Superman finally returns from "Superman Returns"
I liked "Man of Steel" quite a bit, as well. Like you, I was pleased to see Superman returning from the hellish oblivion of "Superman Returns," one of the most wrongheaded movies in the modern superhero genre. Sometimes I feel bad kicking that movie when it's down, because too much blame seems to accrue to star Brandon Routh, and it wasn't his fault. He did the best he could with what he was given to work with. His biggest problem is that he looked so darn young (a problem I wish I had!) and was supposed to be playing a sort of elder Superman returning after a long break in a well-established career. Christopher Reeve, and Henry Cavill, have a way of looking youthful without any risk of being confused with Superboy.
What MoS gets so crucially right, with one significant exception, is that the character feels like a valid interpretation of Superman. He does what a brand-new Superman just a few weeks removed from his very first flight would do. He rings true, in a way the brooding, tormented emo Superman of Bryan Singer's movie never did, save for a few brief shining moments during the big Space Shuttle rescue scene. There's no doubt about where our new Superman is coming from. He might have been born on the other side of the galaxy, but as he memorably puts it, he's from Kansas.
"Man of Steel" is about a man doing both of his fathers proud, a potent counter-cultural theme in this disposable-fathers culture. It looks as if Lawrence Fishburne's heroic take on Perry White will give Clark another strong example to follow. But that also brings up the one place MoS falls down a bit: the noticeable lack of Superman saving people. He's not portrayed as callous or anything like that, and there are earlier depictions of him rushing to the rescue, but the slam-bang apocalyptic finale was really begging for a few scenes of Supes noticing bystanders in jeopardy and swooping to the rescue, maybe even taking a few hits from his Kryptonian adversaries for his trouble. In fact, the absolutely perfect way to close that thematic circle would have been Superman noticing Perry White's death-defying efforts to save trapped bystanders and following Perry's lead. I really thought that's where the movie was headed, but it never quite got there. It's sobering to contemplate what the death toll in Metropolis must have been; maybe that will be discussed by Superman's critics in the sequel.
I've heard complaints that the church scene was a subversion of religion, rather than a celebration of its values, but I took it the same way you did. If C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien can explore quintessential Christian themes through fantasy, why not Superman? And where else would Ma and Pa Kent's boy go during his hour of doubt than a church? I guess they could have had him wrestle with his conscience in a garden, but that would have been a bit too on-the-nose.
I like what Snyder and Nolan kicked off with "Man of Steel." I don't understand why they insist on crowding Superman out of his own sequel with a crush of guest heroes and villains.