The problem with Superman – at least so far as I can tell – is that the moviegoing public has simply outgrown his iconography. This happens to be one of the few self-referential points that 2006’s Superman Returns actually nailed right on the head. Ours is a cynical society where most people require proof and justification in return for their allegiance; where atheism trumps blind faith and DNA trumps idle hearsay. As such, intergalactic superheroes fail to connect on the same base-camp level as everyday human beings. This is why Batman has overtaken Superman as the most beloved comic book hero of all-time. This is why the so-called “curse” of Superman is really nothing more than some tabloid critic’s shortcut to analytical thinking.
Consider The Dark Knight trilogy – a multi-billion dollar success story that forever changed the way comic book heroes are portrayed on film. According to the updated superhero model, the origin story comes first, followed by a sequel that introduces the arch nemesis, both leading to a third film via which the stakes are infinitely raised and all overarching plot points get resolved.
The new Superman franchise looks to be constructed according to that same model. The unavoidable problem being that Superman’s long-accepted origin story is absolutely batshit crazy. I mean, we’re talking about a space alien here, one that defied all manner of universal logic to touchdown inside some Podunk Kansas cornfield. Keep in mind, this particular breed of alien has the exact same pore chemistry and physical build as a modern-day human being, this despite having been born to a disconnected species several thousand light years away.
This is precisely the level of hokum that renders the Superman phenomenon irrelevant. In fact, I’ll even go a step further and predict that Lex Luthor winds up being the most intriguing facet about the entire Man of Steel trilogy, specifically because that character represents the one thing modern audiences have come to identify with the most – a severely flawed human being with stunning brilliance and unconventional motives.
This is not to say that Superman is no longer profitable. Quite the opposite, in fact. Chances are, this new Man of Steel will own the box office from now until the 4th of July. And there’ll be a ton of ancillary marketing opportunities to cash in on along the way. A few summers from now, the requisite sequel will more than likely go on to outgross the original, and the final film in the trilogy, which’ll tease the unbelievable notion of Superman dying, will yield the biggest box office of all (Despite being the weakest story of all three).
Why is that? Simple: It’s because making great movies is no longer about making great movies. Making great movies is about making great money. And making great money is based upon an intricately-calculated formula for success. This is why Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen – an absolutely abysmal motion picture that Roger Ebert once compared to “going into the kitchen, cueing up a male choir singing the music of hell, and getting a kid to start banging pots and pans together” – was able to gross more than $830 million worldwide. This is why Vin Diesel still has an incredibly lucrative acting career. It’s all part of what The Wire‘s David Simon recently referred to as “The two greatest currencies of television” – one being sex and the other being violence.
Superman was, is, and always will be a one-woman man, which makes him hot, but by no means overtly sexual. His only inclination toward violence is in the protection of others. Whereas Bruce Wayne is both sexy and human (not to mention broodingly violent), Superman feels a lot more like some weird-ass alien boy scout. Iconically speaking, the 75-year old character represents a perfect reflection of our capital infrastructure – unimaginably profitable yet ultimately off-putting, unrelatable and meaningless.
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel does very little to soften that perception.
I mean, first of all, Zack Snyder, right? If you’ve been asking yourself who on earth Zack Snyder might have needed to fuck in order to land this gig, look no further than his current wife, Man of Steel co-producer Deborah Snyder. Lest anyone forget, this is the second comic book adaptation Zack Snyder has directed. The first was Warner Brothers’ The Watchmen, which fell somewhere between slow-labored and unwatchable. Despite the fact Man of Steel benefited from a screenplay co-written by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer (both of whom collaborated on Batman Begins) Snyder’s film feels not only bloated but completely disconnected from this – or any other – reality.
There are plotholes the size of meteors in this film. There is a complete lack of continuity throughout the first hour. There are deeply human moments that are immediately swept under the carpet via a series of catastrophic events. It’s precisely the type of thing that led Variety film critic Scott Foundas to suggest this movie might as well have been titled Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Spacemen. None of which is to dismiss Man of Steel altogether. Snyder’s movie does include some entertaining fight sequences, and Michael Shannon makes for a pretty formidable General Zod. But all told, there simply is no meat here, nothing substantial enough to really sink one’s teeth into. What’s more, about midway through the film, the increasing implausibility of just about every major plot point practically renders the whole thing unfathomable. By the time we get around to major wrap beats, the suspension of disbelief alone feels like enough to swallow you whole.
But, hey, what does all that matter, really? The important part is that you step up, pay your hard-earned money, and set your ass down in that bucket. All the rest is nothing more than popcorn duds and focus research. The men behind the Man of Steel have absolutely seen to it.
(Man of Steel arrives in theaters nationwide today.)