If your summer blockbuster doesn't try something new, or give a novel slant on a familiar theme, then it is simply a piece of merchandise, a product, like the Coca Cola or popcorn you consume while watching it. And that is, fundamentally, what Man of Steel is.
It is like the director took a slice from every sci-fi film of the last twenty years and squashed them all together. There are the flying beasts from Avatar, the inside of the ship from Prometheus, the space ship looming over the city from Independence Day, the Thing's massive leaps from Avengers Assemble, and the explosions and effects from Thor and Iron Man and literally every action film of recent times.
And then of course there is the story. They didn't even make the effort to think up a new bad guy for Superman, instead the writers recycled the plot of the second Christopher Reeve Superman movie, where General Zod and his henchmen come to Earth in search of their enemy's son, Kal-El.
What the film is trying to do is to portray Clark
outsider, basically as a misunderstood X-Men character. He grows up a freak,
and is isolated as a child because of his super powers. As an adult Kent Clark gets lost in the wilderness, a la Wolverine, as he
can't deal with his difference from normal humans.
Finally, he finds a ship sent from his home planet which contains a message from his father (played very po-faced by Russell Crowe), and discovers who he is, the last of his race from the now destroyed planet Krypton.
Of course he is 33 years old when he discovers his destiny and finds out who his real father is. The Jesus Christ parallels are not subtle in the movie, the message from his parents - both on Krypton and on Earth - is that
Clark (or Kal-El, his Krypton name) has a special destiny
as an inspiration for mankind, as an example of how to be good. Superman as
Yet all of this is done with a script that feels like it was written by a computer. The characters are constantly having conversations that you have heard a million times before, and saying lines that can be accurately predicted well before they utter them. The movie is filled with cornball platitudes and weak exposition - "you have to trust me, I'm a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist",
says to her editor at one stage.
And the theme of the film, such as it is, is trite and unexplored, the message fatuous and flimsy. People have the potential for good, and it is up to Superman to bring this out in them. Yet the movie spends little time with this idea, and ends up becoming a tedious orgy of special effects, explosions, CGI, as Superman battles his Krypton nemeses.
And the thing about these bad guys is that they are boring. They are simply psychopaths, willing to commit genocide at the drop of a hat without any real strong motivation behind them. There is no complexity to them, no explanation for the lack of morality that they glory in.
This is true about the film as a whole. There is no real attempt at intelligence or complexity. It is a story we have seen before, filled with images and plot points and characters and set pieces that have been done a million times in other movies.
The last hour is basically fight scene after fight scene, destruction on a massive scale that becomes like a cartoon. The most common image of this part of the film is of a bunch of random puny humans looking up with wonder and terror (and possibly boredom) at the battling aliens above. The extras in this movie must have had serious cricks in the neck after shooting ended.
It is lazy and derivative and was obviously written to a formula. Blockbuster by numbers. It is not even any fun, as it takes its ridiculous self very seriously. It is indicative of the weakness of the whole enterprise when the best thing about the movie is that it is Toby from the West Wing - in this film the nerdy scientist - who saves humanity in the end. Superman? More like Super-meh.