We’re going to have a more in-depth conversation about this movie after it comes out because all of my favorite parts, everything that made Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel super fun and engaging, are spoiler-laden liberties taken with the Superman mythology. So we’ll come back to the final scene and the narrative structure and really canny way producer Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer (a veteran Nolan collaborator) solve the “problem” of an indestructible superhero that will always, without fail, do the moral and right thing. You wouldn’t think it, because Superman never has been before, but in the hands of Goyer and Snyder and under Nolan’s watchful eye, Clark Kent is actually conflicted. His path is not as straight and narrow as you expect and you buy every second of it.
So instead, let’s talk about what is great about this film, and that’s damn near everything, but especially Clark and Lois Lane. I was skeptical of Man of Steel for the same reasons I’m skeptical of the Captain America movies—Superman is boring. But Man of Steel is not a boring movie, and this Superman is contemporary and significantly reimagined enough that you will never think the words “Christopher Reeve” as you watch. This is in large part due to the single best thing about Man of Steel—its star, Henry Cavill.
Cavill was born to play Superman. He has the most superhero jaw ever, and projects the kind of do-gooder earnestness that Superman requires. Yet he can also tap into a surprisingly deep well of vulnerability that opens up whole new levels in the Clark Kent persona. There’s a world-weariness to Clark even before he dons the famous red cape—he would really rather just be normal. His differentness is a burden, but Cavill doesn’t play it for pity. He just makes you acutely aware of the humanity that is, essentially, trained into him by his Earth-parents, the kindly Kents. He balances the two sides of Superman, the wanna-be average Clark and the extraordinarily powerful, borderline destructive Kal-El, in a sympathetic but unsentimental way that Chris Hemsworth has never quite managed for the similarly-themed Thor.
And then there’s Lois Lane, played by the pitch perfect Amy Adams. Lois is a HUGE upgrade—easily the best superhero love interest ever, bar none, no exaggeration. I love Pepper Potts, but Lois Lane takes the cake. This Lois is more than just smart and strong—she’s accomplished, she’s capable, she’s clever and she’s resourceful. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t get into scrapes. When the aliens start bombarding Earth, she’s as outmatched as everyone else. But it just makes Superman saving her that much more believable—by the time Lois needs rescuing, you totally get why he’s in such a hurry to save her. And the buildup of their relationship is a genuine delight—this Lois isn’t an idiot.
She’s suspicious of Clark from the get. She is GREAT at her job; she’s looking for a mystery man who saves people, and when she meets the reserved, almost obsessively private Clark, she actually listens to her instincts. Cavill and Adams have terrific chemistry, but what really sells it is that their relationship is as much grounded in mutual respect as it is distrust. She is determined to get the whole story on Kal-El; even as she grows to like him personally, her professional interest does not go away. It drives the tension between them, as he is equally determined to not be exposed. So there’s flirting and there’s banter but there’s also a dark edge—a future discord that could be devastating the deeper their relationship gets. They don’t address it but they, and the audience, are acutely aware that their relationship is growing out of a fundamental lie. You can see them both thinking it—this is going to be a clusterfuck, but it’ll be fun while it lasts.
I still love the Steve/Peggy relationship from Captain America, but Clark and Lois in Man of Steel kind of puts it to shame. They’re just fighting through so much—Steve and Peggy were at least proper partners for the bulk of their story. But Clark (Kal-El, whatever) and Lois begin and remain at odds, even as their attraction grows. It’s that secret between them, and her suspicions, and his wariness. And poor Clark, he has to fake it from both sides. At least in Lois’s case, her suspicions are the same whether confronted by Clark or Kal-El. But Clark has to fake it and Kal-El has to fake it—he’s never 100% honest with Lois, and she knows it. She knows something is off with both versions of the same guy.
Man of Steel is very enjoyable on many levels, but Cavill and Adams are the unexpected delight of the movie. Their chemistry, their rapport, the way that their relationship grows despite themselves—it’s extremely watchable. And it’s so refreshing to have such an actualized heroine that even Superman himself seems a little unworthy of her.