It’s not perfect, but Superman Returns was a great movie that satisfied the fanboy in me while raising interesting questions about what role, if any, a Superman can play in the modern world. It’s hard to be a Superman fan. I’ve always liked the character, the concept, but I know that most people don’t find him as cool as Batman or heck, Wolverine. (In fact, my all-time favorite comic book character is Spider-Man – Supes only comes in second, heh.)
The main complaint against him is that he’s too boring and too powerful. A Boy Scout. A product of simpler times, a character who’s out of step with the modern world and a more sophisticated audience. Whether you like the character or not, love Superman Returns or hate it, I think we have to consider how huge an accomplishment this movie was. Never mind the long and winding road that finally led to Superman’s return. The biggest challenge is getting a cynical public to actually care about a character like Superman.
Over the decades, what we’ve seen is a backlash against heroes. Many of us no longer believe in them. We’ve seen too many idols with clay feet; we’ve heard too many lies. The sad thing, however, is that we have forgotten the capacity to believe that people can be good. Marvel humanized heroes, showing that they were far from perfect, but the appeal of a character like Spider-Man is that he strives to do the right thing even during the worst of times.
It’s one thing to humanize heroes; it’s another, however, to turn them into vigilantes, anti-heroes or just plain psychos. But that’s precisely what happened to many of them when the public clamored for grim and gritty heroes.
Faced with a character like Superman, instead of awe some might react by trying to bring him down to our level, to show that he can’t possibly be better than we are, that, after all, the hero is a fraud. Or you might see him as truly alien, someone infinitely powerful, someone who cannot know the passions and frustrations of mere mortals, someone we can’t relate to because he is simply too perfect.
These interpretations of Superman and more have been created over the decades. But the character endures. His is a myth that is known by people all over the world, whether they know him through comic books, animation, the movies, the Internet, or old TV shows. In that sense, Superman, more than Batman, more than Spider-Man, has transcended his comic book roots and maybe, just maybe, his American origin. In fact, you’ll notice that the movie mentions truth and justice, but not the American way.
This is not a knock against the US, and of course Superman is still clad in the colors of the American flag and retains the values he learned from growing up in a farm in a rural American town. But now, more than ever, Superman belongs to the world.
I’m conflicted about some of the decisions made with this movie, particularly the twist, but the aspects that struck me the most was that technology was now able to more satisfyingly depict on the big screen just how powerful Superman is, yet the same CGI magic (and the story, of course) was also able to show how vulnerable, how far from perfect this Man of Steel is.
You also have to see how this movie depicts the way Superman flies – how effortless it is, in stark contrast to the aggressive manner in which previous Supermen rocketed to the sky. This Superman floats in an almost ethereal fashion; flying is as simple, as normal to him as walking.
I’d like to think of this movie as the end of one trilogy, as it’s supposed to be the sequel of Superman: The Movie and Superman II. I can’t wait to see where Bryan Singer takes Superman in the next movie.
In the 70s, the first Superman movie told us that we will believe a man can fly. In the Zeroes, we need to believe that not only can a man fly, but that this man can be a hero. He is a hero not because of his powers, not just because he was born a hero and destined for this role, but because every day he chooses to be a hero. He is here to save the world – even if in the end it might be a world that hates him and thinks it has already outgrown him.
Superman exists to make us believe that, one day, we too can take flight.