Superman stands for all that is good with the world. Director Zac Snyder tries to put a twist on the man to give him more complications akin to a Christopher Nolan Batman film (Nolan is a producer here). We are left with a cold motion picture that leaves the audience empty inside. Man of Steel is an accurate description of this version of Superman within and without since Superman feels more like a robot than a person.
The film begins with the destruction of Krypton. Jor-El (Russel Crowe) has conceived a son and sends him to Earth with some secrets of his home world. Krypton's destruction is hastened by General Zod (Michael Shannon) who attempts a coup of Krypton unsuccessfully and is imprisoned for a long period of time before escaping. On Earth, Kal-El, renamed Clark Kent (Henry Cavill as an adult) by his adopted parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), is trying to remain under the radar as he searches for answers about his past. Zod's emergence and Lois Lane's (Amy Adams) gumption force Clark out into the open in a direct confrontation with both Zod and humanity itself.
Zac Snyder is great at visual effects, further reinforced by Man of Steel. Krypton's demise is beautiful in its sadness: a grand spectacle of destruction. Battle sequences are a majority of the 2.5 hour running time, and for the most part they are executed very well with fantastic explosions despite the overt use of the shaky cam. Snyder's best visual move involves using the likeness of a person hardwired into a ship's mainframe, a very cunning and inspired idea.
The emphasis on a Michael Bay-like approach to Superman makes the weak point in Man of Steel character development. Even more troubling is the fact that Snyder elects to make Superman more unsure of his moral center. Superman's defining characteristic, in my opinion, is his strict moral code. You can gritty the man by putting him in impossible moral quandaries or by showcasing his development in youth (which Man of Steel does do well). By removing Superman's moral compass you DO clean the slate of the character, but Man of Steel wants him to reach the same conclusion, making Superman a rudderless superhero with no defining characteristic.
Peripheral acting saves Man of Steel from become just another bland action comic movie. Henry Cavill looks the part in the suit which is half the battle. However, his acting chops are stiff at best; keeping his lines to a minimum was a good choice. Amy Adams and Cavill have little to no chemistry either - Man of Steel's biggest acting misfire. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, though severely underutilized, give some heart and texture to Superman's formation. Any scene involving them contains more substance than any of the action setpieces. Michael Shannon gets to chew scenery like a squirrel on a nut, and Russell Crowe does some great work as Jor-El.
Man of Steel feels mostly like a response to Marvel by DC Comics than an inspired tale. Despite the bombastic action, Superman feels cold and lacks proper motivation to fight for humanity. If DC wants to make a Justice League Movie, I'd build the story around another Superhero, but let Zac Snyder handle the special effects.