Showing posts with label zack snyder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label zack snyder. Show all posts

Sunday, June 16, 2013

movie review: 'man of steel'

I like Superman more than Batman.

I'll give you a moment to go find your socks that just blew off, but let me also explain why, because it's key to certain elements of this review and why I don't think the rebooted Superman works all that well (spoilers, I'm not the biggest fan of Man of Steel, if you want the review in a sentence). This mostly has to do with certain misconceptions regarding the character and the mythos surrounding Superman, and I'm going to try and clear some of those up (yes, it's going to be one of those reviews).

To wit, when Siegel and Shuster created Superman, they were very much aware of the mythological parallels to the character such as Hercules and Moses, and they created him as a character who fought for social justice, an immigrant from another planet fighting for our world. It's also been theorized that Superman was considered a surrogate father figure, particularly to many of the young boys who read the comics in the 40s and 50s while their real fathers were engaged in the Second World War and the Korean War, not to mention the loss of Siegel's father in a robbery years earlier. Many, many writers who would follow them would take their own stabs and defining Superman, but in the end, a core distillation of Superman's role and values crystallized, as they did with Wonder Woman and Batman. 

Batman was the spirit of justice, Wonder Woman was the spirit of truth, and Superman was the symbol of hope.

I want you all to consider this for a moment. Superman is the symbol of hope, an alien from another planet, yet raised with our values and having a much stronger connection to Earth than he ever would the destroyed Krypton. He is a man who gains the most power not on his homeworld but on Earth, thanks to the yellow light rays of our sun. And yet he chooses not to represent himself as some ubermensch, some titan of power that rules us, but as a figure to which we all can look up. Many, many authors have played with the Christ symbolism in connection to Superman, and while I will argue there's definitely a grain of salt in that comparison, I don't think it quite encapsulates the other elements of his character - namely, his more human side. There's a degree of humility in Superman's choice of a secret identity - an unassuming reporter working for a newspaper, where he could inform the American public and ensure his travels could get him in places of danger that he could stop in his alter ego. His relationship with Lois Lane plays a big part in this story, both as a 'grounding' facet of his character and as a very real emotional link, showing his connection to us and our world.

Now, maybe it's just me, but that's potent material for writing a powerful story - but yet so many people don't see these elements in the character. Many tend to consider him a 'boring', 'stupid' character, overloaded with powers and strengths that make him invincible, and obviously a character without weakness can't have any notable threats. They don't understand why he doesn't just kill Lex Luthor or General Zod or why he doesn't enact the same brand of justice for which Batman is emblematic. Or, in a complete misunderstanding of the character, they point to things like this:

Yeah, it's a load of shit. As I stressed above, Superman is a person who has a much stronger and much more potent connection to his human roots than his Kryptonian ones. He was raised in Smallville, a little farm town in Kansas to be a good, compassionate, altruistic person (which is often where the 'stupid' adjective gets applied in the false equivalency where 'good'='dumb', which pisses me off to no end), and while he is aware his powers make him different from humanity, he does not think they place him above us. And from that, you can sketch out the best Superman stories, where it doesn't matter if he has incredible powers, but the ultimate futility of his task. He can't save everyone from everything, but he's going to try his damnedest anyway. He knows that people look to him as a symbol of hope, as someone whose values they want to emulate, and thus he must balance his very human desires with his chosen duty. He knows that people will look at him with fear and anger and jealousy and distrust, but he rises above that because he believes we all can be better.

It's no surprise kids fall in love with Superman. He's the adult who can fly and fight bad guys and shoot lasers out of his eyes, and he's going to do it no matter what and with a smile on his face once the bad guys are gone - in short, he's the idealized father figure for many of these kids. And yet the funny thing is that once those kids get past the teenager stage (where they all tend to embrace Batman over Superman because Superman 'isn't cool') and become adults, they tend to like Superman again, but for different reasons. They see him as the character who has to balance his love life and his job, who has to face impossible odds and somehow prevail, and who through all of it remains a good person. They don't care about his power set or his less-than-stellar gallery of villains - most can see past that and see someone deep down they want to emulate, an ideal to aspire towards.

That's potent stuff, there's real dramatic material there that has resonated time and time again, with the same archetypes stretching back through history. There's a reason Superman has persisted in the modern collective unconscious for as long as it has, perhaps putting the lie to Lois' first article in Superman Returns, 'Why The World Doesn't Need Superman'. And thus my interest was definitely piqued when I heard Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan were teaming up with a stellar cast to retell the Superman origin story yet again. And believe it or not, I immediately thought that while the choice of a director was solid (Zack Synder, despite all of the problems with him, has a gift for comic-book-esque shot composition and 'epic' scale if the script can support it), the problems might come from Nolan and his writing team. They understood Batman (mostly), but Superman's a tougher character to nail down and requires a bit more maturity and careful forethought. Could they pull it off?