Should Superman Be Dark?
As with many other superheroes these days (particularly DC ones) Superman is getting a much darker cinematic interpretation than audiences have ever seen before. But is this a good thing, or a bad thing?
Let me start by saying that I did enjoy Man Of Steel. It was an entertaining film and I liked the approach they were taking to the story…. however I think the execution could have been better. Despite the storytelling flaws that have already been pointed out, the “darker” approach to the character I think is slightly questionable. While I’m all for filmmakers taking superhero stories seriously there’s a difference between “serious” and “dark”. A “dark” tone implies that bad s**t goes down and things don’t necessarily work out for the best and this is something that I feel has to compliment the characters, settings and themes of the material in order to be called for. It works great for a character like Batman, whose stories are based around tragedy and the whole “life’s a bitch and then you die” shebang, but with other characters that aren’t meant to be all about feeling sorry for themselves too much darkness can be a bad thing.
Take Superman for example. He’s the ultimate symbol of hope and inspiration for the whole world; the guy who endlessly strives to prevent destruction and loss of life. However, in his latest film he sort of failed on both of those accounts. While in the end he did defeat the bad guys and save the day in the grand scheme of things, a good portion of Metropolis was totally leveled (like 9/11 times thirty!) and Supes ended up having to snap Zod’s neck. Yeah…wasn’t really feeling the hope and inspiration there. What’s more, the Superman I know would have been crippled with guilt at these outcomes but in the next scene he’s happily destroying government property without a care in the world (what an uncaring asshole!). The point I’m making is that many would say the dark elements don’t really mesh very well with the traditional interpretation of Superman’s character. Not to say that a new, slightly different interpretation can’t work, I like the fact that Snyder and co tried to make Superman a somewhat edgier character who can be pushed to cross certain lines, but I don’t think it worked too well in this film as while they clearly establish the moral code that Superman is theoretically obliged to abide by they never really show the consequences of when he breaks it. Another example would be when a rowdy trucker harasses Clark in a bar and while he at first simply brushes the guy off, as he knows that he doesn’t pose any kind of physical threat to him, he subsequently destroys his truck out of spite. I realise this moment was just thrown in as a gag but nevertheless it makes Clark look like an immature child who never really learned anything from his patron saint of a father (even if the trucker did totally deserve it).
Allow me if you will to compare Man Of Steel to Richard Donner’s Superman. Yeah, obviously the two are rather different and are meant to be that way but I think that Superman captured what the character’s all about in a way that Man Of Steel didn’t. Donner’s version is much more light hearted and even has a tinge of goofiness attached to the villains (which I admit can be seen as a flaw) but it also has it’s fair share of dark and serious dramatic moments, like for instance (SPOILER ALERT) when Lois…um…dies. For me, what makes the film so good can all be summed up in one scene: the helicopter rescue, which remains one of my favourite movie scenes of all time. It starts out with a very dark situation; a woman is dangling towards her doom from a crashed helicopter suspended atop a very tall building. A crowd gathers below to look on in horror, as they are certain she’s going to fall to her death (as the flight control guys on the roof are obviously too horrified to do anything). Then, a mild mannered reporter clad in a hat and specs (who by lucky coincidence happens to be an alien with superhuman powers) stumbles across the scene and thinks to himself, yeah…that’s not gonna happen! He proceeds to shed his mortal attire, donning a heroic red and blue outfit complete with cape and “S” shield, and then fly up and catch the woman and the helicopter just in the nick of time. A tragedy has been miraculously averted, that incredible John Williams theme music kicks in, the crowd below cheer with delight and the audience are filled with an indescribable feeling of joy that can only be created by watching a movie. It’s such a well-done scene it gives me goose bumps every time I watch it (I’m sad, I know). In retrospect, Man Of Steel doesn’t really have anything like that does it? That triumphant moment when the hero reveals himself to the world and stops a disaster in it’s tracks. The equivalent in Snyder’s film is the scene in which Superman flies down to the three or four people he managed to save after vanquishing the bad guys (and half of the city) and the sex changed Jimmy Olsen says in a quiet awe tone of voice, “he saved us”. Now that moment would have worked a lot better if the characters weren’t standing in the devastated wasteland that was once Metropolis and there were a huge crowd of citizens present to show that Superman had in fact saved more than three people. During that scene I had to tell myself that they were probably able to do a city wide evacuation just before the destruction reached biblical proportions (but really, what are the odds of that??) in order for it to make any kind of sense. And I sooooooo missed the John Williams music (stupid Zimmer).
I think the main problem with Man Of Steel is that they don’t get the balance right in terms of tone. It jumps back and forth between hopeful and optimistic and dark and depressing with nothing substantial enough to bridge the gap. They should lean either one way or the other in my opinion. There are a lot of epic action sequences to entertain the eye but there’s so much that it kind of overloads itself and everything the characters are fighting for gets lost in the chaos. And on another note, in terms of cinematography, the hyper-realistic shaky cam and dull color tones didn’t really make it feel like a Superman film to me. So to sum up, do I think that the onscreen Superman should be dark? Well, personally I feel that the lighter interpretations have worked better so far (I even found Superman Returns to be more emotionally satisfying to be perfectly honest).
Regardless of what I think however, it looks like we’ll continue to see a darker interpretation in the future seeing as the next Superman flick will be a Batman crossover. Hopefully they’ll pull it off a little better next time (let’s see what you got Affleck!) Please share your own thoughts in the comments.
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