Waiting for Superman, Again
I don’t want a Superman for my generation. I want a Superman for a generation that never was. That same generation that so many politicians harken back to; a time when far too conveniently clear-cut values and morality guided our actions, when freedom brought prosperity, when the only thing we could see on the horizon was unfettered possibility as to what the next great challenge was to be inevitably overcome. Of course, this time never truly existed. This magical era seemingly devoid of darkness or suffering or corruption or despair. Then again, Superman doesn’t really exists either, does he? This symbol of hope (I’m told that’s what the “S” stands for, but the true symbol is in the actions of the man) doesn’t need to be dragged down into the mire of cynicism the rest of us willingly and unwillingly experience on a daily basis (thanks again, Internet) and more importantly, he doesn’t work there. So when I see this character, this very specific piece of Americana, being wedged into the muck as one could argue the Zack Snyder films have finagled, it tarnishes some of that blinding naive glint in Supe’s wide-as-the-Earth itself smile. He’s missing the mark because he’s prying Superman out of his aesthetic, one which is infinitely more effective when aimed at a younger audience. What I’m saying here (ludicrously large stress on the “I”) is that between the new trailer and hearing the words “I sort of wanted to do the opposite of All-Star Superman” over the course of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con; it’s clear we don’t deserve Superman.
Yes, I sound like Andy Rooney. I know. If I need to explain that my opinion is just that and you take personal umbrage to my feelings towards some movies you enjoy, that’s on you. There’s actually quite a bit of stuff in both Man of Steel and the trailer for Batman v Superman that I like, such as the sense of scale and spectacle. It’s just that, at the end of the day for me, I’m not seeing Superman on that screen because an inherent part of that character’s DNA, the one universal truth of the Big Blue Boy Scout is this: he is silly as fuck. Just the corniest thing, oh my god it’s wonderful because it is every child’s fantasy played out at once. He can lift cars and jump really high and run faster than a train and shoot lasers out of his eyes and saves his best friends, but sometimes he plays tricks on them and and and… etc. The product of combining the bombast of the circus strongman with the plight of the common man in the Great Depression gave us the first true super-hero. Able to take on slumlords, gangsters and those who sought to otherwise exploit the values of good honest men, women and children. But the real issue here, the big problem that fans and film executives have in spades, is that the reason Superman is so silly is because, through our 24-hour cable news and social media addictions, the idea of anyone being that unabashedly good is unimaginable. And that is a damn tragedy.
There’s plenty of nuance to the character and a myraid of twists on the facets that comprise Superman such as the ultimate immigrant story or the exploration of being thoroughly and unrelatably isolated, as well as the obvious Christ allegories. There are lots that have been added to his mythos, most notably the radio serial, by scores of intelligent and talented minds. There have been excellent stories where Superman is examined in the shifting cultural landscape and experienced tribulations that are far more familiar than having a lion’s head or fighting a flame dragon from your destroyed home planet. Superman can work in a modern context, absolutely. He needn’t operate in an imaginary bygone era, any and all times need a Superman no matter how hopeless they may seem. But the trick is to not turn him into Peter Parker. We sympathize with Peter because his mistakes are our mistakes and his victories are ours as well. We can empathize with Superman and his mild-mannered alter ego, but we can’t honestly sympathize with him. How could we? To be a God among men, to have the weight of the entire world (sometimes quite literally) on your shoulders, to see the worst of all of us and take it on the chin? Impossible.
That’s where I feel Snyder’s portrayal of the character, and more importantly the portrayal of his moral guides, the Kents, falls flat. A Superman film can be geared towards children, but still resonate with adults. We’ve all seen Pixar films, right? Our world is depressing as hell most of the time and if we’re being honest with ourselves, there wasn’t a time that wasn’t true. That’s why we need the corniest fucking superhero of them all. The one that wears the bright colors, stands up for everyone equally, the one who believes that we, for all our horrible ugly flaws, are the ones that give him strength. I don’t need a Superman whose inner turmoil speaks to me, I’ve got Miles Morales and Kamala Kahn and scores of others for that. I need the impossible man. The hero that is the best of us; that inspires us to aspire to something so great we’ve reached a point that we no longer even believe in it, if we ever did. The man who exists outside of all the dredge in a place and time that never existed, but maybe if we can just let go of the suffocating noise for just a moment, could exist. I know what my world looks like all too well. I need to be reminded and inspired to soar towards a world that never stops believing in the potential to be better. That sounds corny, right? Exactly.