With Middle East governments destabilizing, winter storms turning the gutters into leaking yet impenetrable ice dams, and a partially torn Achilles tendon in a boot that forces me to walk like RoboCop (as opposed to normally when I choose to walk that way), today I’m going to complain about something serious: Hollywood’s use of Superman.
They’ve cast Superman for a new film, and he’s Henry Cavill an impressive looking relative unknown. A fine choice as long as they used the, “Lois…there’s something I have to tell you,” scene from the original for his screen test…otherwise it hardly matters.
Once again, it looks like Warner Brothers does not understand the characters they own. I learned here that the female lead will not be Lois Lane. That write up has the important reasons detailed why this is a bad idea, you should go read them, and I’ll wait …
Welcome back. There’s a new add on indicating the role may be Ursa, but since that may show this film is heading down the path of Superman Returns, my nerd rage can continue with only a slight change in direction. Many times when DC characters get made into films, the movie makers look for ways to make them more flawed and realistic characters. Unfortunately, they aren’t…they’re mythological style icons. If you make them more flawed and realistic, you get Marvel characters.
Batman as a more realistic version of a millionaire orphan playboy: that’s Iron Man. Bruce pretends to be a hard partying womanizer, Tony is.
Batman as a more realistic version of obsessively driven violent vigilante: that’s Daredevil.
Bruce makes his foes think he’s completely over the edge unhinged, Matt frequently is.
DC characters are often more symbol than person. I just reread the Death and Return of Superman arc. The best parts of that story were reactions of other characters. Losing someone so much a part of your life (for good or ill) that it seems inconceivable that they can be gone is something most people have to deal with at one time or another. Superman symbolized that for EVERYONE. His replacements in that arc are also great demonstrations of why shifting Superman in trendy directions away from the core myth is a bad idea.
The 1978 movie got it right, which is why it’s not only a classic, but a blueprint for super hero origin movies. Unfortunately, it got it so right that Superman Returns treated the original FILMS as iconic, instead of the CHARACTERS, leading to a somewhat lumpy result, and causing some to desire a push away from the elements used in those films.
Here are my concerns about that pushing away:
This first is Lois, which again, has been covered, but her importance can’t be overestimated. Superman is often shown saying he can’t belong to “one person”. He even said that specifically to Lana Lang in a couple of stories (and remember, Lana was created to basically be a teenage version of Lois for Superboy.) But Lois was created to BE that one person who gets in touch with his “human side” and gives him the hope that he acts as a symbol of to everyone else. Heck, she named the guy, and there was a comic called “Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane” that ran for over 130 issues. She’s the one. The Nolan Batman movies worked very well with a new love interest, but the identity of the love interest isn’t important to the Batman myth, just that it ends badly for him. Note that in these films, and other well done adaptations, Commissioner Gordon and Alfred are well written and developed characters. They represent Batman’s strongest influences, just as Lois is Superman’s.
Then there is kryptonite. Again, I’ve seen many complaints that they use Kryptonite too much in Superman films. Kryptonite has become like Kleenex (and I’m not just using its color to make a booger joke this time.) Whenever a weakness is brought up, not only for super heroes, but especially there, Kryptonite is invoked. If Kosher Pastrami Man can only be defeated by Swiss Cheese, then Swiss Cheese is referred to as “Kosher Pastrami Man’s Kryptonite”. So in a Superman story, when they want to show “Superman’s Kryptonite” guess what? It’s the real El Guapo…I mean Kryptonite!
(Actually Superman’s other real weakness is magic, but don’t hold your breath for magic to show up in the “realistic non childish” type of superhero films we have now. That’s also why we have no Robin in the new Batman films. God forbid we have any hint of silliness in our story of a man who dresses in high tech winged pajamas to go out and beat up a clown. And while I’m ranting, Batman is not more realistic than Superman. The sheer amount of improbable things that have to line up to make Batman possible are WAY less likely than the notion that an alien could have abilities far beyond ours. )
Another item that’s dancing around my head (on this topic anyway, it’s crowded in there) is the use of Lex Luthor. Again, many are hoping that some other villain is used in the new film. I think not. If there’s any man, beast or alien attacking Superman, Luthor should be funding, supporting, or looking to control it. Luthor is the one person that Superman’s message of hope doesn’t reach, there’s no way to convince him that anyone could be “that good”. Superman is “that good” again, because he’s an icon, that’s his job. Luthor is actually close to an evil version of Batman, well funded, well supplied, and well planned. He’s the pinnacle of human achievement, but also of human jealousy. He claims he’s trying to prove that humanity has no need of “the Alien”, but really wants all of Superman’s accolades for himself. There can be other main adversaries, but Luthor’s presence should at least be acknowledged. More than any other villain, Luthor provides the best contrast to Superman by simply not believing in him. No amount of evil super powers can compare to that. (As another aside, this is why the stories of Batman and Superman work best when they are friends. Bruce has every reason to believe the same things Lex does, but he doesn’t because, when written correctly, Superman inspires hope even to Batman’s dark world.)
Superman also inspires people to go, “Wow!” a great deal, so we’ll need Jimmy there to put a face on that…I’m just sayin’.
DC characters are icons requiring myth like tales to use them correctly. Superman is the icon of icons, the first, and the original. In order to have it be the character that has been successful for over seventy years, the elements of the myth need to remain intact. The myth doesn’t need rewriting to create new stories, there are a myriad of creative possibilities from such a strong foundation.
However, if Superman’s squeeze turns out to be Lori Lemaris as a method of leading the way into a new and uber-awsome Aquaman film…I withdraw this entire essay.