Man of Steel: An Essay on Superman the new film.
The iconic Superman sets records.
There is a reason, and here is why.
By Kurt von Behrmann
Superman is about as iconic a figure as any in pop culture can be. Sent to earth to save the earth, the “man of steel” has deep roots in the human psyche. The reason for the man to who fell to earth being remaining popular could be connected to our uncertain times.
The film “Man of Steel” grossed $125-million in its domestic debut — including $12-million from Thursday “midnight” screenings — according to studio estimates Sunday. That’s the biggest opening ever in June, according to Variety (not adjusting for inflation).
See James Cavan’s article for the Washington Post.
The anticipated box office was more modest from the Studio’s stand point. Predicting what will score with the public is not a science. If the formula for success was known, Tinsel Town would always score profits. For every Star Wars there is a Waterworld.
Clearly Superman is no third rate take on the superhero from another world.
Part of the reason this Superman is sailing through the top of the charts has to do with two essential elements. First, it taps into the deeper core of human experience. It also has to be said that Man of Steel happens to be a well-made film.
Eschewing the camp of earlier Superman films, and carefully side stepping the uber angst of Batman, this man of steel film is careful with its tone and just as careful with the myth of Superman. They do take liberties with the relationship between Lois Lane’s and the dual natured Clark Kent. It is not to the detriment of their carefully articulated mythologies.
Die hard purist could take issue with any “tampering” with characters and histories so tied to the story of Superman. In the context of the film, writers are taking liberties to flesh out relationships that make more sense in contemporary terms.
For any film, how it is made makes as much for its success as the storyline. Without being well crafter, or having a substantive story to tell, films just dwindle down to simple outlines. Bad guy versus good guy and some obstacle that take roughly two hours to work out to some resolution. Good wins over evil and the world is saved. That may have worked before, but audiences are savvy enough to know when a story has been told one too many times without careful craftsmanship.
Man of steel has the obligatory big confrontation scenes. There is enough violence, special effects and blow ups that make it a super big spectacle. All of the essentials are here.
The film has happens to be tightly directed and surprisingly well acted. Everyone took this seriously and the result is a film that politely asks to be taken as such. This man of steel and the characters around him are acted with depth and conviction. The public appreciates a good performance. The man of steel delivers that.
The enduring popularity of Superman has always been rooted in the human desire to find a savior. There is the deeply imprinted desire in humanity to see something larger than itself. There is also the accompany thought that what is larger than human kind will be benevolent .
The flip side to things greater than us is that something larger will consume us. If there are powerful forces for good, there are equally strong forces for evil.
The similarities between Superman and Christ are rather obvious. A powerful father send his son to earth to help humanity finds its way. Superman is sent to earth to save it from itself and outside forces.
Where Superman becomes relevant now, and the film makes a great not to subtle connection here, is that we live in uncertain times and desperately want to believe in “something.”
Things we considered safe, schools and large public buildings, are no longer assumed “safe.” Terrorism renders that which is safe, “Like the Boston Marathon” into an encounter with fanaticism, destruction and death. Knowing who is the good guy and who is the bad guy become confused in a world where that which looks normal can be a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
Be it on the outside or internal self-destruction like the banking crises, job losses by greedy companies and the rising foreclosure rate combined with international terrorism, the external fears and the internal ones are hitting with an intensity this country has not witnessed.
These are both interesting times and arresting ones.
How does Superman fit into this? Superman represents a safety net. He represents security in knowing that is someone larger than ourselves who cares about us and want to ensure we are all safe.
There is a comfort in that. In odd scary times, even fictional solidity is preferable to none at all.
The Man of Steel goes much further. The film dissects the nature of being different and being held suspect. It even deals with cruelty and bullying. The fact that even Superman is greeted with apprehension and fear even as he attempts to save people connects to the angst of our time. When what is safe becomes life threatening, everything has the potential of evil. Even tireless Superman is seen as a questionable figure by some, not a salvation.
Superman comes along at a time when everyone is looking for a real leader at a time when government is gridlocked, avarice rules and Institutions devoted to the public good are reduced to near nothing. Where can faith go when there is no one worth trusting? How can you place your faith in anything when everything is suspect?
Superman offers a simple thing, integrity. Superman does what he says. There is no ambiguity with superman.
Man of Steel can be seen as fun filled thrill ride, which it is. But look much closer and the film is a subtle reflection on where we are, where we want to be and the savior we all hope comes along to save us from enemies outside of us and the enemies within.
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