Last year I did a post appraising my love for Bond prior to seeing Skyfall. Now another blockbuster has just come based on another hero of mine so thought I might indulge in the same thing. I have tickets for an IMAX showing on Thursday so have not seen it yet and would like it to remain unspoiled so please don’t comment/tweet anything about the plot to me. Thanks!
First thing’s first, Background: I’ve always been a DC man more than Marvel. DC are not doing very well at the moment however and Marvel are steam rolling over the whole of the comic book industry at the moment so this is a poor place to sit really. I am also a big Nolan fan and loved the Dark Knight trilogy. I also grew up (and I mean ‘grew-up’ I watched them as a toddler) on the Richard Donner/Richard Lester movies. Superman 1 & 2 are immovable favourites that I love dearly, and I even have a soft spot for 3 due to the Clark vs Superman-in-a-tip duel. Superman’s comics I run hot and cold with, Curt Swan’s depiction is my touchstone for his image and I prefer the early comics but there are several of the slightly more esoteric and more recent stories I do rather like. Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee’s ‘For Tomorrow’ is a favourite and the Super Star tag team of Loeb and Sale’s ‘A Superman for All Seasons’ is an absolute classic of any comic book. I never read any of the Grant Morrison thread which leaves me at a disadvantage as this is apparently Goyer and Nolan’s source material. I have nothing but undisguised contempt for Superman Returns however, which was the last attempted cinematic ‘reboot’. I got incredibly excited about that film and was utterly crushed by it in a similar way to when I saw that pile of … whatever it was they had the audacity to call Indiana Jones 4. Returns ‘should’ work – Routh, Beckinsale and Spacey are great casting, it had John Williams’ theme, that title sequence, etc but it was its god-awful script that ruined it for me. The screenplay golden rule should forever and ever be “DO NOT INTRODUCE A CHILD”.
As such my relationship to this current film is already pretty complex.
Make no mistake I love Superman – I went to school dressed as him as a 6 year old – but due to the tidal wave of confusion that has greeted Man of Steel on opening day I am initially reticent. I am keeping an open mind and being very careful about whose opinion I look too. Many, many, many people are out for this film’s blood. There are those people (like my brother and a few nameless friends) who are classicists who will not have a modern retelling of their tried and trusted favourites, who fear change and attack rabidly all that comes to ‘reboot’ – see Star Wars, Batman, Indiana Jones, etc. By and large I can understand. I love Burton’s Batman, but equally love Nolan’s, Star Wars is a knottier one but I tackled that elsewhere, Indy 4 was just a plain badly made film. As such I can understand people’s pre-judging of this film. Other people are of the ‘Fanboy’ nature, something I describe as the Vacuum of Reasoned Debate where they hate it because ITS SUPERMAN, HOW STUPID?! or MARVEL IS WAY BETTERZ! etc. Be careful this bias will come very well disguised by mountains of convincing looking ‘evidence’ and technical stats and data. It does just boil down to prejudice ultimately. My prejudice is, I want to like this film. Snyder isn’t a favourite director but Nolan and Goyer’s Batman is and I want to be excited by a man flying around in a cape and pounding superhero bad guys again. So what’s my problem?
Superman is a God. The word continually being dropped around this film is ‘Jesus’. A lot of preliminary criticisms that seem worth a damn and aren’t from those prejudiced parties mentioned are bemoaning something of a christian rhetoric within the film (some have voiced Scientology could be in the mix as well but I’m very sceptical about that POV) so it seems like this maybe a genuine concern. In the trailer Clark is dragged into a pile of skulls, I have no context for that shot but it seems heavily laden in imagery (perhaps deliberately), someone also commented he holds a christ-on-the-cross pose at one point, not to mention the fairly overwhelming parallells of the Superman’s story anyway: son of a carpenter, coming to terms with his gifts, saviour of mankind, blah blah blah.
There is also the criticism of a lack of humour. Apparently laughs are few on the ground and the, ironically rather pompous, criticism that it takes itself to seriously. Both sighted as problems with recent Batman and Bond films. So the evidence against it begins to mount.
I have a problem with all these criticisms and the people who make them however and this is without having seen the film, might I add. Change and experimentation does not seem to be valued by any of them. This does not dismiss christian imagery or a dour tone which are decidedly negative points against a film if true but it does dismiss people criticising on past merits. I find it amusing that no one criticised Iron Man 3 for its INCREDIBLY heavy handed political themes yet ripped the Dark Knight films to shreds for its own deliberately disparate ones. Whether you loved or loathed them Nolan’s Batman films were Art House films with a blockbuster budget. Many would say a man in tights and a cape has no place in that genre. You might be right. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried and I think it takes a very backwards mind to say they weren’t at least technically successful films (they’re structurally cohesive – just -, entertaining and made a lot of money). Same with the Star Wars prequels. Agreed they weren’t as good as the originals, they were certainly different. My problems with Indy 4 and Superman Returns is fundamentally that they were too reverential of their source material. The Marvel Universe on screen as it has become, is very adherent to its canon (obviously) and the comics (particularly Hawkeye) are making a great investment in a sort of retro chic in their design and execution. Man of Steel, from what I hear and the clips I have caught seems very much an experiment. It seems a long and elegiac tale of a hero trying to find a place in a world suddenly swamped by alien technology and where, in an age of social media and the internetz, identity is mandatory yet he is unable to acquire one. Seems like a pertinent little parable to me. An alien appraising our bizarre little race is always a fun thing to consider whether its done with a tongue in its cheek or not, so to my mind Man of Steel holds all the promise of the comics and the original films I loved so much. They are set in the moment with themes that carry across more than one nation. Superman will always be divisive, particularly to foreign audiences due to the near jingoism of his iconography, but the prospect of something actually challenging from such an innocuous and belittled genre is why I like comics in the first place. Computer games and comic books have been making bold and strong commentary on our modern world easily comparable to much lauded (and over hyped) output from cinema and literature.
In this way you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You make a slavishly reverential remake and people will hate it, make a massive departure in tone and appearance people will hate it. Superman comes burdened with three quarters of a century of baggage that it cannot escape. Throwing that history at it to weaken it is a sad and unnecessary gesture. What this should say is that maybe now is the time to put a bolt gun through the heads of the sacred cows and move on. Wipe out all the current superheros and comics and start new ones, give up on computer game and movie franchises, endless sequels, rip offs and wank and actually stretch ourselves into new and innovative areas where creators are not weighed down by our Bibliographic society of trial by comparison and maybe, just maybe the audience will rise to the challenge and accept and adore and mature with such interesting and original developments in culture and the arts.
And while I’m dreaming I’d like 10 million pounds and a girlfriend that works for Cadburys please…
Whatever. I for one shall hold my breath. I am incredibly intrigued by the prospect of an honestly challenging film utilising modern myth – modern myth that can easily be pressed together with classical myth incedentally to all the “ITS CHRISTIAN!” naysayers. I am also prepared for it to suck out loud, naturally, but there’s always the possibility it could be good which for some people seems REALLY hard to consider. In our post modern world in which we live where EVERYTHING has twenty meanings and is only ever judged on its comparison to a previous incarnation, it delights me that something so high profile and mainstream seems to have really quite confused people. I am trying to maintain an open mind for now and look forward to my seat in the cinema in a week’s time. But what do I know, I’m a DC/Nolan fanboy with his head in the sand, right?
Give me strength.
Incidentally, Man of Steel can never be as good as Donner’s epoch-making, superhero franchise progenitor because it doesn’t have this: