I didn’t expect Man of Steel (2013)–the latest in the decades-long Superman franchise–to be an energy movie. But it had several key energy components throughout the movie.
Themes related to “Peak Oil” were mentioned twice. In the opening scene, Clark Kent’s father explains that the impending implosion of the planet Krypton was because they over-harvested its energy resources, causing its core to go unstable. That point was repeated later in the film, when Clark Kent was learning the history of his people. That historical lesson explained that at its peak, his species had posted colonies throughout the universe. Eventually they over-extended their natural resources. In both mentions, the collapse of civilization was the consequence of using their resources in non-sustainable ways: first the colonial outposts collapsed, then the home society eventually collapsed, too.
In addition, the comment that the core of Krypton would go unstable (causing the disintegration of the planet) is vague. It could mean it was physically hollowed out, in which case the planet would collapse on itself. But it might also be a reference to some form of nuclear energy as conventional nuclear power plants use reactor cores. In that case, an unstable core would imply runaway nuclear reactions.
Nuclear appears again when General Zod explains that exposure to radiation over many generations has caused the people of Krypton to evolve into a stronger species. The implication is that the radiation has caused mutations and yielded superpowers. As noted in previous posts, the idea that radiation (e.g. nuclear energy) can give superpowers is an ongoing cliché in the movies.
Oil also makes an appearance twice. There’s a scene that shows a large offshore oil platform engulfed in flames, during which Superman performs a gripping rescue. This imagery evokes memories of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and is consistent with fires and explosions as a typical visual cliché for oil movies.
Lastly, during one of the epic fights towards the end of the movie, there is a lot of destruction underway in Metropolis. In one scene, oil tanker trunks that are clearly marked as “LexCorp” get blown up, setting the stage for a sequel with Lex Luthor as the bad guy. Anyone want to bet that he’s an oilman (the classic modern bad guy)?