Sunday, July 9, 2006
Still room for heroes even in this culture: Or: why I was wrong about comic book movies
I really didn't think it could be done. I really had given up after dozens of disappointments and false hopes. In general, I really didn't think any comic book movie could ever again produce the kind of good feelings, excitement, and genuine cheesy grin that I had watching movies when I was younger. And specifically, I didn't think the new Superman movie could be done in this culture without some serious changes made to the way he is portrayed.
Oh, how wrong I was, and how thankful I am to admit it.
Superman was the first comic book movie in a long, long time to give me goosebumps. No, it was not from the overwhelming action scenes or from over the top battle sequences. It was because the new Superman had a kind of meaning that no recent superhero movie has.
Spiderman represents an ordinary kid, to whom many of us could relate, but who gains extraordinary powers. We journey along with him, experience what he experiences as he grows into his powers and is challenged in exciting and visually stunning ways. Batman is a tour de force in dark heroism, a distant and strange person passionate about crushing the injustice about which we all feel so frustrated and helpless.
But Superman comes off in the movie as a hero. He is a towering figure of good whom we look upon and wish we could be like. We can't relate to him but we instinctively want to rise to his example. We look at him and say, "that is how people are supposed to act!" More than any movie of its kind in many years, this is a movie about a guy that the world needs.
I really didn't think it could be done, not in this culture. Ours is a world of cynicism, where the least act of heroism is quickly picked apart for selfish motives. Heroes are not heroes as they have been in the past. This is a world as The Incredibles describes--ones in which superheroes are sued for collateral damage and for offending the sensibilities of villain-victims. Bryan Singer and the team which produced Superman are to be congratulated for their daunting task: taking the classic figure of Superman in all his unspoiled goodness and placing him in our cynical world in such a way that our world comes out looking as hollow and corrupted and soulless as it actually is. That is a grand, perhaps even superhuman, achievement. And that is why I am profoundly grateful for this newest movie.