Mitch Benn once played a satirical song called “Everything sounds like Coldplay” bemoaning how uniform popular music had become. Watching the latest Superman remake, Man of Steel, felt a little like this has become true of films.
That is not to say that the film was anything less than enjoyable but there just seemed to be too much shared with other recent films so that for example Batman and Superman have converged when earlier incarnations were distinct. Perhaps that is not too surprising as Christopher Nolan produced both the latest reimagining of Superman and directed the most recent Batman trilogy, both with a focus on getting to the heart of the person behind the suit. However, that doesn’t explain why alien design has to be so heavily influenced by HR Giger’s horrors in the Alien films even in the setting of the relatively benign Kryptonite civilisation. Although that said, the fleshing out of General Zod’s plan to rebuild Krypton society on top of us puny Earthlings does bring the back story in Man of Steel very close to that of the mysterious Engineers in Prometheus.
The film does many things very well, even dare I say it, better than the Christopher Reeve films I grew up with. I don’t know whether the film leant much on the Smallville series but Clark Kent’s childhood tortured with controlling the heightened perceptions and powers of a superman was ore believable than Reeve suddenly discovering he could play American football very well. The ambiguity about whether a bullied young Clark caused the accident Carrie-style when his superheroic rescue of his class mates became hard to hide is neat and shows how he could have turned out bad without the moral guidance of his Earth father. Henry Cavill in the title role also looks passably similar to Reeve.
It was also interesting that General Zod was portrayed as a somewhat more ambiguous and less cartoony figure than previously.Kryptonite society had developed into a Brave New World of children being artificially produced and incubated, genetically designed and destined for specific roles. So the idea that Zod, who was created to do anything to preserve the Kryptonite people would not flinch at terraforming the Earth into a new Krypton and not worrying about the humans (let alone any other species) that happened to be there first is not surprising. He is only doing he was born to do much as the Terminator would do. It is hard therefore to see him as morally blameworthy. On the other hand, Superman could go either way (as hinted in the childhood bus accident) because he was naturally born rather than designed and incubated so he is praiseworthy for having chosen to be humanity’s friend. The only inconsistency here is that if Zod were a Terminator like machine when he and Superman were the last two Kryptonites remaining his programming ought to have made him want to protect Superman and himself rather than aiming to destroy one or the other.
My only real complaints about an otherwise enjoyable (if long at nearly two and a half hours) film are more ones to do with modern film trends. The first is the creep upwards of the age certification of superhero films. The 1980 Superman was I think U rated whereas Man of Steel is a 12A. OMB and his friends aged six all LOVE superheroes and, had they been born in the mid 1970s would have had a Superman film they could go and watch. Man of Steel is certainly not as inappropriate for young children as the Spider-Man films of the last decade or so but still would not be enjoyable for most six year olds through a mixture of too much talking and the extreme duration of the action sequences. Related to this is the pervasive impact of 3D films in making action sequences be designed to use the 3D effect to the full. Watching the 2D version highlights this as of course you need to assess those scenes without the benefit of the effect.