* * * NO SPOILERS (because I am not a dick)
DC Comics has had an up-and-down ride with movies over the past thirty years. They set the standard back in 1978 with the movie Superman, and while it was ground breaking for its time, fans haven't had a truly great Superman movie since (although a highlight in the 1980s was Richard Pryor stealing digital pennies in Superman III). With the success of the Dark Knight trilogy which started in 2005, DC Comics put forth a solid effort with Superman Returns in 2006. It was okay—not horrible, not terrible, but just okay.
Time for some Zack Snyder. He has directed the movies 300, Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead, just to name a few. Snyder is at the helm for the latest Superman movie (out on DVD and Blu Ray) called Man of Steel. It is basically a "reboot", meaning that they took the old script from the 1978 movie (and the Superman II sequel), dusted it off, added a ton of special effects, and modernized the look and feel of the movie. Snyder has a specific directorial style, and either you like it or you don't. (I happen to really like it—I enjoyed Watchmen and 300 quite a bit.)
For comic book nerds like me, there is a definite difference between Marvel superheroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men, and DC superheroes like Batman and Superman. The difference (in the comic books) is the depth of the characters. In the Marvel comics, Spider-Man is cool, but Peter Parker is not popular—he can't get the girl, he's picked on by the bullies, and he keeps his temper under control despite money problems, no date on Saturday night and some super villain trying to destroy New York City with a goblin glider. (We've all been there.)
This brings us to the big problem that I have with Superman, at least in the past. Bullets bounced off of him. He can fly through suns. From a writing standpoint, where is the possible conflict and drama? Superman beating up a couple of guys robbing the 7-Eleven seems kind of cheesy. Who wants to watch the equivalent of a full-grown man beat up on a couple of school children? (Please note: for legal reasons, I am no longer soliciting offers to beat up school children.)
Snyder does a good job in this movie of having the bad guys be worthy adversaries—people from Krypton—mainly General Zod and his thugs, who I always thought were awesome villains in the comic books. Why is Superman battling "The Toyman", or a magical elf, when he could be fighting other Kryptonians who have the same powers that he does? It is terrific and they finally do the battle scenes justice in this movie—when tough guys collide, everyone start screaming and get out of the way.
The other thing I enjoyed was they made Superman an outsider. He's an alien, and that means that he should not see his powers as a blessing right away. I mean, we all know that weird kid in elementary school who was six inches taller than everyone else—wouldn't it be even more weird if there was a guy in your biology class who could see through walls and hear a bird a mile away? Makes sense.
There are some big names this film as well—Russell Crowe is Superman's Krypton dad, Kevin Costner is Superman's "Earth" dad, and Laurence Fishburne is Perry White. Michael Shannon (who is a terrific actor) plays the creepy General Zod.
Because I am a total comic nerd, one interesting note: there was a character in DC Comics called Faora who was an ally of General Zod. She was represented in the original 1978 movie (and the sequel) as a character named Ursa (a short-haired, black spandex-wearing villain from the Phantom Zone). In Man of Steel, she is played in the movie by Antje Traue. I like strong women in the movies (not just screaming, flapping their hands and calling for help), and Faora does a great job of kicking some serious Earth-butt.
This movie is not on the same level as The Dark Knight Rises (few movies are), but if you are a fan of action movies like the new Star Trek films, or the X-Men movies, you will find a couple of hours of heartfelt characters and solid action. It worked for me—I cared about Clark, and enjoyed seeing Superman acting truly super. Besides, there's nothing quite like watching the Earth burn to kill a Saturday night.