A Superman for no seasons

Man of Steel posterHopes are high that Man of Steel, which opens today, will do the impossible and be a genuinely good Superman film in the modern sense, but I’m not so sure.

It’s not that I doubt the acting talent of Henry Cavill, or the directing talent of Zach Snyder. I just think they’ve got the wrong Superman.

“What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society intended?” Jor El asks as the camera focuses on a butterfly stuck in the chain of a swing in the trailer. Subtle.

As far as his biological parents are concerned, baby Kal El’s biggest problem won’t be dealing with the reality of being an orphan from a dead world, it will be growing up in one that’s too limiting.

As the trailer continues, the disembodied voice of Jor El encourages his son to be an example for humanity to strive for. How? Humans can’t shoot lasers from their eyes.

Obviously, a character that’s been around as long as Superman is open to interpretation but, so far, this version seems more like an Ayn Rand character than Superman.

The two most important elements of Superman are his powers and his background. The powers are self explanatory, but Man of Steel has changed Superman’s background for the worse.

Yes, he was born on Krypton, but he was rocketed to Smallville, Kansas as an infant. Raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent, he was imbued with American values, not Kryptonian ones. He’s just as ignorant as the rest of us, he can just outrun a speeding bullet.

Superman isn’t an alien emissary sent to enlighten humanity; he’s a naturalized immigrant who just happens to have superpowers. He has the same values as the majority of people; he’s just in a position to act on them.

And while Superman has many amazing powers, super philosophy isn’t one of them. Throughout his career, he’s been more than happy to defend the status quo. Remember “Truth, Justice, and the American Way?”

Even in his more rebellious days during the 1930s, Superman’s ideas about social problems tended to conform to his human readers’. His ideas of social justice fit comfortably with FDR’s New Deal, and the only he time he intervened on a global scale to stop a non-super threat was when he dragged Hitler and Stalin to the League of Nations in a bid to prevent World War II (DC probably doesn’t consider this story canon).

In fact, Superman’s passivity has earned him more than a little ridicule from fans. His reputation as the “Big Blue Boy Scout” is so resilient that Frank Miller even turned him into a government lackey in The Dark Knight Returns, blindly following the orders of a Reagan-esque president.

Superman may be the original superhero, but the lack of conflict in his story has made it hard to keep him appealing to comics readers or moviegoers. Forcing Superman to confront the people he protects will definitely add conflict to the story of Man of Steel, but at the expense of his original characterization.

If the movie is anything like the trailer, this new, more alien, self-righteous Superman won’t be a good substitute for the one lifting a car on the cover of Action Comics #1.


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