Discuss: Is Superman Too Old Fashioned for 'Man of Steel' to Soar?
by Tyler Wantuch
June 26, 2013
Zack Snyder's latest Superman incarnation, Man of Steel, may prove that not all superheroes can be made over in the modern superhero style. The genre has become darker, richer in themes, and more complicated over the past few years. With the help of The Dark Knight's Christopher Nolan as producer and his trusty screenwriter David S. Goyer, Snyder planned to create a Superman film to match. What they didn't count on is that the ultimate do-gooder may not be capable of such a treatment. In a genre that now highlights a hero's shortcomings and tarnishes their morality, is it possible to show the darker side of a being who has only one weakness and who is supposed to be the beacon for truth, justice and the American way? Read on!
In short, you can't. With each step taken by Snyder to create a modern, troubled human cape, Superman became less super and more boring. For instance, Snyder chose to play up Kal-El's (Henry Cavill) alien-ness, using his isolation from both humans and his own kind as the reason for his internal angst. For nearly the entire film he hardly connects with anyone (that he's not related to, that is) on a personal level. Instead, we watch him wander about performing superhuman feats with a scowl - not exactly entertainment.
In fact, his path is the exact opposite of the rest of our modern, troubled capes. These darker characters tend to begin their journeys as impersonal and spend the rest of their time becoming more connected to humanity. For example, Tony Stark's journey takes him from jerky playboy all the way to jerky husband. The last Son of Krypton is presented very convincingly as an isolated drifter, but he never convincingly ends up close to anyone. By the end Kal-El, could barely even force an uncomfortable alien kiss with Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Snyder's alien Superman only pushed him farther away from the very humanity he is supposed to be protecting. Ignoring his human relationships simply to create a darker Superman seems to be missing the entire point of Superman. The film even highlights that he is to be the bridge between alien and human, yet Snyder's Superman seems to have little interest in human relationships.
Aside from this personal struggle, when we look at the man himself, we find Superman is a little out of place. The genre is urrently filled with edgy, flawed, and witty heroes, who draw us in with their energy and versatility. Kal-El, with his quiet demeanor, powerful restraint, and well-intentioned heart, seem miles away from the likes of Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne. But this isn't Superman's fault. The hero comes from a time when quiet restraint was the definition of manliness. Superman was a powerful beacon of hope for an unstable America. His perfection was idolized and revered as a physical representation of the American dream; a boy from Smallville destined to save the world.
Today perfection is picked apart and criticized. We hunger for the internal secret sides of our heroes and are eager to see what makes them real. Superman does not belong in a world with such dark interests. His perfection is his power, the exact opposite of the modern-age hero like Batman whose weakness, his fear, becomes his power. Again we find the filmmakers eager to match the recent tone of superhero films while ignoring how un-perfect Superman may be for such a revision. The best way around this would be to pair the steady leader Superman with an energetic and flawed sidekick. Spock and Kirk, Captain America and Iron Man, and Wolverine and Cyclops feed off of each other. But the successful solo films are centered on the edgy, flawed hero. X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Iron Man, and J.J. Abrams' Star Trek are all focused correctly whereas Man of Steel just winds up feeling boring.
Even the overarching struggle Superman faces seems to be a bit outdated. Snyder chose a rogue group of bandits, led by General Zod (Michael Shannon), who attempt to rebuild a Krypton on Earth. The legacy of Krypton is built on the very un-American practice of fatalism. Each Kryptonian's destiny is decided before birth; he or she may become a soldier, a worker, or a leader, but the Kryptonian is bred for this specific purpose and no other. Superman's biological father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), sums up a more American vision of life, when he questions General Zod, "What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?" Of course, Jor-El is a bit of a hypocrite as he has already destined his own son to be the bridge between Earth and Krypton.
But nonetheless, our nation's fear of caste systems and communism seem to be dwindling these days. The film correctly places Superman up against a backwards-thinking force that is threatening not only humanity's existence but also the American freedoms that he and his Kryptonian father stand for. But these pre-destined maniacal enemies did not grab my attention the way Thor's manipulative trickster brother Loki or the chaotic Joker we found in The Dark Knight did. This is because modern monsters lurk around each corner and invade our homes. They are not ancestral madmen hiding in a spaceship. Today they are darker than our dark heroes, often preying on the internal weaknesses that plague our heroes. A much more interesting foe would be one that dug at Superman's internal struggle of being destined for greatness while being taught to fear it. Zod and crew instead lead a predictably bland path for Superman to walk (or fly).
With each passing offense (isolating Superman from humanity; focusing on a bland, outdated do-gooder; and choosing equally bland villains), the movie became increasingly placid and forced. The filmmakers seemed preoccupied with matching the current trends and much less about finding a modern take on the classic hero. This raises a very interesting question that we would love to hear you answer...
Is Superman too outdated to reboot, or is Man of Steel just not up to snuff?