(…at least 15 of which are spoilers, so quick go see it and we’ll wait here.)
1. General Zod is portrayed as principled — making his evil aims and Kal-El’s resistance a clash of ideas, not just a collision of cars and bodies.
2. With his heresy against genetic determinism, Jor-El’s ambition is to create a superman not as a monument to the pinnacle of achievement that only one can attain, but an example of the uniqueness of contribution that all are capable of.
3. In its thoughtful mayhem, the film considers the consequences and dangers that a figure like Superman and the conflicts he attracts would actually pose for the world, not the awe and wellbeing we like to think a solitary savior figure could cleanly bring about.
4. The film affirms the value of secret-revealing, truth-pursuing, authority-defying journalism and the brave souls who put themselves in harm’s way and government’s disapproval for it, in the figure of a quick-witted, rebellious, honorable and humane Lois Lane.
5. That Lois, brought to life by Amy Adams, is the best yet — the only good one, and non-shrew stereotype, since Noel Neill really — self-possessed and resourceful and in no way sexualized (though for that all the more sexy; the key to getting this role right must be alliterative real-life first and last names).
6. On the other hand they sexualize the hell out of Henry Cavill, and it’s refreshing.
7. Cavill is a powerhouse of character and sincerity, his presence and restraint pulling off the movie’s moral about why Superman matters again: because the heaviest weight he carries is not any fallen tower or formidable foe or fearsome weapon, but his own responsibility.
8. There’s this great part where Russell Crowe doesn’t sing!
9. Laurence Fishburne himself radiates responsibility and charisma as Perry White; with both Jor-El and Jonathan Kent gone, I’ll be interested to see how the next movies might take Perry into Clark’s confidence and place him as the father figure for Clark’s newest life.
10. Apropos of his qualifications for Kryptonian father-figure, at one point Perry warns Lois about how poorly “the people of this planet” would take the unnerving news of life beyond Earth — so what planet are we gonna learn that Perry’s really from?
11. Just sayin’.
12. Pa Kent teaches young Clark that with great power comes keep your head down and shut the hell up, revealing an almost unheard-of honesty, for popular fables, that archetypal heroes’ interest in keeping other people safe goes alongside those same people’s self-interest in staying that way — and that this isn’t evil, though it may not be strong.
13. If you add up the dates on Pa Kent’s tombstone, it means that Kevin Costner was supposed to be 46 when he died, which makes me feel a lot better walking past mirrors and store windows.
14. Before they blow up we get to read “LexCorp” on two tanker trucks, thus laying the map of the movie’s expanding world — and setting up a future crisis when Lex Luthor gets our paragon imprisoned for property damage and he’s honor-bound to sit out an alien invasion.
15. But seriously, it should be serious: one tradition it’s time to de-boot is that of getting comedic rogues to play Lex — Hackman was classic and Spacey was maybe the only good feature of Superman Returns, but they were playing, not stretching, and the austere Man of Steel universe needs an actor who’ll be straining against his goodguy instincts, as a character who’s struggling to conceal his inhumanity just as Kal-El strives to uphold his humanness: Bruce Willis (the key to getting this role right is real-life baldness).
16. The film’s constellation storytelling structure, bouncing between past events in Clark’s life, the current moment and the man he becomes, makes us feel we’ve been dropped in the midst of a rich built-in canon that has gathered around the central storyline and extends outward in new directions, being relived and refreshed within a shared cosmos rather than being replayed from past movies or rejected from a good familiar saga.
17. Jor-El might have downloaded his simulated consciousness into some other receptacle as Zod believed he was wiping him from memory — perhaps rerouting into that simplistic earthling device, the Internet, which in a sequel would give Brainiac a foe of formidable scale, only revealed toward the end of the movie as Clark is nearly defeated having not recognized his conscientious, panic-avoiding father’s subtle signs.
18. Or, y’know, revealed just now.
19. The Rockefeller-Center-mural timeline of Kryptonian history was elegantly awesome and the one reason I wish I’d watched the flick in 3-D, since it seemed more designed for the texture of that process than did any of the hurtling debris.
20. In action cinema I’ve seldom seen a more consistent roster of women allowed to look and act as real as the men, in age, skin-texture, individual character and independent action.
21. Though the movie could use at least 20 minutes less carnage, the serial escalations of it seem like a grim mirror image of the nightly news from Syria and who knows where else next — there’s always worse that can be done.
22. The Kryptonian design, though ambitious, is lacking in logic and taste, but all the Earth-bound scenes — the idyllic, beleaguered Midwest especially — are visual poetry.
23. They didn’t made good (bad) on the rumor that throwaway mentions of other DC heroes were going to be stuck in, in an attempt to rush some Avengers-style franchise-buildup; that said, I want to see the compelling actress who plays Lara come back as Wonder Woman, and since in the current comics there’s a romance there, the similarity to his mom will create awesome issues!
24. The cape makes sense, as a kind of ceremonial sash, a red flag of reconciliation, since it is the opposite of anything with a warrior function (and Zod’s similar costume doesn’t include one).
25. A recurring theme is that of readiness — of the world to find out there’s a superman, of the superman to handle his powers and all of us to earn his promise; a well-taken parable of whether we know when’s the best time to act on worldwide atrocities and when we’re fit to step up and speak out in our own homelands on what everyone but our leaders seems to know is wrong…
26. They keep mentioning that Superman is 33, like Jesus.
27. Which is why I tried to get this list to 33…though there was never any way I was gonna come up with 52 :-).
28. This movie is Zack Snyder’s first classic, no longer dropping and smashing a closed narrative heirloom like Watchmen but selecting from a broad swath of genre for the best qualities of what’s come before — and possibilities for what it could be.
29. It’s that rarest of pop which defines and describes its time rather than just reflecting its mass-cultural minute — in its vision of grand, grim challenges, personal integrity and sacrifice and shared, tenuous trust, Man of Steel isn’t just the Superman movie for this marketing cycle — it’s the Superman saga for this generation.