What Critics Are Saying About Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel

HENRY CAVILL as Superman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “MAN OF STEEL,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
HENRY CAVILL as Superman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “MAN OF STEEL,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo: Clay Enos/Warner Bros

Man of Steel’s Metacritic score of 55 is a perfect indication of the mixed reviews that have greeted the movie. Writing for the A.V. Club, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky panned director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan’s reboot, while Drew McWeeny nearly broke into nostalgia-induced tears over at HitFix, calling it “the Superman movie [he’s] waited [his] whole life to see.” Yet, all the critics unanimously agreed that Henry Cavill is handsome, like, “impossibly,” “cartoonishly” handsome — “so ripped that he’s nearly shredded.” The leading man damn well looks like Superman, but can he play him? Here’s what the critics thought:

“Cavill — whose performance involves more posing than acting — is alternately presented as an alien messiah, a superweapon, and an American flag flapping in the wind; the one thing he never gets to be is a character.” A.V. Club

“British actor Henry Cavill gives a strong, likable, occasionally moving performance in the title role, but doesn’t quite come out a movie star. I missed the dorky modesty of Christopher Reeves Superman, the squareness that really marked the character as an alien. Cavill’s Superman is an interestingly conflicted hunk, but he doesn’t resonate beyond the borders of the screen.” —Boston Globe

“Henry Cavill looks the part as the adult Clark/Superman, but he’s a bit of a stiff on screen, and it doesn’t help that his main move while wearing the cape is to roar like a lion and ball up his fists.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Still, at least repeatedly saving the life of pretty investigative journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) earns him a kiss. It’s too bad that Cavill’s superhuman stiffness makes it look as though she’s trying to snog a piece of granite.” —Daily Mail

“At the risk of damning Cavill with faint praise, the 30-year-old Brit makes a better Man of Steel than the milquetoast Brandon Routh did in 2006’s Superman Returns. But he isn’t exactly Mr. Charisma either. And I suspect that Superman aficionados will be disappointed by just how joyless most of Snyder’s reboot is.” —Entertainment Weekly

“It’s entirely possible to leave Man of Steel with no idea what kind of actor Cavill is. He’s in most of the scenes and yet isn’t asked to provide any charisma. The most charming thing about him is the window box of chest hair poking out of his costume’s collar. All Cavill’s Superman is required to do is look hot and fly for our sins.”Grantland

“Becomingly modest in the character’s low-key early scenes and gradually reveling in his power, Cavill has a pleasing presence that makes him easy to accept, as Kal-El accepts the extraordinary fate that has been prescribed for him.” —The Hollywood Reporter

“The most successful part of Snyder’s vision is two-fold: the laser-focused emphasis on Clark Kent’s journey into Superman, and the impressive ease with which Cavill slides into the lead role. The British actor brings a cagey physicality to Clark/Kal-El, projecting a tired resignation to his powers that helps when their boundaries are seemingly unlimited. We also see a welcome sight — Superman thinking. As Cavill shuts his eyes to the Antarctic sun during his first spin in the suit, he trusts Snyder and how the camera will regard him. He trusts he’ll appear the part. We believe it.” —Indiewire

“It features brooding, buff British actor Henry Cavill as a muscular yet sensitive type (think Jack Kerouac spending way too much time in the gym) trying to find himself, torn between his Krypton roots and his Kansas upbringing. Who said being a superhero was easy?” —Los Angeles Times

“Cavill’s performance is less memorable for his introspective brooding than for his six-pack (a fetish for Snyder, the director of “300”). He’s handsome and capable, but one can’t help missing Christopher Reeve’s twinkle. At least he smiled.” —Miami Herald

“Cavill walks a tricky line, winding up with the right amount of earnestness. Like Christian Bale’s Batman, Cavill’s Britishness (you can’t tell behind a fake American accent) gives him an Otherness. And like Christopher Reeve, Cavill wears the suit, not vice-versa.” —New York Daily News

“Mr. Cavill, a pretty man whose body has been inflated to Bluto-esque proportions.” —New York Times

“As Superman and Clark Kent, Cavill is a big, handsome and undeniably impressive slab of beef, genial enough but with no visible personality.” —Salon

“Open your mouth, you want to say to Cavill; inspire us a little. Unfortunately, the movie’s title is apt.” —Time Out

“No wonder this pensive, angst-ridden kid grows up to be Henry Cavill, so cautiously grounded he at first seems inexpressive. It took me a scene or two to warm to him, maybe because I still miss Christopher Reeve and his far-less-tricked-out pecs. But Cavill grounds the movie. His Superman is more a listener than a talker. That’s probably what happens when you have X-ray vision, and you can see Cavill soaking it all in.” —Village Voice

“Newly minted superstar Henry Cavill makes a well-built, handsomely credible Superman in Man of Steel — or at least he will, in an already-planned sequel that, with luck, will more thoughtfully exploit his talents. For now, audiences can only speculate as to the hidden depths of Cavill, who in Zack Snyder’s busy, bombastic creation myth is reduced to little more than a joyless cipher or dazzling physical specimen.” —Washington Post

“First off, there’s the problem of casting in the central role. ‘I can do things that others can’t,’ Kal-El tells the grievously injured Lois as he cauterizes her wound with sizzling eyebeams. It’s tempting to think that another actor might have done things Mr. Cavill can’t, but there’s no way of knowing, given Mr. Snyder’s stiff direction and the generally turgid dialogue.” —Wall Street Journal

“Where Brandon Routh’s performance in Returns felt like a sense-memory tribute to Christopher Reeve’s iconic interpretation, Henry Cavill aims for something more troubled and complex, which fits Man of Steel’s ponderous tone perfectly but fails to supply the character with more than a perfunctory, bland sort of charm. That introverted charisma similarly undermines the budding, inevitable romance between Superman and Lois Lane.” —Verge

What Critics Said About Henry Cavill’s Superman