Super Specific | It’s time to revamp Superman

Super Specific is a bi-weekly blog about superheroes in pop culture.

By Diana Velasquez, Contributing Editor

I like “Man of Steel.” Come at me, internet, I’ll say it loudly and proudly. I really like this movie. The action is superb, the first 20 minutes on Krypton was mesmerizing to watch and yes, I like looking at Henry Cavill’s face and abs and general everything. I think he’s a great Superman.

Many people do not agree with me. 

Truthfully I think a lot of people don’t like “Man of Steel” because Zack Snyder directed it, and Snyder’s relationship with his fans and haters deserves a whole article of its own. But let’s start with something simpler, the 2013 Superman reboot divided fans and critics alike because of DC’s “dark movie” problem. 

DC released “Batman Begins” in 2005, attempting to revamp the Batman franchise after the campy, overblown and complete box office failure that was “Batman and Robin” in 1997. 

Christopher Nolan directed the film and sparked the age of a nitty-gritty street-level Batman. Armed with a Warner Bros-level movie budget, a really good script and all the CGI and stunt work that a director could ever want, Nolan went on to make what is definitely the best superhero movie trilogy ever.

The sequel, “The Dark Knight,” on its own is almost universally heralded as the best superhero movie of all time, and for good reason. My favoritism for Marvel aside, I could probably quote most of “The Dark Knight.” It’s a masterpiece of a movie, and it won big time awards, such as Heath Ledger’s posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as the Joker. 

But even if Nolan’s success gave superhero movies the critical credibility to match their box office weight, his gloomy depiction of Batman seemed to signal to every other moviemaker in Hollywood that if they wanted their superhero movies to be “good” they also needed to be “dark.”

Filmmakers don’t always execute this well. Director Matthew Vaughn managed to capture a “Nolan-inspired” tonal reboot pretty well in “X-Men: First Class,” while other superhero movies such as the failed “Fantastic Four” reboot fell flat because they tried to make superheroes more “realistic.”

How exactly do you do that for Superman? It’s hard to “ground” him — the dude quite literally flies. And so it’s not a stretch that some people might find Clark Kent hard to relate to. It’s physically impossible to hurt him without some kryptonite on hand, he’s a handsome looking white dude and, on his off days, he works as a straight-laced reporter. 

I didn’t particularly like Superman before “Man of Steel.” I’d seen the original “Superman” films from the ‘70s after my mother insisted I learn to appreciate classics. But I’ll admit, the styrofoam fortress of solitude, neon spandex and goody-two-shoes hair curl didn’t capture my immediate love and attention. 

I can appreciate what “Superman” did for superheroes and blockbuster films, but I don’t have any desire to watch it again. “Man of Steel,” though, made Kal-El human to me.

Cavill’s Clark Kent is jaded. He’s seen some nasty things in the world, and doesn’t yet have the confidence to swoop in with all of that heroic gravitas to fix them. He spends the first 40 minutes of the movie drifting from crisis to crisis. He saves the lives of some oil rig workers before disappearing into the sea, and stops a waitress from being harassed at a diner, leaving before she can thank him.

He’s angry too. He sticks tree trunks into a trucker guy’s 18-wheeler after the man throws a drink in his face. He’s haunted by his failure to save his adoptive father from a tornado in an attempt to conceal his powers. He snaps the neck of General Zod (Michael Shannon) to save the people of Metropolis and he screams out in anguish over it — for killing one of the only Kryptionians left in the galaxy.

All those little microexpressions, the blips of pain and rage and the small smile he gets on his face after something actually goes right for once — a man I can understand.

But there are many who say that Zack Synder ruined Superman. He made him mean and broody. This public crusade against Cavill’s Superman continued in “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” another critical swing and a miss for the director — which carried on the darker tone from the previous movie.

I don’t particularly like “Batman vs. Superman” all that much either, I think it’s way too long without making too much sense, but its problem isn’t “ruining” Superman.

No one ruined Superman. They made him more relatable, they made him more modern.

For God’s sake, Batman wasn’t always depicted as the grumbly voiced trauma-riddled millionaire that we’re all familiar with. I’ll point you to Adam West’s garishly corny ‘60s “Batman” show, who used literal “shark repellent” as a plot point in one episode. 

Henry Cavill’s days as Superman may be over, for now at least, but the backlash he and Snyder faced is a lesson for all future iterations of the character. Don’t be afraid to change Superman. Despite what some stuck-up comic book fans may think, the character is not static.

So if change means make Superman “dark,” I say bring on all the black monochromatic costumes you got. It’s a better color to wear anyway.

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