Sunday, June 16, 2013
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's SUPERMAN!! Reflections on an American Icon
It's Summer movie blockbuster season. Iron Man 3 kicked it off. The Kryptonian Boy Scout flew into theaters this weekend. I've heard it's darker and lacks the lighter Humanistic outlook the previous incarnations had. Well,Christopher Nolan, writer/Director of The Batman Trilogy is on board. So, it should be expected that with him producing and co-writing the story, a darker, edgier Superman would emerge. The question is does darker and edgier work for Kal-El? Superman has always been tough to script.You have an invulnerable,super powerful protagonist.His adversaries tend to be Human, using technology. A confrontation should last moments. Thus over the decades since 1938 weaknesses have been added and discarded. He gets his power from a yellow sun. Radioactive fragments of his home world are deadly (Yeppers, Kryptonite).However, without some sort of FTL those fragments shouldn't be here for centuries. Wait, I'm applying internal logic to a guy who can fly. Never mind. He's vulnerable to magic as we all are. Thus we have Kryptonite powered cyborgs. Lex Luthor likes kryptonite weapons. There are foes who wield dark forces and arcane majiks. High tech aliens are a recurrent pest . Then there's the Phantom Zone Criminals.The Phantom Zone is a Kryptonian prison that occupies an adjacent Universe or Dimension. Once in a while a prisoner escapes. This does present a challenge to Supes as these guys and gals get powers too, They also tend not to be prissy about collateral damage.At times an old Family foe emerges to wreck havoc. General Zod in particular. The Forties radio program, Cartoons and the TV series from the Fifties said he fought for Truth, Justice and the American Way. So from the start of his multi-media exposure Superman has been larger than life. With his power he needed a lighter, more morally and ethically restrictive outlook on life. He couldn't go batshit crazy like his buddy Bruce Wayne. Rather than relying on fear like Batman, Superman relies in his belief of the ultimate goodness of humanity. Batman is rooted in vengeance and darkness. Superman springs from hope and a belief in our inherent desire to do what's right. That was part of the charm of the 1978 Christopher Reeves film, "Superman: The Movie". Instead of the wealthy,bleak, traumatized urban childhood of Bruce Wayne,Clark Kent grew up on a farm in the Nation's heartland. Reeves in his incarnation of the Character embraced the mid-western values Clark developed. To the urbane residents off Metropolis He was unsophisticated and naive.Superman could have been an arrogant, self righteous asshole. Chris played him as a hopeful, caring demigod. Reeves embraced the duality of Clark/Kal-El. The differences in posture, inflection, character and confidence. A humble Superman with a sense of wonder.To my generation Christopher Reeves was the Cinematic Superman. He flew through sequels, each more disappointing than the last until it fizzled out. None recaptured the joyful, hopeful exuberance of the first. TV took over the saga."Superboy" had a thirty year old playing a teen in tights. It was mercifully short lived, "Lois And Clark" was a fun, lighthearted chick lit take on the couple. Then came a decade of "Smallville". A well done look at Clark's journey to becoming the man who would be Superman. Warner turned Brian Singer loose with our favorite Kryptonian. Singer did a wonderful take on the first two X-Men and totally missed the essence of Superman. For some inexplicable reason he did it as a continuation of a thirty year old vision. That vision was sublime. In Singer's hands it seemed over deferential and derivative, lacking in originality. The film was so flawed and failed on so many levels we'll just forget it happened.. Now we have the "Man Of Steel". When Nolan was announced as Co-writer/Producer I had my doubts. A darker, edgy Superman doesn't really jibe with tradition. I'm all for innovation. But, there reasons some things are traditional. Because that take on the character is the right take. Even in the Comic Books and animated series Superman has a brighter, more colorful hopeful look and tone than Batman. Gotham City is a dark, violent, corrupt dying city. Batman reflects that. Metropolis is a bright futuristic city. Superman always reflected that. There has always been a marked difference in tone and outlook. That's why the Superman.Batman team ups have always been so popular. A boy scout and a psychopath Their differences are complimentary. So I look forward to seeing "Man Of Steel". Why not? I'm a fanboy. Plus I so like to have something to bitch about. OK Nolan, show me.