"I'm very strong, and have no morals!" growled Zod. "I don't care about anything except Krypton!"
"But I will stop you," Superman replied. "Because I grew up on Earth. I'm going to defeat you!"
Superman punched Zod. Zod punched Superman. "Oh my god!" screamed a nameless extra. "They just punched each other! They are both aliens!"
"I hate both of them," said another extra. "Because aliens are a new and confusing thing, and we humans are afraid of things we don't understand."
Then a building fell and crushed all the extras, killing them and everyone they knew. Sadly, Superman did not know or care about this, because he was busy listening to someone explain why Zod was a very dangerous man who needed to be stopped.
The worst part was that it wasn't even expository dialogue. It was completely unnecessary, because even the traumatised five-year-olds in the audience could understand that the bad guys were evil murderers, and the big scary spaceship was dangerous. I'd like to imagine that this was an homage to vintage comics when everyone explained everything in their speech bubbles, to make up for the limitations of having to tell an awesome superhero story in eight pages and three colours. But no. It was just deeply, deeply stupid dialogue.
- He's the first natural-born Kryptonian in centuries, and therefore the only Kryptonian who isn't genetically engineered to play a specific role in society. In other words, his parents created him as an avatar of free will.
- On Earth, his purpose is to be a leader and a role-model to humans.
As an origin story, Man of Steel is total garbage because there is just no character development at all. Instead of actively rebelling against Jonathan Kent -- or, indeed, going the "I don't want to be a hero" route and then changing his mind, like Peter Parker -- his journey from "nice young guy with a secret" to "nice young alien alien superhero with a secret" is smooth and conflict-free. Even his anonymous gap-year (with obligatory cameos from Angst Beard and Blue-Collar Job) is free from the kind of learning experiences we see in the Wolverine and Batman movies. In a film where so much emphasis is put on the role of free will, he comes across as a bizarrely passive protagonist.
Krypton makes no sense. Even taking into account the fact that Krypton is a decaying society run by traditionalist morons, it's still difficult to understand why anything is the way it is. Yeah, the
Genetically engineeried predestination is something that works as a science-fiction thought experiment, but is absolute trash garbage if you try to apply it to a real-world setting -- even if the "real world" is an alien planet. It could probably work if the genetically engineered people were a downtrodden underclass, but if they're leaders, scientists, warriors? THIS COULD NEVER HAPPEN. Not unless you actually removed everyone's free will, which just... wouldn't work. That's not a thing you could do, and still turn out characters like Zod, Jor-El, Lara, and the councillors. Instead you'd have a race of mindless slaves, run by genetically engineered "wise overlords", which is patently not the case here, because all the people in charge are idiots. Man of Steel's Krypton was a poorly-organised, science-phobic Avatar/Vulcan crossover planet that nobody ever wanted or asked for.
The fight scenes are nonsense. All superhero movies have to end in a big fight scene, so it's easy to fall into the trap of just escalating a bunch of explosions until you reach the end. So while I do enjoy action movies, I tend to find "final battle" scenes in superhero movies to be pretty dull -- with the exception of The Avengers. The final battle in the Avengers went on for half an hour but was still entertaining because each of the characters had an interesting role to play, and it was full of jokes and snappy dialogue. Unfortunately, there are no jokes or snappy dialogue in the entirety of Man of steel, never mind the fight scenes.
Logistically speaking, the extended final battle sequence in this movie made no sense at all. From an ethical and strategic standpoint, every one of Superman's decisions were a nightmare. Most of the fights took place in heavily populated areas and he made no attempt to, you know, fly Zod out into the desert or something, where he couldn't raze any more skyscrapers to the ground. Seriously. SO MANY PEOPLE DIED IN THIS MOVIE. And in really unnecessary ways.
Spider-Man and The Avengers both have major fight scenes in inner-city areas, but that's because Spider-Man and the Avengers have to defend the city. Superman is in the unique position of being powerful enough to at least try to move the fight somewhere safer, like space, or the middle of the ocean. In Man of Steel, Superman is fighting Zod because... well, Zod Is Bad. So they have to punch each other a lot. But once the spaceship has been destroyed, there's definitely no good reason why they'd still be fighting in the middle of the city. So why do they keep going? For hours and hours? Sorry, Metropolis. RIP.
Man of Steel is far from groundbreaking, but the movie it most reminded me of was Thor. A really, really bad version of Thor. In Thor, the main character goes through some awesome character development, changing from a well-meaning spoiled brat into a sensible, adult warrior. In Man of Steel, Superman is sent to Earth by his father (like Thor) and ends up fighting people from his home planet on the streets of smalltown America (like Thor), but there the resemblance ends. We never see him struggle with his heritage, and he never really learns anything or comes up against a challenge more complicated than the physical fight between him and Zod. The whole thing was framed as a serious, grittier version of Superman, but in the end it far less intelligent and emotionally complex than the "lighter" movies of the '70s.
To cap off this semi-coherent rant, I thought I'd mention that there were a couple of things I did like. In no particular order:
- Lois Lane. SHE WAS AWESOME. I can't believe that Zach Snyder and Chris Nolan teamed up to create a movie starring a dynamic, interesting female character in one of the lead roles.
- Perry White.
- The hilarious casting of about a million "hey, it's that guy!" actors from Battlestar Galactica, The West Wing, Dollhouse, etc.
- Jor-El's Kryptonian dragon thing. Really, just Jor-El in general. Is Russell Crowe's new hobby just taking roles where he's unintentionally hilarious all the way through? My favourite part was when he was pointing out directions to Lois by materialising in front of her every five steps. How was it that "Jor-El is a holagram" was instantly understood by everyone, but things like "We're in danger because someone is shooting at us!" had to be loudly and repeatedly explained by multiple people all the way through??
- The final scene where Lois says "Welcome to the Planet", ie the only funny or charming line in the entire movie.
- The fact that we now know that as well as traditionally using his baby blanket as a cape, Superman actually IS fighting in his underwear. Because that whole body-suit thing is literally Kryptonian underwear.