Okay, I have to admit I’m just a bit excited about the new Superman movie. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that — not for reasons you may think — but I fell in love with that big goof when I was three years old and he never let me down.
Warner has put up a new trailer here, which seems to also provide a handy synopsis of the plot. Supes returns to earth after a years-long, unexplained absense. Lois has married a mortal and has a 9-year-old son. Lex Luthor has stolen technology from Superman’s Fortress.
The clip shows some really impressive super-power effects. The feel I have is that this film pays tribute to the 70s movies but builds on them with state-of-2006 effects and a more serious tone, probably also a tribute to the X-Men movies.
Until the X-Men and Spiderman movies, it always seemed like the makers of these things felt a little bit silly making such a project and had to throw in either a bit of clownishness, for the Supes movies, or an over-wrought style, for the Batman movies, to cover their own sense of self-importance. (“Yesss, I am workeeng with a vul-gahr cheeldren’s pop icon to decontstruct zee adventure gennnn-re and eks-a-plore zee intehrsticeez of zee recurseev space I am createeng.”)
It took the Raimi brothers abandoning all nerdly hang-ups with Spiderman, and playing him in a straightforward, unapologetic manner, to finally show what a super-spandex story could be like in cinema.
But there’s a side of me that wonders, is this a good thing? I’ve long had a theory of the super-altruist genre and archetype as having an overall negative quality. Get paid for providing a useful service? Heaven forfend! The gifted hero must give generously of his own self, forsaking all manner of self-gratification which might be his if only he acted like a normal human being.
I don’t disparage people who choose social goals as their inspiration in life. But if they aren’t getting paid by the people they serve directly, then someone else has to support them, and that means someone else has to fix cars, stock shelves, transport goods, grow food, manage factories, etc., etc., in order to feed, clothe and shelter these social workers, in addition to their own selves.
But people who work primarily to serve themselves and their children are not as “heroic” as the heroes. If the super-heroes must work to support themselves, they have some job not involving their super-abilities, and under secret identities, so you don’t know it’s really Suspenders Man who’s measuring you for a new suit. The secret identity might be explained as needed for privacy in “off-hours” or to protect friends and relatives from the hero’s enemies. But I think the real reason is so that people won’t know that these amazing demi-gods have to punch a time-clock, or shuffle paperwork, or wax floors to keep eating. The readers know, but the persona of the costumed hero is in this way kept separate from the work-a-day real person.
Why is this model of schizophrenic unreality presented as an heroic ideal? And why do we respond to it, even those of us who should know better?