SUPERMAN: Why He’s Not So Super Anymore
“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s ANOTHER REBOOT!”
Superman: That name brings to mind three things right away usually: the colors red and blue…and the letter S. You also have to throw in him being a defender of truth, justice, honor and the American Way. It’s pretty amazing to think it’s been 72 years since he made his debut in Action Comics, that was a long long time ago in a very different world.
Growing up in the 1980s, my primary introduction to Superman came from watching cartoons, reruns of the 1950s TV show starring George Reeves and the movies starring the late Christopher Reeve. Out of all the actors who played The Man of Steel, I felt Reeve really was the most iconic, true representation of the character from the comic books. For me, Reeve is the only great portrayal of Superman to date.
A Hero Out of His Element
A question I keep coming back to in regards to the many comic book super heroes in pop culture is: Does a hero like Supe R. Man still make sense in today’s world?
My honest feeling is that the things we loved about Superman as a pop culture icon/comic book hero are not relevant in 2011, or not as relevant. The very characteristics that made him so endearing in the late 1930s up to the 1970s and early 1980s are the very things that don’t fit in with our modern society after events such as 9/11. Our world has undergone so many drastic changes both politically and socially, Superman now looks like an ancient artifact from another century. A character out of his time. One could ask: Don’t we STILL need old fashioned heroes like Superman to champion hope and uphold our core values as human beings? I say No. The very thought of Superman brings to mind a time that simply doesn’t exist anymore. As much as we want there to be a black and white/good and evil world, that isn’t reality. As sad as it is to admit, Superman has become a corny, tired old cliche.
One of the biggest problems in the Superman story in relation to adaptation for modern cinema is the fact he is basically invincible. He has no real weaknesses except for one thing: Kryptonite. If he comes in contact with those remnants of his home planet, he’s kaput. This essential part of his mythology gives filmmakers two choices: A) to not deal with that aspect of the character at all or B) do the same old Superman gets weak from Kryptonite, somehow manages to become strong again and saves the day story. That choice isn’t so good if you’re trying to do something fresh with the character. Yet, if you choose A then you won’t be staying true to the mythology and you’re in effect making him into something else, which most likely won’t please the majority of fans who grew up with him in his original form.
Superman Returns…And So Does Clark
The primary thing that made me dislike Superman Returns, Bryan Singer’s semi-sequel to the original series right away was the fact Christopher Reeve was no longer playing Superman. He obviously couldn’t because he was paralyzed after a tragic accident. They cast a new actor, Brandon Routh instead. While I think he did a decent job as Clark Kent/Superman the trouble was that Reeve had established such a strong identity as that character it made it very difficult to accept another actor in the red and blue outfit. Also, let’s be honest, Routh really just ended up playing Reeve playing Clark/Superman because of that fact. The second thing I disliked was the ridiculous storyline involving Superman returning after several years from a trip to outer space. He went on a journey to find out about his past, what happened to Krypton, blah blah blah. For some really strange reason, the characters in the film just accepted that Superman AND Clark Kent both popping up at the same time after an extended absence was just a coincidence. That’s so ridiculous (maybe even more so than Clark simply wearing glasses as disguise), it just stops the whole show in its tracks from the start. Third: Having another Lex Luthor storyline (this time Lex was played by actor Kevin Spacey) and using kryptonite again was just a totally dull choice. The first thing a super hero sequel like this should provide is a different antagonist, just to distance itself from the other films that it obviously isn’t 100% connected to. Four: The films by Richard Donner & Co. had used live action to show Superman flying and doing different stunts. This gave the movies a really exciting feel like you were right there with Superman as he flew around Metropolis. They obviously had wires and blue screen for FX. In the 21st century CGI has taken over, so when you see Superman flying in Superman Returns its all digitally enhanced which really takes away a large amount of the realistic aspects you identify with. It also adds to the lack of emotion towards Superman’s human qualities and his invulnerability seems even more heightened thus creating a bigger disconnect with the audience.
In 2011 Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Sucker Punch) and Producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) will be re-booting (I can’t stand that term) the franchise. Word around the campfire is that this storyline will not be connected to the previous films and that it will be a fresh take on the Superman mythology. While that is positive news, if you are a longtime fan of the character (as I am) you can’t help but be severely skeptical about this project. Why they need to do this is the most confusing thing. Superman Returns didn’t seem to be a super smash so why not start with another DC super hero and let the Superman character rest in peace? That question can only be answered when people experience this new take on the character and see for themselves if it was indeed a good choice to start the franchise over.
Regardless of my latest geek rant, I’m still holding out hope for ol Supes. You can’t help but want to be wowed again by that character and “believe a man can fly”, but folks, I honestly don’t know if the blue and red boy scout can outfight the fact that in this day and age…he’s just not so super anymore.