The full trailer for Man of Steel is out. Tell us what you think!
Does the world need another Superman movie? A few weeks back, I caught the first trailer for Scott Snyder’s much anticipated Man of Steel, which is set to come out this June. Comfortable in my own fortress of solitude, I pumped up the volume and watched it again, and then again, again, and again. As unadulterated spectacle, it looks promising. I’ll grant you that. As a heavy-handed parable for god or man, who knows? To put it gently, Snyder has let us down before.
The director (or maybe his all-seeing producer Christopher Nolan, who can currently do no wrong for DC) seems to recognize that the enterprise is fraught with peril. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) was a major disappointment, both for fans and for Warner Bros. The Man of Steel trailer, which comes with a voiceover from Superman laid over a montage edited as tight as his spandex, issues the following challenge: “My father believed that if the world found out who I was, it would reject me. He was convinced the world wasn’t ready. What do you think?”
My guess is that this thread stems from the theory that humanity, by nature, fears what it doesn’t understand. Anyone willing to look can find evidence of this. However, there may be even more proof that man is desperate for someone to take care of him and clean up his mess, whether it be god, politicians, or Superman. We’ll whine and grumble the whole time but still kick back and let just about anyone take over to do the hard work.
It’s worth noting that Superman was created in 1932 by children of the Depression. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster conceived the rootless, lonely alien to inspire generations with his innocent confidence. A curious, ageless journalist, our hero travelled the world and found adventure in the four corners of the world accompanied by his white dog. Interestingly, Tintin did the same on the other side of the Atlantic, though with much less bluster and a great deal more tact. As exported cultural franchises go, the similarities and differences are striking, but are they connected? No.
In the 2012 mock biography Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, Larry Tye floats the opinion that each generation gets the Superman it deserves. If this is true, the most interesting chapter has got to be the one that drops the initial conceit of chronicling our hero’s life “as if he were a real person” and digs into the comics industry in general, most notably John Byrne’s relaunch of the Superman series in the early eighties. The enterprise was meant as an aggressive rebranding of the character, scaling back his powers and making him more human.
Snyder’s Man of Steel seems set to swing that pendulum in the opposite direction. Superman comes across as embodied Manifest Destiny. He can hear the world crying for help, but it’s simply too much to bear. The movie comes at a point when America is mired in costly wars resulting from an international policy that sometimes comes across as petulant, frustrated that the help it offers isn’t accepted with open arms. Does the world, let alone America, have the stomach for a new big screen version of Superman, for a story where American justice is won by overpowering force?
Batman may punch from the vantage of the one percent, but he still has to get his hands dirty and think his way through to the win. Superman leads with his chin, observes from on high, and then retreats to a fortress of solitude with never so much as a spec of dirt clinging to his uniform. He’s the comic book equivalent of an unmanned drone, seemingly clean and painless. After David Petraeus, after Lance Armstrong, after the twentieth century as a whole, audiences may find it difficult to accept the concept of an untarnished hero. We need heroes, maybe desperately, but those of the moment can’t inspire for longer than fifteen minutes.
If it’s true that the world gets the Superman it deserves, why have writers been struggling for years to craft an engaging story for him? Even scaled back, his powers are such that they suck all the air of the room. As acclaimed comic book writer Mark Waid once complained, “Every story with Superman in it becomes a Superman story.” The question therefore remains: does the world need another Superman movie? Maybe we’re just not ready.