
Superman is still being pursued by the tentacles, getting grabbed again when he flies up along the side of the Engine and thrusted up into the storm clouds surrounding it, causing him to cough uncontrollably. The tentacle then pulls him back down and flings him straight towards the ocean alongside the gigantic gravity beam. Back in Metropolis, after narrowly avoiding being crushed by the collapsing building, Perry finds Jenny trapped under the debris behind him. Taking her hand and comforting her, he assures her that they're going to get her out and tells Lombard to help him. Lombard grabs a dislodged street sign for Perry to use to push the debris off Jenny, while he pulls on it, but as they work, it's clear they don't have much time, as the shock-waves from the gravity fluctuations are getting closer and closer. Aboard the C-17, Hardy is told by Swanwick that they're still not clear to deploy the pod, and at that very moment, Superman is shown bristling against the force of the Engine's gravity beam. The shock-waves are now only a few feet from Perry, Lombard, and Jenny, and it looks like they're doomed, when Superman uses every bit of strength he has to shoot up right through the beam. Yelling at the top of his lungs, he launches into the center of the Engine, the connection between it and the Black Zero being severed in an instant. The trapped Daily Planet employees realize that something's happened when the shock-waves, as in the Indian Ocean, the Engine falls apart and explodes. Realizing that he did it, Hardy aims the C-17 at the Black Zero, preparing to deploy the pod, and tells Lois that it's up to her and Dr. Hamilton now. After a brief shot that depicts an exhausted Superman lying on the ground, reaching for the rays of the sun as they start poking through the World Engine's clearing clouds, the C-17's bomb bay doors open and Lois goes to put the key in, only for it to stop in mid-air and float rather than slide in. Telling Hardy that there's something wrong, Hamilton tries to see if he can help while the colonel turns the craft over to the copilot while he heads in the back to see what he can do. Seeing the planes approaching, Faora takes the initiative to disembark from the Black Zero, while at the same time, as Hardy joins Lois and Hamilton in the back of the C-17, the two remaining F-35s trailing behind it are suddenly destroyed in mid-air. It's revealed that Zod has arrived in the scout ship and he next has the ship's computer target the C-17 itself. But, just as he locks on, Superman flies in and crashes through the ship's hull, causing him to misfire. Once inside, he powers up his heat vision, while Zod tries to talk him down by telling him that he'll destroy what's left of Krypton if he takes the ship down. He does power down briefly but he then declares, "Krypton had its chance!" and uses his heat vision to slice through the roof and knock down the pilot seat Zod is sitting in. The ship falls out of the sky and towards Metropolis, slashing through the sides of two buildings before coming down hard, destroying the genesis chamber.
Faora ejects from the Black Zero and deploys towards the C-17, while Hamilton figures out what's going on with the key and turns the nozzle of the pod so that it's lined up correctly with the body; with that, the key attaches itself perfectly. A soldier then warns Lois that it's not safe for her to be so close to the open bomb-bay door, when Faora smashes up through the plane underneath his feet and sends him sailing out to his doom (he does the Wilhelm scream as he goes), knocking Lois to the edge of the ramp. Hamilton gets flung up against the wall and the other soldiers open fire on Faora with their assault rifles and grenade launchers but she shrugs them off and easily takes them out. She comes face-to-face with Hardy, who heads back to the cockpit, with Faora in hot pursuit, ripping through the walls and taking out other soldiers who try to stop her. Just as she's cornered him there, Hamilton pushes the key all the way into the pod, activating its Phantom Drive. Realizing its time, Hardy throws Faora's motto, "A good death is its own reward," back at her, as he aims the C-17 right at the Black Zero. Lois is sucked out of the back by the vacuum of air, as the ships' Phantom Drives begin to react, and when the C-17 impacts, everybody and everything aboard is sucked into the black hole that's created. Down on the ground, Superman emerges from the rubble of the crash site and, seeing Lois, shoots after her, catching her and pushing him against the gravitational pull of the black hole, as the Black Zero is sucked in and disappears. He sets her down near where Perry and Lombard have freed Jenny, realizing that the Kryptonians are gone and Jenny commenting, "He saved us." Superman and Lois then share their first kiss amidst the ruins and they then make their own comments about it all supposedly going downhill afterward (again, I find that so awkward).
Hearing some movement in the rubble behind them, Superman floats over to find Zod on his knees, with dirt in his hands. The general is seething with hatred towards him not only for choosing mankind over his own race but also for leaving him with no purpose not that all traces have Krypton are truly gone. He launches himself at Superman in a rage, smashing into him and sending him tumbling a great distance across the ash-covered ground, and then stomps towards him, telling him that he's going to kill every single human one at a time. Superman floats up from the ground and answers that he's going to stop him. They then charge at each other, colliding in the center of the area, and crashing into the charred remains of a nearby building. Superman lands into an office, with Zod right behind him, and the general concentrates and lets loose his own heat vision, slicing up the interior of the office and burning away the floor beneath Supes' feet. This display, however, proves to be painful for Zod and cuts the heat vision off, and is the building is clearly about to collapse, he leaps out the window behind him, followed by Superman, who ends up tumbling out and falling to the ground, smashing through the bottom supports of another building. Amazingly, this one doesn't crumble, and Superman steps out, as Zod lands behind a parked tanker truck (note that the tank says "LexCorp" on the side) and shoves it towards him. Superman easily floats out of its way and it his the bottom of the building behind him, the resulting explosion causing the center of it to collapse. Zod then comes in, punches Superman to the ground, and the two of them engage in hand-to-hand combat, with Zod ultimately dominating him and delivering several punches that send him sliding backwards across the street. Zod comes in for a punch but Superman ducks and delivers his own, sending him back across the street and then comes at him and bashes him to the ground. He's about to deliver another hit when one of many vehicles that have been tossed into the air by the shock-waves from their punches lands on him, forcing him to grab it and toss it aside. This distraction gives Zod enough of a chance to kick him away. He lunges at Superman and delivers a punch, followed by a powerful uppercut that sends him straight up into the sky in front of a building, the center of which he slams into before stopping himself in mid-air above its top. Zod tells him, "There's only one way this ends, Kal: either you die or I do," before launching himself upwards at the building, bounding across the face of it like a crazed ape, and Superman then launches himself at him, the two of them colliding hard enough to leave a massive puncture in the building, causing part of it to collapse. Superman flies after Zod to the top of a construction site across from it and arriving there, he sees Zod coming at wielding a steal beam. Superman burns away most of it with his heat vision but Zod is still able to whack him with what's left of it, knocking him into a sign that boasts how this site has gone for 106 days without an accident. Dropping the remains of the beam, Zod boasts about his life-long training and mocks Superman's having been raised on a farm, before ripping off his armor and, after straining with power, floating up into the air, showing that he's now learned how to fly.
Superman launches at Zod, the two of them crashing through the skeleton of the unfinished building, and he manages to land a blow in mid-air, only for Zod to send him flying through the city with his own blow. The two chase after each other in the sky, with Superman managing to deliver two powerful punches to Zod, who manages to steady himself and zoom away, with Superman in hot pursuit. Flying amongst the buildings, he stops when he realizes he's lost Zod, only for him to explode out of the windows of the building behind him. Zod flings him into the side of another building and Superman then grabs him and drives his face through the glass of one across from him. He then tries to deliver a punch but Zod grabs his arm and uppercuts him into the air before flying up, grabbing his cape, swinging him around like a tilt-a-whirl, and letting him go, sending him straight through the centers of numerous buildings in a row. He comes out of one building and is floating upside down, and before he can correct himself Zod smashes into him and carries him up into outer space. Superman manages to fling him away, Zod scraping along the wing of a satellite (a Wayne-Tech satellite), and when Superman comes at him, he flings the entire thing at him, forcing him to catch it. He then smashes through the center of it and punches him repeatedly in the face as they head down through the atmosphere. Lois and the others watch as they streak through the sky along with the remains of the satellite, grappling with each other in mid-air, before they crash through the glass ceiling of a train station, crashing into archway, and Superman finally shoving Zod down to the floor. As the civilians flee, Superman struggles to contain Zod, putting him into a headlock, and as he tries to get free, he spots some civilians over in a corner. Telling him, "If you love these people so much, then you can mourn for them," and unleashes his heat vision at them, the lasers streaking across the floor and burning into the wall across from them. Superman tries to wrench his head away but the lasers slowly but surely inch perilously close to the people. He begs Zod to stop but the general snarls, "Never," and, as Lois, who arrives at the station, watches, Superman uses his strength to break Zod's neck with a loud crack, killing him instantly. Zod's body falls limp on the floor and Superman, exhausted and horrified by what he's been forced to do, collapses to his knees and lets out an echoing, mournful cry. Lois then rushes up to him and comforts him.
Along with Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, another alumnus from the Dark Knight Trilogy was composer Hans Zimmer, who actually initially denied that he was doing the score. I really like the scores that he and James Newton Howard did for the first two Nolan Batman films and I also like some of the stuff he came up with on his own for The Dark Night Rises; his score for Man of Steel, however, doesn't impress me, mainly because it's generic and forgettable for the most part. Obviously, I wasn't expecting to hear John Williams' original Superman theme but I also don't remember hearing anything that had the feeling of power, might, and wonder that you would expect for a Superman movie. There are a couple of pieces of the score that do stick out for me, like this poignant bit with a woman vocalizing, which you first hear when baby Kal-El is being placed in the space pod, and a nice, kind of heroic melody that I remember hearing mainly during the first part of the ending credits but that's really it. Everything else is just typical action movie music and is often very repetitive as well as just plain unmemorable. I wouldn't call this one of Zimmer's finest, that's for sure.