So, people keep asking me about Man of Steel. I mean, that’s fair. I’ve been going on about the movie ever since Superman Returns failed to capture the imaginations of filmgoers. No, seriously … the Internet is littered with my ongoing fascination with cinematic Superman and the request that he hit things with his fists.
Well, Zack Snyder finally gave me what I wanted and it wasn’t enough … but I said enough about Man of Steel in my review at CBR.
No, it’s okay, you can read it right now. I’ll wait.
Mulling my thoughts over and discussing it with a few friends, I thought it my be worthwhile to discuss the perceived problem of Superman and why it’s a load of bullshit. Keep in mind how important it is to have the idea of Superman around. The nation went crazy when DC Comics chose to kill him off (temporarily). The are many things that make Superman difficult to write, particularly in a live-action space, but the key thought is this: people love Superman. So let’s move on to the problem as it is perceived by the people who can pay to make a Superman movie.
“Superman is so boring and unrelatable and he’s too powerful.”
That might seem true if you don’t really care about the character or only give him a sideways glance … but that doesn’t explain why so many people wear his symbol, put it on their car, or tattoo it on their bodies. The conventional wisdom is that a man with that much power has no conflicts and that in order to relate to him, he must be brought low to our level and have petty screenplay ready conflicts grafted to him so that the audience can see his struggle.
This is why Superman was briefly a deadbeat dad.
I counter this with a simple fact about the Man of Steel. Every second of everyday he is on guard against himself. He must be precise in every movement and train against involuntary behaviors we never notice because unchecked, he could cause as much damage as his adversaries. That amount of concentration is wearing and, I think, incredibly human. It can be played out in a expressive way with fists and robots and keen alien intelligences bent on eliminating mankind from the planet.
Every morning, Clark Kent chooses not to say “fuck it” and become his own worst enemy. Instead, he chooses to get up and do the best he can. How is that any different from the rest of us? How is that not relatable?
You might argue that such things aren’t visually interesting … that’s not really at issue because, as Man of Steel proves, we have the technical prowess to create fight scenes as powerful as those seen in the best Superman comics. What goes on around those fights scenes and give them weight is more important, especially now that fights are so easily realized. In the case of the most recent film, he fights because his two dads have contradictory lessons to impart on him.
A Superman with daddy issues. Really? In 2013? How is that better than him being a dead-beat dad?
Rather, conflict is to be found in why he fights for us at all. His enemies seek to control or eradicate us. They contain the cynical understanding of human beings I think most of us operate with nowadays, but Superman believes in the better part of our species. Sneer or titter all you want, but Superman resonates as a symbol because one thing that cannot be shaken is his belief in us. That is the thing a Superman movie should test. That is the conflict that can be expressed in fights scenes with Superman and robots.
And its a notion that is lacking from Man of Steel because an outsider, as they’ve chosen to portray him, can’t have that unshakable faith in us. We teased him and called him a freak. We behave no better than the depraved citizens of Gotham.
So why does he fight for us?
If we truly cannot accept this character unless he’s brought low and made to be a freak or a deadbeat dad, then, perhaps, the larger question is this: why don’t we believe in ourselves?
Wow, in about 12 minutes I’ve come up with themes and conflicts that could be grafted into a Superman movie and still give you amazing fights scenes.
But who cares, people don’t like Superman because he used to wear red underwear.