Like cities and civilisations, superheroes need their foundation myths.
Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer provided a new one for Bruce Wayne's alter ego in Batman Begins (infinitely more elaborate than the tale Bob Kane came up with in his 1939 comic). Now they've done the same for Clark Kent and Superman, whose arrival from the doomed planet Krypton was recorded in a mere handful of comic strip panels in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. But Nolan and Goyer, credited as producer and screenwriter on Man of Steel, have entrusted the direction of their star child to a much cruder film-maker, Zack Snyder. The result is noisy, violent, overlong and laboured.
We're given a lengthy history of Krypton, an over-reaching galaxy that brought about its own destruction, of the conflict there between the authoritarian racist General Zod (Michael Shannon) and Superman's father (Russell Crowe, who has rather more to do here than Marlon Brando did in the 1978 Superman), and of the dispatch to Earth of the magnificently endowed, messianic baby to be known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill).
The story is as dense and complicated as the epic of Gilgamesh. But instead of being kept secret, the identity of its protagonist becomes known early on to General Zod and his evil space wanderers, the US military, the midwestern foster father whose name Clark bears, and even to investigative journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). The "S" on his chest now stands for "hope", and we (or should I say you?) will have to wait for the sequel to this overextended prologue to hear him called Superman.
The film is a load of repetitive tosh, featuring in every sequence of its 143 minutes more special effects than God used when he created the world, ending with a list of credits longer than many a telephone directory. And it's all so deafeningly, humourlessly solemn. The Saturday edition of the Guardian has a Q&A page where celebrities are asked: what superpower would you like to possess? They usually reply "invisibility" or "flight". After a few more pretentious pictures like this they'll be saying "vulnerability", "honest doubt" and "a puzzled liberal conscience".
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