I have a confession: I’ve been a bit ambivalent towards Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel, a reboot of the Superman movie franchise. It’s not because Snyder isn’t a great director (I liked both Watchmen and 300), and it’s not because the cast isn’t amazing (though I didn’t exactly warm to Henry Cavill at first…he’s grown on me). It’s really because I thought Superman, as a character, was done. Played out. Cliche.
Honestly, I felt like he simply wouldn’t resonate with the current culture. Too old. Too moral. Too good. Or, as my friend Tom Towhey put it, “I just cant get excited about a Superman movie. The Boy Scout* is just too invulnerable.”
*Bonus points to Tom for quoting from Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns.
Even when the trailers started popping up, I wasn’t into it. The visuals looked great and there was a real sense of nostalgia for the character, but there wasn’t much to win me to the story. It seemed as if it might be weighty, but in a bad way. Overly moralistic, or too much navel gazing; I’m all for character development and exposition, but when it comes to Superman, I’d also like to see the dude fly and do the things that amazed me as a kid. I figured those elements would be there, but they seemed de-emphasized. Call it The Nolan Effect.*
*The movie is executive produced by Christopher Nolan, the man who brought you The Dark Knight Trilogy.
So I turned my attention to Iron Man 3, a film that seems like the perfect kick-off to summer: light, funny, with moments of gravity and character development timed just right. Plus, it’s the return to the ridiculously fun Marvel film universe, a place where fun and story find the right balance. In other words, films that capture the spirit of our country in this post-modern, post-Christian, post-nearly-everything age.
I mean, honestly: who better personifies the current culture than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark?
But then Monday happened. Once again, our country was devastated by acts of terror and we watched the bloody aftermath of a world without safety. Despite the celebratory nature of Patriot’s Day in beautiful Boston, there was nothing fun in those moments. There was no ironic humor. There was simply the cries and moans of people once again made victim to the ultimate truth about our own existence: that we are vulnerable. No matter how much we might think otherwise.
Out of this chaos rose the familiar fear that our world is rapidly falling apart; that we stand at a point in history when the evil men do threatens to finally overwhelm us, finally push us into a permanent state of danger and fear.
And into the aftermath, amid the pundits and postulation, nestled between the cries for help and the cries for blood, this video was released:
Suddenly, I got very excited to see Man of Steel.
Now, it’s not for reasons you might think. Sure, this trailer showed far more action than the previous ones, and the scope of the film went from “movie” to “MOVIE”. But what really struck me was the truth of the character, why he not only exists but sticks around in our collective minds: he reminds us that we need heroes. Not just men and women who can be heroic, but true heroes. People who do what is right because it is right. The trailer gave me faith that the movie was landing at the perfect time in our collective consciousness because we need to be reminded that the darkness that threatens us will not win.
We need Superman because we need hope.
I’m not saying the movie isn’t escapism – it is. But it calls us to a place where our hopes aren’t dashed by the evil that rises. It calls us to a place where notions like honor, virtue, sacrifice, courage, goodness, faith, and other old-fashioned ideals, not only exist, they shine against the blackness that seems to consume our world. A world where we pull for the hero because he is a hero.
Sure, they’re rewriting the myth with this movie. There’s no kryptonite. There’s no Lex Luthor (as far as I know). It’s going to be much more inward-turmoil that drives this Superman; he’ll become who he is because he goes on a great internal quest, forced to embrace his destiny by the violence and evil of another being. In short, we’ll see our national identity crisis played out on the big screen, and we’ll have to ask ourselves: will we become a nation of heroes, or will we fall to the men who wish to bring us down.
I for one will have no problem wanting to slap on a bright red cape and go flying into the face of fear. I felt that pull while watching the trailer; I feel it even more as I continue to read stories about the bombs and plans of the Boston terrorist(s). In a world of madness, we need to be inspired – reminded – that hope lives.
And hope wins.
Call me a nerd. Call this the unrepentant ramblings of a man who spent too much time reading comics as a kid, too much time visiting far-off worlds where lesser imaginations made sure that the good guy always won. Call me naive. Call me whatever.
But don’t miss this: of all our fictional heroes, of all the invented men and women this country has produced to try and sum up our fractured corporate identity, the character of Superman holds the most resonance, the most sentimental value. Now ask yourself, why is that?
It’s because deep down, past the ironic cynicism that has come to color our perceptions, we want to believe a man can fly. We want to believe in heroes.
Now, perhaps, more than ever.