SPOILERS FOR MAN OF STEEL AHEAD
Man of Steel is the single most important movie event of my life.
It seems hyperbolic when I say that, especially if you take into consideration how many movies I have seen in my lifetime that have moved me and had a profound impact. While I’m a man of schedules, structure, and rigidity, I’ve always secretly been a dreamer and found more “life” in arts. Movies, TV shows, music, books, and video games will always touch me on an emotional level more than real life, with the exception of my family and friends, of course.
We live in a world that’s rapidly becoming more morally gray by the minute. Anti-heroes, heroes who kill, heroes with baggage, heroes who are arrogant and narcissistic are all the rage these days. Very few things are a clear black and white now, but at the very heart of my soul, I am still a fairly black and white individual. There’s a distinct right and wrong to me. It’s how I live my life, it’s what I will teach my kids, and while what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” may be vague, I know it when I see it.
That’s what Superman has always represented to me. Politics and opinions don’t drive him; doing what’s right does. Heroes with that mindset have always appealed to me; this is why I will always be a bigger Captain America fan than an Iron Man fan (even though they are both awesome). While Cap (especially in the comics) has been perceived as somewhat naive and out of touch with his morals, the fact of the matter is he has them and he wears them on his sleeve. He’s not multi-layered, he’s not conflicted; he’s simply here to do what’s right. Even in a universe changing event like the Marvel Civil War, he stuck by his guns until his assassination. Same with Superman.
As a kid growing up, living a life of work and school wasn’t that exciting. Because my parents owned their own business and worked 24/7, 365 days a year and never took one day off, I did not get to participate in many activities that my friends did. I didn’t get to play in Little League, no camps, no Boy Scouts, nada. Most of my time was spent alone, with my thoughts. This is where comic books came into play, and why a character like Superman resonated so loudly with me. He’s a “superhero” in every sense of the word.
The comics were great, but it wasn’t until I saw the great Christopher Reeve bring Superman to life when the fandom really got kicked to 11. Here was Superman, living and breathing and OMG HE CAUGHT THE HELICOPTER!!!!! HE’S REAL!! Here was this representation of all that was good, and he was real on the movie screen.
But somewhere along the line, cynicism became a thing, and Superman became a joke, turning into nothing more than a big boy scout to be made fun of by the “cooler” superheroes. I don’t know if people became disillusioned with life or just started demanding more from their heroes, but somewhere along the way Batman, a guy who is borderline the villain, became the go-to hero (I love Batman too, by the way). Superman became “lame.” Right and wrong suddenly opened up and became debatable; it became varying degrees of right and varying degrees of wrong, and someone as simplistic as Superman just didn’t work in the new, angry America.
I saw a trailer for Man of Steel recently when my wife and I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness, and two guys sitting in front of us started snickering during the trailer. When it finished, I heard one of them say to the other “Superman is lame; he just a guy that’s super strong and can fly.” Sorry guys, but you proved your ignorance by completely misunderstanding the point of Superman. I’m sorry Superman isn’t an arrogant ass to other people so you can get a few cheap laughs in. I’m sorry he’s not super emo (pardon the pun), always scowling and hating the world. I’m sorry he’s not a brutal killer who never wanted to be a hero, but does so with great reluctance. I’m sorry he’s not a vigilante, always operating on the wrong side of the law.
No, Superman is better than all that. He’s better than all that because he’s not human, yet becomes the most human of us all through his compassion for life. He’s better because all those lessons we were taught as kids (be nice, help people, etc.), all those lessons that we now ignore, he lives by. And he can owe most of his nature to his fathers.
I just experienced my second Father’s Day this weekend, and it’s doubly special this time around since I have a son on the way. The Superman myth, if anything else, has taught me the importance of having a good father figure in life. I read somewhere the other day that the difference between Superman and Batman lies in the fact that Superman becomes this great, selfless hero due to an abundance of good fathers in his life, while Batman is a borderline psychotic due to a lack of a father figure in his (unless you want to count Alfred). While that’s simplifying things a bit, I do have to agree that probably plays a huge role in the people these two men become.
This is where Man of Steel comes into play. The movie is exactly what I had hoped to see with a modern day Superman. I’m not a big fan of the New 52 Action Comics version of Superman. I don’t like a version of the character that’s a dick and acts more like Deadpool than Kal-el. I understand DC is trying to appeal to the new generation of comic readers, but is that really the type of personality we want to encourage? Do we really need to create and encourage MORE jackassery in today’s #YOLO generation? There are enough bad role models today; no need to turn Superman into one of them.
Man of Steel retains the “good” Superman. It’s an epic movie that finally does justice to the character. It finally gives Supes something to fight, and we all get to watch with the glorious new technology available in film-making. I will never, ever, ever, ever speak ill of the Superman/Zod/Non/Ursa battle in Superman 2; that was my first ever superhero/super villain smackdown, and it will always mean something very special to me. As a child watching these 4 “gods” throw down on the streets of Metropolis had a very profound impact on me, as I hope it will also have on my kids when they watch it for the first time.
But let’s face it; as much nostalgia as watching that fight in Superman 2 is, as a 32 year old some of that magic is lost. The effects look dated, and even though I try to sit there and recapture some of that wonder I had as a child, it’s just hard to do so. Superman Returns was decent in the effects department, but they didn’t give any supervillains for him to fight; it was mostly just a bunch of “feats of strength” scenes (the plane rescue, saving people, lifting the landmass out of the water, etc).
Man of Steel changed all of that. I have rarely been as emotional as I was while sitting in the theater watching MOS. It took me back to that feeling as a kid, staring up at the screen in wonder as Superman, THE Superman battled with evildoers. It was living comic book panels jumping out at me in all their celluloid glory. I felt it again; here was the real Superman battling Zod and Faora right in front of me. That’s the biggest compliment I can give to Henry Cavill, and although Christopher Reeve will always be the one and only Superman to me, I did not once think of Mr. Reeve during the movie. I’m hoping he’s proud of Cavill’s portrayal, because I sure would be.
Perhaps the one scene that spoke the most loudly to me was when Superman was finally forced to kill Zod. Cavill’s performance was heartbreaking as you got to see a Superman that was pushed beyond his morals and was forced to kill Zod in order to save innocents. You saw how it nearly broke Superman to commit murder, and you knew that even though he begged Zod to stop and was left with no other choice, his morals still drove his actions.
Or as director Zach Snyder puts it himself (according to The Empire Film Podcast via IGN): “If it’s truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained…I felt like, if we could find a way of making it impossible for him – Kobayashi Maru, totally no way out – I felt like that could also make you go, ‘This is the why of him never killing again.’ He’s basically obliterated his entire people and his culture, and he is responsible for it, and he’s just, like, ‘How could I ever kill again?’”
Man of Steel, most importantly, gave me a Superman that retains the core goodness of the character. It showed me that in today’s ultra-cynical, hateful world, Superman can still maintain his core morals and not immediately be dismissed by the general public.
That gives me hope. This means that as my kids grow up in an ever increasingly hateful world that is slowly eating itself, a character like Superman can still be embraced. This means that morality is not dead, and that people still see something in the inherent nature of Superman that appeals to them. Thank goodness for that.