It is fairly astonishing that Superman, the ur-superhero, got roundly out-earned by Iron Man, a character no one who doesn’t read comic books had ever heard of six years ago. How did that happen? Man of Steel--a film I liked overall, while hating the 20-minute destruction derby at the end, wherein Superman seems oblivious to the fact that he must be allowing thousands of people to die with every skyscraper that gets toppled--was rightly criticized for that genocidal finale, and for (spoiler) allowing Superman to kill, and for lacking the Christopher Reeve/Margot Kidder lightness (as well as the Ned Beatty falling-off-ladders-while-tuba-music-plays tackiness) of Richard Donner’s beloved 1978 precursor. But it would be as false for Superman to crack wise as it was for him to crack General Zod’s neck. Man of Steel’s violence struck me almost as an overreaction to the prior Superman movie, Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns--a curiously mournful, gentle sequel to the 1978 and ‘80 Donner Superman pictures, with a body count of zero. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel felt determined, first and foremost, not to be that.

Whatever the next Superman movie is called--Man of Tomorrow would be my choice; 2 Man 2 Steel: Turn Off the Dark Knight seems more likely--it’ll be sharing a school vacation with Joss Whedon’s Avengers follow-up and J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars. They’ll all make money, presumably, no matter what they cost. They’ll probably even be pretty good: Whether or not Whedon or Abrams are auteurs, they’re certainly proven they know how to please messageboard-posting geeks and and civilian filmgoers at the same time. There’s another thing Abrams and Whedon have in common, something you can’t say of Del Toro or James Cameron or Peter Jackson: They come from television.

My favorite movie this summer was a late entry, The World’s End, the “Cornetto trilogy” capper from co-writer–director Edgar Wright and co-writer–star Simon Pegg. Like its forebears, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the movie uses a fun genre-parody platform to deliver a genuine thematic payload. As a metaphor for blockbuster season, it feels almost inevitable: For one thing, it’s about putting away childish things and embracing maturity. But its plot particulars resonate, too. Pegg and his old school chums march from one lookalike corporate-owned pub to the next, determined to believe there’s something fresh about this iteration of the experience, until at last they reach the titular watering hole, and perhaps enlightenment.

Pacific Rim, the most enjoyable of 2013's many urban-renewing summer blockbusters.
Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture – © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC
Pacific Rim, the most enjoyable of 2013's many urban-renewing summer blockbusters.
Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine in Star Trek Into Darkness.
© 2013 - Paramount Pictures
Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine in Star Trek Into Darkness.

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The World’s End withholds its supernatural/otherworldly elements until fairly late--there’s a pivotal scene (spoiled, alas by its TV ad campaign) that changes the nature of the film in an instant, like when Janet Leigh gets stabbed in Psycho. That curious pacing gives the balance of the picture spiky electricity; a sense that nothing is safe and anything could happen. The movie only cost $20 million--the upper price range, Wright has said, in which idiosyncrasy is possible. In reminding us that we all have to grow up, the movie inadvertently reminded Hollywood of something, too: They’re gonna need a smaller boat.

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