I still don’t think anyone has made an amazing Superman movie, but at least Man of Steel made me believe that it’s possible.
After The Avengers and now Man of Steel, I think there needs to be a name for the phenomenon where a comic book movie attracts incredible production talent, who proceed to write some of the most inspired, creative, entertaining popcorn movie content ever created, only to be hamstrung in the end by their own nerdish worship of the weak source material. Back in writing workshop, there was a frequently repeated phrase you’d hear in critiques where people would point to the top of your piece and say “this feels like throat clearing.”
Basically, it means you had these germs of an idea or ideas at the beginning that sparked some connection in your brain that eventually lead to something so much better, and now you just need to go back and delete those half-formed origin thoughts. Man of Steel feels like Christopher Nolan and David Goyer and company were inspired by the idea of a showdown between Superman and General Zod, to create an even better story about what it means to be Superman. But in the end they just couldn’t bring themselves to cut those cables of homage to the initial inspiration. Thus we’re left with an inspiring, beautiful origin story grafted onto an anti-climactic hero/villain showdown, and all the the hackneyed tropes that go along with it.
Seriously, is there some rule I don’t know about where every superhero movie has to have a scene of the hero flying into the mouth of a giant laser pointed at Earth? Look, Drunk Randy Quaid in Independence Day is the best that scene’s ever going to get, so stop trying.
Man of Steel‘s most impressive accomplishment was to make me think, “Wow, Superman, huh? What a great story. Why hasn’t anyone been able to make an amazing movie out of this before?”
I still don’t think anyone has made an amazing Superman movie, but at least Man of Steel made me believe that it’s possible. Goyer and Zack Snyder sell the hell out of the concept, by constructing a relevant Kryptonian origin story, and dropping the hokier Superman elements that feel too campy or like relics from another time – the nerd disguise, Lex Luthor, tights under his clothes, phone booths, red underpants, the idea that the ‘S’ stood for “SUPER,” and kryptonite as a glowing red rock. All gone, and good riddance. Well, mostly gone, but we’ll get to that. (Also, they added sonic booms!) What we’re left with is a Superman who’s a product of two fathers, one for whom Superman represents the last embodiment of the squandered potential of a dead civilization, and another for whom he represents an ideal towards which a young civilization can strive, if they can be mature enough to accept him. Both fathers good men who believed so strongly in the dream their child represents that they were willing to sacrifice themselves for it. Basically, Superman represents the smartest and best of humanity, which is why he’s played by a handsome British.
If it sounds melodramatic, maybe it is, but it’s melodramatic in the best way possible. Like most good sci-fi, it uses the fantastic as a way to express the childish optimism that drives every human. To repay the sacrifices of our forebears by being faster, stronger, smarter, better, than anyone who came before us, to be invincible and live forever; the dream that maybe we can do it right this time, and realize the potential of the last 100,000 years. Isn’t that the psychological underpinning of all reproduction? Maybe I’m becoming a sentimental f*ck, but they totally sold me. I teared up more than once during the first act, which has never come even close to happening in a comic book movie before. Now, before you rightfully hang me from a locker by my underwear or beat me with socks filled with wet tampons, I should point out that a few factors contributed to this sentimentality.