Man of Steel
Perhaps we should look into group therapy for our superheroes. Once upon a time truth, justice and the American way was all the thanks that was needed. Having superpowers which allow them to foil crime, spare innocent lives and save little girls’ cats stuck in a tree – it was all a privilege.
Somewhere along the line though, popular culture seems to have decided that the job of keeping the world safe from evil was a soul-crushing drag. Sure, he’s faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap a tall building in a single bound – but have you ever considered how difficult and conflicting it is to be Superman? The world needs him, but don’t they ever consider his needs? It’s enough to get a hero into a big harumph.
Knowing that Man of Steel was coming from Dark Knight mastermind Christopher Nolan and 300 director Zach Snyder, it’s no great surprise that the movie tries to give us a dark night of Superman’s soul. Let’s face it, both are very competent filmmakers, but neither is known for their light touch.
However Superman is arguably one of the most iconic characters in pop culture. (Yes, even more so than Batman.) Seventy-five years after the first Superman comic pretty much introduced the superhero genre, the Caped Crusader has appeared regularly on film (Superman: The Movie, Superman Returns, Superman vs. the Mole Men), on TV (The Adventures of Superman, Lois & Clark, Smallville) and graphic novels. I can even think of at least a dozen pop songs about the character. Superman has been in commercials and on Seinfeld‘s refrigerator. He is the epitome of American courage and spunk.
Not only that, the deluge of superhero films which have filled the multiplexes over the last 30 years are directly attributable to Supe. It’s hard to imagine now, but it was a huge risk when Superman: The Movie was filmed in 1978. The quality and popularity of that movie and its even better sequel Superman II was a shock to the Hollywood system and changed the direction of filmmaking forever. (We’ll forget Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, just like the rest of the world.) The film made Christopher Reeve a star, and the stardom was deserved. Reeve played both Superman and his alter-ego of Clark Kent with a mixture of smart boyishness, extreme power and good humor. Imagine that, a superhero enjoying his work?
Still, it has been 33 years since a good Superman movie was released to the theaters. Superman Returns, the 2006 attempt at rebooting the series – directed by The Usual Suspects scribe Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh – turned out to be an odd mishmash. Singer was obviously paying attention to the new comic movie rule that you have to have a dour hero (at points, it seemed like Superman was Lois Lane’s creepy stalker), but he was also in love with the Reeve Superman movies, filming what was essentially a darker remake of the first two Reeve films.
Zack Snyder’s take on the story is even darker – in fact, much darker – than Singer’s reboot. And, for the one positive I can give him, Snyder and Nolan’s vision of the film is nothing like any Superman you have seen before. Yes, it’s still basically the same genesis story as ever and you have the same characters, but otherwise there is no similarity.