In an early Superman story, published in Action Comics #12 to be exact, Clark Kent sees a friend hit by a motorist. As Superman, he vows to take care of the situation. Thus beings the story that is a perfect tale of that early version of the character. Superman immediately bursts into a radio station and hijacks the broadcast to announce his war on reckless driving. Instead of initiating social programs or an unprecedented military build up, the Metropolis Marvel uses his powers to teach the city a lesson.
He destroys cars in an impound lot. He puts a used car dealership out of commission for selling vehicles in poor condition.
The early days of the character found him crusading in loud, outstanding ways. Superman is not nearly so headstrong now.
Which is the problem with Superman Returns. I know why the film is so dour. Bryan Singer wanted the film to show a Superman off his footing. His uniform is muted in color. He never smiles. His whole world is wrong. The catch: Superman does not mope for long. The character keeps going after most of his contemporaries from those can-do days of the 1930s have passed into vague memory is precisely because he smashes through walls without regard for the insurance premium. Singer’s concept for the character is not inspiring or strong. Even though Luthor’s scheme was obtuse and poorly plotted, the Kryptonite Shiv was the perfect weapon to show the modern Superman is all too human.
Beyond that, though, Superman doesn’t seem to enjoy being Superman. From his earliest four-color adventure, he’s reveled in his abilities and enjoyed what he can do both as himself and for others. In his most recent film outing, we don’t really see that.
I wonder if that’s just Singer’s clouded vision or indicative of where the Man of Tomorrow sits in the public psyche. Have we become so jaded and ill-tempered that we can’t accept Superman at full strength? For ten years, producers attempted to film the Death of Superman. Do we have a wish to see the concept not just test, but broken completely?
Or is no one daring to contemplate a full-force Superman film, where the Man of Steel gives his all to save the world from a threat too big for even him to take on? Strangely, it’s a classic plot for the character that has never made its way to big budget movie-making.
Well, maybe Zack Snyder will head in this direction. He’s a director far more comfortable with bombast than Singer. His concerns are far more whiz-bang as well. We’ve seen so much emphasis placed on the depth of the character, that I wouldn’t mind a more surface-level action approach. I get the torment of the character. I get the conflict in his heart. I’m just tired of it when I know he can put that all aside and combat something he might not fly back from.
With Zod as the antagonist in the new film, we know Superman will be pushed into a physical confrontation and not hold back. Perhaps, at long last, we’ll get the Superman film we’ve always wanted. The one where he fights an opponent with his fits.