I saw MoS this weekend and I can tell you with dead certainty: This is not a good Superman movie. It’s not even a good movie. Yet, it sold out at my theater, and grossed more than any other June opening in history: 113 million. Those are good numbers—they’re record-setting numbers—and yet, they’re bad.
Because Iron Man, a third-installment about a character whose name-brand recognition doesn’t even come close to Superman, did better. Much better. $174 million on its opening weekend. And The Avengers, a movie about a team that most non-comic-book readers never heard of, did better. And there’s really nothing else out to compete with the Superman movie, either.
Superman was the world’s first superhero. Everyone knows who he is—even 80 year old women in North Korea who think unicorns exist. There’s no way this movie shouldn’t have done much, much better. And you can’t blame it on summer burnout (summer’s just starting), or on superhero movies dying off (Batman, Iron Man 3, and The Avengers handily disprove any such theory).
So, why didn’t it do better?
Because it sucks.
Minor spoilers ahead, but the film doesn’t even have an emotional center. It starts with a beautifully designed sequence on Krypton. But we all know Superman’s origin. We don’t care about Krypton. We know it’s gonna blow up. We also all know Zod’s a badguy, because they keep rehashing the same Superman story over and over in the movies, so we don’t need this much exposition. But, if you’re going to take us there, then make us care. Zod seems to be portrayed as sympathetic, pathetic, and a complete tool. All in the same scene. Who is this guy? And why does it matter? Do we need to care about the Kryptonian government? Does it inform Zod’s character later? Not really. So, why do we care?
Then, we go to an equally ponderous journey of small adventures while Clark Kent is anonymously “finding himself” while trying to stay under cover. We see a retcon of his origin that is ridiculously close to Peter Parker’s “I let the killer of my uncle get away” problem, but we never see Clark wrestle with this. There’s zero time for character work. In short, again, as a viewer we are left wondering why any of this matters? We know who Superman is. Everyone knows. So unless you’re going to give us insight, simply showing a bunch of set action pieces is not movie making. It’s scene making. No emotional connection. No character development. No insight into why Superman really does what he does, or why it affects him. Again: Why do we care?
And then, in the third act, we just get a way-too-long battle that ends, and then another version of the same battle, and along the way there’s a confusing bit with machines and alien technology that never really makes a lot of sense and, frankly, suggests the Kryptonians were kinda stupid. Smart enough to set up everything so their race could be saved, but not smart enough to actually save their race.
Oh, and we get exposition. Lots of exposition. And recapping of the same exposition. We’re told the plot of the movie at least three separate times, one of which involves Superman being buried under skulls and screaming. Yes, it’s (unintentionally) funny. It’s also dumb. Why can’t he just fly out from under these skulls? Because it’s a nightmare? A vision? A speech by Zod? What exactly is happening here? And, since we as viewers already know what Zod’s basic plan is, (say it with me now): Why do we care?
And then there’s the kiss. Lois Lane basically acts as Superman’s secretary, and eventually he kisses her. Why? I mean, that sort of thing might be okay for Don Draper, but we’ve seen no indication that Superman wants to be loved. None at all. He’s a blank slate. A cipher. Someone totally lacking in personality. And Lois seems like a smart, capable, independent woman (without much personality either), so why is she suddenly kissing before the first date? No idea.
There are some decent action sequences here, and it doesn’t do a lot of violence to the comic book mythology, so the movie isn’t offensive. It’s just bland.
And at bottom, that’s the main problem with most Superman comics as a whole. So maybe we can’t fault Zack Snyder for that.