I'm going to get straight to the point here. This movie is irredeemably bad. It is painful to the point of being borderline unwatchable. For me it is the biggest soul crushing disappointment I have seen since...I saw Superman III. I have been a fan of the original two films since I was about seven, but I was looking forward to seeing a new take on the story by two of the best genre film makers out there. David S. Goyer wrote Blade, Blade II, and Batman Begins. These are some of the strongest comic book movies written in recent memory. Zack Snyder is one of the most creative film makers in Hollywood today. However his films for the most part contain simple stories and archetypical characters, but are so visually interesting that they rise above similar films. It also contains some truly outstanding actors. Lawrence Fishburne has been a national treasure since the 1970's, Michael Shannon is one of the greatest character actors of this generation, Amy Adams has four academy award nominations under her belt with good reason, Russell Crow and Kevin Costner are industry legends. How could this movie go so incredibly wrong?
Firstly, despite spending the money to get these great actors they give them practically nothing to do. Costner and Fishburne are glorified cameo appearances. All of Russell Crow's dialogue is about Superman's greatness which is fine, but he is used as a lazy plot device. And I don't even know why Amy Adams is here. Lois Lane contributes literally nothing. Her relationship with Supes is even more poorly explained than the relationship between Edward and Bella. No one in this movie gets one ounce of character development. They are static one dimensional nothing characters. They contribute nothing but fan service no matter how well acted they are. Superman himself is meant to be an archetype and that's how he works best. But he isn't an archetype in the film, he is a personality less Cypher despite an admirable effort by Henry Cavill who very nearly salvages it.
Films (and literature) have a three act structure for a reason. 80%+ of the time it is the most satisfying way to tell a story. The first establishes the characters, the setting, and any other necessary details. The second act allows these characters to experience progressively more interesting events, and then the third act has the most climactic/important event and allows the story to resolve. Some great movies don't have this, but it is a very useful framework. Superman has about a forty or so minute first act then a nearly TWO HOUR third act. What seemed to be two straight hours of this movie are just action scene after action scene with only a tiny character moment here or there. And nearly all of these moments are saved for the true star of this film, Michael Shannon. Zod of all people gets the only strong character development in the film after the first act (and he has the most in that section as well). Michael Shannon brings this character to life and is a worthy successor to the great Terrence Stamp who gave a similarly quality performance to the character over thirty years back.
Even the first act of the film has useless action crammed into it. Jar-El suddenly wins fist fights against a dozen other guys and makes hundred foot jumps onto Avatar Dragons. This takes away from the emotion of the first act. I half expected him to fist fight Zod on top of Kal-El's rocket to Earth. Because of this the first act is just a rushed and dumbed down version of the first act of 1978's Superman. If this movie had a subtle bone in its body it would have merely contained Jar-El speaking to the council before sending his child off to a new home before Zod barges in. They talk about the ramifications of this and about whom Zod is and was. Then Jar-El sacrifices himself for his child to escape. That could have been beautiful. But it's so over the top and badly structured that all it inspires is laughter.
To be fair, this movie does have among the most beautiful special effects that I can remember seeing. Everything past the Jar-El 007 opening is absolutely tremendous. The movie has a scale to it that has never been captured on film before now. Each blow rockets the recipient from one side of the street to the other and that's before Superman really breaks loose. Buildings implode as people are tackled through them. It is rather incredible and it brings the comic book panels to life. Unfortunately, this film's screenplay is an absolute joke so the quality of action hardly matters. Does it contain any significant plot holes? Not really, but it's also barely existent. It is pretty hard to poke holes in "Superman punches people". No one even has a real conversation in this thing. Its ALL exposition dialogue. Its like watching The Last Airbender movie all over again.
Spider-Man 3 is not a good movie. But, at least it tried. It simply tried too hard and ended up overstuffed and clunky. Sure it had holes you could drive a truck through, but at least it was complex enough to have holes to find and Raimi obviously loved Spiderman. Man of Steel, screenplay wise, doesn't even try. It's like Goyer hated Superman and lost a bet with Nolan on who would have to write this thing. So, he just said screw it and crapped it out in forty five minutes. If you want to see action scenes beyond almost anything you have seen before, then yes go see it. If you want a good story, watch Superman and Superman II. I'll be working on my own cut of Superman II with a few of this movies action scenes thrown in. Best of both worlds.
Ps. Screenplay wise Superman/Superman II>>>>>>>>>Superman III/ManOfSteel>>>>>>Superman IV