Our need for the 'S'

 Henry Cavill as the "Man of Steel"  CREDIT: manofsteel.warnerbros.com

Henry Cavill as the "Man of Steel"
 CREDIT: manofsteel.warnerbros.com

By David Brandt

The movie isn’t even out yet, but the chatter hit a fever pitch about a week ago. Reviews are piling in by the boatload, mostly favorable with either minor stipulations or a pleading wish for Christopher Reeve nostalgia.

If we’re going to re-imagine these mythical stories of great heroes, these pop culture icons that can never die, then we’ve got to be able to make room for all interpretations. And as much as I grew up believing Christopher Reeve was Superman on and off the the screen, I’m ready to see just how the next generation is going to be introduced to Superman.

I don’t care that new MOS Henry Cavill, who reportedly was up for the role in director McG’s defunct interpretation of the Last Son of Krypton, is British. He’s an actor; I’m sure his Midwestern accent will be fine. The women I know already seem to be smitten with him, so charm won’t be an issue. And if he’s able to make his alien character more relatable to a human audience, then there’s not much left for him to do other than fly like the James Dean of the skies.

I’ve eagerly awaited this new Superman movie ever since it was first reported that Christopher Nolan was going to be involved (only as a producer and story writer; “Watchmen” director Zack Snyder takes the directing reins, much to my initial chagrin). Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy began with a good “Batman” film, segued into “The Godfather Part II” of comic books movies with at least one Oscar-worthy performance, and ended with a grand finale that - in almost every way - tied a nice bow around the entire series. Combine that with work such as “Memento” and “Inception,” and if his only contribution to “Man of Steel” was the title, my excitement would have been sustained all the same.

There have been a flood of comics-based films in recent years aside from Nolan’s trilogy. Explosive, big-screen popcorn flicks with stars old (Robert Downey Jr.) and new (any actor who wasn’t able to speak complete sentences when Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” was released). And most of these films have been a good slice of big bang Hollywood entertainment.

Seeing the “S” on screen again is going to be exciting, even if you haven’t been a big fan of comic books, comic book movies or even Superman. 

But there’s always been more meaning behind a Superman film than any of the other comic book icons - even (gasp) more than Batman. Growing up as a fan of both characters, I always felt Batman was a manifested symbol of justice, while Superman was soaked in idealism. And Nolan, as the grand storyteller behind the latest Batman movies, made Gotham’s hero into the one man who made the difference in a city falling to the corrupt and mischievous. Bruce Wayne (as portrayed by Oscar-winning Welshman Christian Bale) was a strong, tangible character who turned himself into the ultimate urban warrior because of an injustice that could have destroyed his life.

Clark Kent’s – or Kal-El’s, if you want to get into the great true identity debate – story is at least twice as complicated as Wayne’s, if you can believe it. The repercussions of his birth and arrival on Earth invite a galaxy’s worth of trouble. Based on the story synopsis and the trailers that have been rolling out for weeks, Michael Shannon’s commanding General Zod seeks to enlist the formerly lost Kal-El in order to rebuild Krypton and its race. And in this new movie, the level of destruction Zod casts upon the planet to find the son of Jor-El is incredible – and presumably merciless.

But why all the trouble? Because Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman is special. And in this latest interpretation of his story, he struggles to understand whether he has an obligation to use his gifts or if he should hold back and live among those who would socially reject him – all while trying to get out from under the shadow of his parents. Haven’t you felt that way at one time or another (maybe in your late teens or early 20s)? This brings us back to why Superman - and Superman on the big screen - matters most.

One of the most irritating, overly used critic reviews of any of the Spider-Man movies was that “Peter Parker was relatable” WHAT?!? Look, if I get bitten by an experimental spider, then I’m more likely to die from the bite than I am to adapt its biological properties. But to face a dilemma about which path to follow in life, not knowing if it will ultimately make you happy or allow you to be yourself, is a genuine fear that almost any moviegoer can share with the Man of Steel. And to find the will to sacrifice your life in the service of others … well, you should talk to a member of the U.S. military to get the best perspective on that.

Seeing the “S” on screen again is going to be exciting, even if you haven’t been a big fan of comic books, comic book movies or even Superman. “Man of Steel” runs around two hours and 30 minutes and features a stellar cast that also includes Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Laurence Fishburne. And it may very well be the film to steer its genre into a new trajectory (nice effort, though, “The Avengers”) that aims to perfect both storytelling and special effects because no amount of flying is going to make up for a poor story.

But I hope to believe a man can fly again. And just maybe, I’ll walk out of the theater thinking that I can, too.