Man of Steel Symbol Banner CONTRARIAN FANBOY: Theres More To Life Than GRITTINESS.

One of the more telling responses to my Man of Steel review (quick recap: Man of Steel was an overlong, pointless, boring, emotionless, loud bore, despite how good all of the cast were) was that a movie like Richard Donner’s Superman would not work now. Audiences now are more savvy and more used to grittier, realer kinds of film. I can see how someone would think that, especially if they weren’t around when the Donner’s Superman came out. But that doesn’t mean it is true that it wouldn’t work.

When Superman came out, it was toward the end of a decade in which cinema in general became darker and more violent. This makes sense, in a way. The seventies were not a particularly great time. The world was still living under the threat of a nuclear cold war. The news showed American cities as dens of poverty, rugs, and violence. The Middle East, oil supplies were threatened. Things were, basically, shitty, almost in exactly the same ways that they’re shitty now. Audiences needed to deal with that, just like they need to now.

The famous film scholar Robin Wood once claimed that films, like dreams, are one way that people deal with things that are too difficult to deal with. It makes sense, then, that when things get bad horror films and violent films get more popular. People need to work out their feelings in safe ways, and no way is safer than on screen. You can see this happening in the 1970s, and right now, as audiences took to the theaters to deal with their fears by watching horror films, schlock and grindhouse movies, and crime flicks.

 CONTRARIAN FANBOY: Theres More To Life Than GRITTINESS.But audiences don’t just look to violent films to deal with their anxieties, just like people don’t just deal with their unconscious fears through nightmares. People also look to their dreams.

So, it makes sense that an optimistic Superman would not only be released, but would thrive in that climate. An optimistic, inspirational Superman story worked because people needed inspiration and optimism just as much as they needed catharsis.

So, the idea that such a movie wouldn’t work now is, frankly, as silly as saying that it wouldn’t have worked then.

But there is something else in that statement that I have a harder time with. Saying that audiences wouldn’t want an inspirational, optimistic Superman because optimism is like living in ”la la land” means that reality is not a place for optimism: reality is “gritty” and “dark”.

I reject that too.

Look, I appreciate art that explores the darker elements of the world we live in: that’s why I love Batman. Batman is the man who can only see the worst things about our world. At the same time, obsessive paranoia makes people unable to trust in one another or to see that there are things in the world even worthy of trust in the first place.

At the same time, I also appreciate art that is deliberately transgressive, like The Boys. There is a place for art that sees a social taboo and violates it immediately. We need to explore taboos and we need to do it safely. That’s what art does for us. But, at the same time, transgression is about the expansion of knowledge, not about substituting the transgressive for the real.

But Superman isn’t Batman, just like Superman isn’t The Boys. Superman has always been about our better angels. He’s meant to transcend paranoia and transgression. He is about hope. When he came out he was meant to be an icon of the helplessness of fatherless sons, of Jews facing extinction, of nameless immigrants in an unforgiving new country, of a country facing war. As he’s gone on he’s become larger even than that. He’s no longer America’s talisman: he’s become a symbol of hope for everyone.

Superman CONTRARIAN FANBOY: Theres More To Life Than GRITTINESS.To say that reality is gritty and dark and tough and violent is to assume that reality is independent of our actions in it. We are the ones making the world.  If we choose to put racism and violence and hatred into it, that’s what we’re going to get. That’s what Superman is trying to tell us. We are the ones who need to step up and make it a better world.

When I think about the best possible statements Superman ever made, I think of Action Comics #775. Superman went up against a crew of typically “grim” and “dark” heroes who saw the world as a dark and broken place and had no problem killing and destroying. Facing them, a threat that was as much existential as it was personal, Superman did not fall to their level. He rose above it. He found a way to deal with the Elite without taking lives. He found a way to be an inspiration, to rise above the vulgarity that was “expected” of heroes of a certain era.

He was Superman.

S#!T Talking Central

  • Spacemonkeymafia

    Blah blah blah…..he killed in the comics and he killed in superman 2.

    • Kirk Sabre

      Are you reading? It’s not about the killing, it’s about everything. Superman, to me, has always been the story of a guy with exceptionally strong moral fiber who realizes he’s the most powerful person in the world, maybe the universe. He finds joy in his gifts, and is taught to use them to better himself and the world. He’s the quintessential “good guy”, but he’s always been just as much about inspiration as he has been about punching people into buildings.

      Man of Steel wasn’t about inspiration, or hope, or any of the good things. It was a story about an outcast in a world that hated and feared him, and him trying to get past that paranoia, which is more a Martian Manhunter/X-Men story than a Superman story. He did the right thing because there was no other choice, not because it’s just the right thing to do. It was just the wrong treatment to give to the character.

      • SecrtSqurl

        I disagree. If anything, the movie portrayed the massive destruction that an alien race, that was hundreds of lightyears ahead in technology, could inflict on the planet. Superman’s morales may have been cultivated on earth, but Zod’s were not. He understood that when Zod told him that either Superman would die or he would, decisions based on humanity would not apply. I felt sorry for him when he realized this, especially when he had to kill Zod. Sadly, he had no choice. Zod was bred for protecting Krypton, and had lost his reason for living. Since the rift was already closed, his options were depleted. If there is a sequel, dealing with the killing will probably be a big part.

      • Dalinkwent

        Actually it was exactly what the character needed. What Superman deals with in Man Of Steal is something anyone can relate to on a certain level. One problem with Superman is he’s insanely powerful and a boyscout, that just isn’t as interesting . as seeing someone struggle with that or at best try to keep their capabilities and moral fiber in check. Superman being his normal self in Man Of Steel defeats the entire point of what the movies are trying to accomplish. Instead of Superman simply being the boyscout we all know, there’s showing us THE STEPS he takes to become that boyscout. Like his killing of Zod will likely lead him to become clear in his views on killing. Just like his fathers death and the arrival of Zod made him realize he can no longer stand by and do nothing.

  • merwanor

    I never really liked any of the previous Superman movies, but Man of Steel changed that, as now it is one of my favorite super hero movies of all time. Sure it has some flaws, like the sporadic story in the beginning, but the action was just awesome and the cast was brilliant. The end was powerful to watch but also very good in my opinion. Compared to the train wreck that was Iron Man 3, this movie was miles ahead when it comes to quality.

  • Arrby

    My firm belief is that Hollywood/ Pentagon wants to push a Superman who is unprinicpled (like a protein molecule; the right components ‘all’ have to be there or it isn’t what it is) and dorky. There are good and bad principles. I don’t agree with Superman’s principles, at all. Like Obama and all those with bad intentions, he hides. People like that force others to hide who would rather not. Be accountable Superman. Why, with your power, did you let your *** die? Explain. What’s the high principle here?

    I prefer a Superman who is not lame or dorky or unwilling to kick butt, but principled. Or, I should say, I prefer a super man to be that way. And, because I’m not Hollywood/ Pentagon, I would have no need to make my super heroes, who are not special but who possess special talents, behave like missiles for gosh sakes. My super heroes will fly the way people walk. They won’t leave chem trails and you won’t need to stand back when they ‘launch’.

    • SecrtSqurl

      He let his dad die because he capitulated to his dad’s view that the world was not ready for him. It was a sacrifice that molded all his decisions from that day forth. Remember that he was arguing about his place in the world right before the tornado and told Jonathan he was not his real dad. When he did obey his instructions to not help him, he showed his real respect for his adopted dad.

      • Arrby

        And if you think those are right princples, Well, it’s a free universe. I understood the story. I just think it’s rubbish. Hollywood/ Pentagon, in fact, pushes a Superman without principles. He’s a tool, like a missile. ‘If’ you like the story, then, don’t forget, part of it is that we are barbaric (a truth). We are just as likely to assume Supes is a terrorist, torture him (if we can) and tell the people that “There. You have national security.”

        • SecrtSqurl

          Not sure what principles you are referring to, but if it is his morality about killing people, this would not be the first instance of that. He has killed before. The destruction was the most realistic of any Superman. It was meant to be brutal. It was meant to give you an idea of what Zod would do when he swore to kill every last human. Would he have rather sen him back to the phantom zone, yes. That was not an option, so he had to do what he did. Im sorry it is not as campy as watching the villain make an unrealistic escape into the sunset.

          • Arrby

            I certainly have no idea who you’re talking to because it can’t be me. There’s a difference between brutality and meaning busines. Sometimes they look the same.

            If I suddenly received Superman’s powers, and the go ahead from God (the only one who could give them to me), I’d be killing terrorist leaders and destroying their war making machines and finish up with dispatching the plague of uncaring capitalists devouring our planet and corrupting souls. But I guess you’d call that dorky. As long as you’re not Obama, I should be safe expressing my above thoughts therefore.

          • SecrtSqurl

            Yes, I was replying to you. Yes, your reply is recorded forever, and Obama is probably reading it right now. No, god does not grant super powers. You can go back to pretending again.

          • AL

            you lost me once you mentioned god.

          • Arrby


      • Blackbelt_Jones

        supermans father died of a heart attack. This showed Clark that more than brute punching power is required to overcome some hurdles in life,i’ll explain. With all his power and all his ability he could do nothing to stop something as simple as a heart attack.This had a profound effect on him,letting him know that you need other traits than just SUPER PUNCH IN THE FACE!!!! to solve problems,the hurricane thing was just dumb.And since he didn’t learn this lesson we now have a Superman that willingly kills without thought and rather than lead Zod and his people out of the city to fight,he just mindlessly punches things killing more people than Zod and his crew did.All those buildings that fell were not empty,sure it’s nice to think they were,but let’s be honest he killed thousands of people and just smiled at the end like he did nothing wrong…..pathetic.

        • SecrtSqurl

          The movie showed the restraint he was taught as a child in many scenes. They make a point of it when they are talking about what kind of man he will be. The Hurricane scene just showed a different aspect of what formed his character. Zod insisted that he would kill each human just to take revenge on Superman. What makes you think Zod would have followed him anywhere and not just started indiscriminate killing? Yes, you are right, alot of those buildings would have been empty after an alien craft started a terraforming operation down the street.

          • Blackbelt_Jones

            He’s the kind of man that destroys a u.s. satellite(an act that can be considered an act of war btw) then he basically says ” I’ll do what I want,when I want. Yeah that’s a good lesson for the kids “If your stronger than everyone else you can do whatever the fuck you want”…….nice. Superman is a boyscout,that is the nature of the character,making him dark is kinda like making Wolverine all pg-13 friendly,and I think we all remember how that turned out………

          • SecrtSqurl

            He destroyed an unmanned drone that was trying to discover his home. I think he made his point with the least amount of violence. He makes the point that humanity is not his enemy, and that he can be trusted because he grew up in Kansas, thus he had American ideals. His point was that he is beyond their control, but should not be treated as an enemy since he has American ideals. He was never a boy scout, and he is more realistic, not darker.

          • AL

            Thats the lesson all kids should be learning. Survival of the fittest. Teaching them anything other than that is a diservice to them and will only get them picked on or used. Thats the way of the world people and anyone that thinks otherwise is not going to amount to a whole lot in this world.

          • Blackbelt_Jones

            Great rant,only you forgot that what makes Superman Superman is the fact that he considers those who are not as strong as him and he seeks to protect them.You see he realizes that while that antiquated notion of yours sounds good on paper,it’s a whole different story when YOU are not the strongest one. Only arrogant clueless people want a world where only the strong have a say because they stupidly think that THEY would be the strongest,kinda like those people in the world who want to live in an anarchy ruled society because they think that THEY are the baddest mutherfucker on earth(they are wrong of course,there is always a bigger badder person out there than you.) Oh,and the fact that you would use power to lord over, torment and rule rather than to use that power in service of your fellow man says a lot about you….none of it good.

          • Arrby

            Clark grew up twisted, like the twister that killed his dad while he stood by out of (his family’s version of a) principle.

          • SecrtSqurl

            Sadly, over 600 million made worldwide, and a sequel being announced at comic con with batman, it looks like you are stuck with the rebooted version for a while. The theatre will miss you, but I’m sure the comic book store could not be happier.

        • Arrby

          Lol! Stop! I’m gonna have a tornado.

    • reverendswann

      I rarely say this, but that is the stupidest thing I have ever read, and I am judging you against rageposts on comics blogs.

      • Arrby

        Ah, but if you use your super vision, you might see clearly the meaning of my post. Warning: Use of super vision ‘sometimes’ causes crazy scary veins to appear all around your eyes. But just sometimes.

  • Dalinkwent

    I think the overall point is we’ve seen the Donner version of Superman rehashed AGAIN AND AGAIN. That’s all we’ve gotten since Reeves original film save for the comics. I’m glad Man Of Steel did a bit more with the material and took some chances. We always complain about movies doing the same shit over and over again, then complain when something different is being done.

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