Stand up comedian - improviser - writer
  • A Symbol of Hope - Why Superman Can’t Go Commando

    Fri 21 Jun 2013  ·  11:05PM

    SPOILER ALERT - Contains some MAJOR details from Man of Steel – you have been warned.

    I should preface this by saying that I am the biggest Superman fan I know. I am aware of others (due to the wonder of the internet) who are considerably more involved than I am, but within my circle of actual friends who I could meet in the pub, it’s me. I’ve loved the character since I was young, and while I enjoy many other superheroes, none have yet come along to snatch away the top spot for my affection. Consequently, I go into every Superman film, TV show, and comic book, praying it’ll be good so that more will follow.

    In 2006, I went to see Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Unlike most of the world, I didn’t hate it. I didn’t think it was great, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as people made out. To my eyes, it had just two basic flaws – it lacked a villain for Superman to physically hit, and it was trying too hard to pay homage to the Christopher Reeve movies of the 70s and 80s, rather than attempting to stand on its own merits (also, Brandon Routh was probably a bit too pretty). Apart from that, I thought it did a competent job of portraying the character. As we know though, it was not considered successful enough to merit a sequel, and so the Superman franchise was thrown back into the cupboard of cinematic obscurity.

    Then, a few years ago, those of us who keep our ears to the ground for such news started to hear talk of a hard-reboot, with rumours that it would contain a villain Superman could and would actually punch. Many greeted these rumours with “yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it...”, so when news that Zack Snyder was attached to direct, and Henry Cavill had been cast in the title role, excitement started to spread that this could, finally, be the Superman movie we were waiting for. Further casting news that Lawrence Fishburne would play Perry White and Amy Adams would be Lois Line surprised me – as they’re not the obvious choices – but I thought both were great additions (and they’re both great in the movie, though Fishburne is under-used).

    However, then I saw the first full image of the new Super suit.

    The red pants were gone!

    It may seem ridiculous and trivial to the casual fan, but this was when I started to suspect that Snyder didn’t fully understand Superman.

    The red pants are a throwback to Victorian strongmen, who would wear similar garments over their spandex leotards. So, in 1933, when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were creating a spandex-wearing character that was stronger than normal men, they seemed like a natural fit.

    However, here, Zack Snyder had attempted to update the costume for the modern world, and removed the part of the costume that he felt was outdated and unnecessary. The trouble is, if you start thinking like that with Superman, it’s difficult to justify any of the costume – why does he wear knee-high red boots? Why does he need a cape? Why does he wear full body spandex? Surely there are more practical options he could be wearing?

    But that’s not the point. Superman carries old-fashioned values (Truth, Justice, and the American Way; always preferring to defend the helpless than to attack the aggressive), and his costume reflects that. If you take away that part of the character, then he’s a completely different being; a blunt weapon, built for destruction. And that’s exactly what he becomes in Man of Steel; determined to beat Zod, Superman fights on, frivolously destroying half the city, while leaving Perry White to rescue the helpless, trapped beneath the rubble that Superman helped create.

    But I also had another problem with the suit. Superman Returns used too darker red; in Man of Steel, the red’s right, but the blue... Well, it’s grey. Grey and shiny. Sure, in certain lights, it looks blue, but it’s almost always shiny, and most often grey. It’s never been shiny before – why on earth is it shiny now? The annoying thing is, the shape of the suit is right – far better than in Superman Returns – it’s so close!

    It’s incredibly frustrating, as again, it displays a lack of understanding of the character.

    Superman is supposed to be a beacon of hope; “a light for all mankind” (to paraphrase the movie), setting an example - showing us that there is a better way to live. That’s why you have to embrace the primary colours. He’s got to stand out. It may look a little silly, but if you’re thinking about it to that extent, the whole premise of the character is. Superman isn’t Batman; the average billionaire couldn’t train to become him, so there’s no point trying to ground him in that level of reality. Instead, throughout the film, all the colouring is very grey, and you never really sense the vibrancy that Superman should deliver.

    Don’t get me wrong, the suit isn’t my only gripe against the film – there are plenty of other things I didn’t like. To name but a few, the fight scenes being shot in close up is a cinematic pet-hate of mine (everything just ends up a blur); the preference of spectacle over story; the almost complete lack of humour; Jor-El, a scientist, holding his own in a fight with Zod, a soldier; Jonathan Kent foolhardy death, saving a dog and not even trying to get out of the way of a hurricane; the death of Emil Hamilton (could’ve been a major player across the shared universe); Superman’s ultimate Zod solution, etc. Though to be fair, on the other hand, I loved Henry Cavill as Superman and Russell Crowe as Jor-El; and I loved the action scenes that weren’t a blur, such as Clark saving the oil rig crew.

    However, if there’s going to be a Man of Steel sequel (which I imagine there is), the director and the scriptwriter have to embrace a couple of things. He’s an alien being, raised in Kansas; he can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes; he’ll always try to find a solution to conflict that doesn’t involve killing; he wears primary colours and his pants on the outside.
    The whole thing’s ultimately ridiculous – just embrace it!