When it comes to movie adaptations, I try not to be a purist. I try to go into each one with an open mind, and a chip-less shoulder (a difficult task). Sometimes, the source material is so rich or complex that screenwriters have no choice but to alter it for content, length, or continuity (Harry Potter). Other times, the material could use a little tweaking (anything with the name Nicholas Sparks attached to it). Of course, once in a while, film makers just get it right (Lord of the Rings, the Green Mile, the Dark Knight trilogy). It’s purely hit or miss, and we all know you can’t please everyone. I can’t help but wish that Hollywood would put a little more consideration into adaptations, or in the case of this rant, the reboot.
Some movies do not require a reboot (the Mummy…are you listening to me, Hollywood?). Though there have been reboots that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Take, for instance, the Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead movies.
I absolutely love the original George Romero classics. They didn’t need millions of dollars in CGI effects to make them scary or exciting. When a story is good enough, it stands on its own merit. The rest of the bells and whistles are just window dressing. But when they decided to remake the films, they did it right. Yes, they changed the endings, along with a few other details, but for the most part they found the balance required for a reboot. The filmmakers stayed true to the souls of the originals while improving upon the intensity of the tales with modern special effects, paving the way for bigger, better, scarier zombie films and television series. It wasn’t because these classics needed to be improved, as was the case with the Hulk–it took many attempts for Hollywood to finally capture the essence of the Hulk, personified to perfection by Mark Ruffalo). Rather, the reboots of these films paid tribute to their original genius.
So why is it that superhero films fail to capture that magic?
As I mentioned, it took a number of tries before Hollywood figured out the Hulk. And how many times have films like the Punisher and Judge Dredd been made? A lot of money was made with the Tim Burton Batman films, though they were critically panned, and grew increasingly worse as the sequels piled on. They were an homage to the television days of Adam West, but it was clear that moviegoers wanted something more. They wanted, nay, needed, the Dark Knight trilogy. Naturally, Hollywood wanted to reboot the saga of Superman.
Call me old fashioned, but I miss Christopher Reeve. Yes, Superman III & IV were awful. Like, truly awful. But parts I & II were wonderful. Yes, part of my love for them might be due to the fact that it’s the version of Superman I grew up with (kind of like how people say everyone has “their” Doctor, with regards to Doctor Who). But Reeve was it for me. And I thought Gene Hackman made a wonderful Lex Luthor.
Given the success of the Nolan Dark Knight reboot, I had high hopes for Superman Returns. Alas, it fell short. I didn’t entirely hate it (it wasn’t bad on say, a Daredevil level) but it wasn’t the best. It tried to pay homage to the films of my childhood, but couldn’t compete with the blockbuster spectacle of Batman Begins. I thought Kevin Spacey was a perfect Lex Luthor. And Brandon Routh was an ideal Superman. He looked and sounded like Reeve. Combine that with John Williams’ timeless score and it felt like home. I did not like the casting of Kate Bosworth or Parker Posey. But I did like that ‘Returns’ essentially erased films III & IV and continued the storyline created in I & II. Better late than never, but the trilogy felt complete.
I think that people’s ideas of who Superman was and could be were altered by the success of television series such as Lois & Clark and more recently, Smallville. But even though those series each created their own microverse of Superman lore, the overall canon was still present in some form. We had a modern take on a classic story and it worked.
Then came Man of Steel. I’m still not sure how to describe what I felt after watching this movie. Enough time had passed since ‘Returns’ was released, that it felt right to have a reboot. With Nolan’s involvement, my heart swelled with the notion that Superman would get the Dark Knight treatment. And, well, it did, I guess. It was big. It was loud. It was dark and brooding. And it was chock full of CGI effects. But that’s about it.
I enjoyed the extended look at Krypton, but the new take on the people and ultimate destruction of the planet didn’t resonate with me. There were too many holes and incongruities in the plot. The rest of the film was spent either jumping between an overuse of flashbacks and headache inducing handheld camera shots that bridged the CGI battles (so choppy was the CGI that I’m fairly certain I’ve seen middle schoolers do better work using Photoshop).
They underutilized big name actors in what became mediocre roles. And the re-imagining of other roles, such as Martha Kent and Lois Lane, left me feeling empty and sad. These were women that I grew up admiring. Diane Lane’s Martha was the type of woman I wouldn’t want raising a dog, let alone a kid. And gone are the days of Lois being the spunky, intrepid reporter, playing cat and mouse with Clark/Superman, trying to uncover the truth. Instead, they just handed it all to her from the get go. I couldn’t get behind that.
Henry Cavill looked good as Superman (though I’m still unhappy about them ditching the red trunks. I like the red trunks). But he wasn’t my Superman. Maybe it’s a good thing that they called the film Man of Steel. He didn’t prove himself worthy of the title ‘Super’, at least not to me. Maybe it was the way the story unfolded, not allowing us to become attached to him as Clark. Maybe it was the new character choices (rather than Clark leaving home after his father’s death to try and learn more about himself and find the Fortress of Solitude, MoS had Clark leaving home to basically hide from himself and the rest of the people of planet earth). There was nothing noble about him. There was no conflict. There was nothing there for viewers to become emotionally invested in. He just…was. And then boom! Lois stumbles onto him, and a spaceship, and acts so cool about all of it, you’d think alien encounters were just old shoe for her. Whatever happened to the excitement and charm of Lois being mesmerized by Superman’s abilities? It was endearing.
When Christopher Reeve took flight, the people of Metropolis were in awe. They didn’t know who or what he was (alien? extra-special human?). And each time they encountered him, it was magical. Depending on which version you have read or know, there is a history between Clark and Lex. When visitors from across the universe show up, Superman conveys personal conflict. He is not a dark and vengeful soul, such as Batman. Superman has a conscience unlike any other. And the Man of Steel film took it away.
Did Superman need a reboot? Sure. ‘Returns’ wasn’t all that it could have been, so why not make some improvements. But I don’t feel that it needed a makeover, a new canon, or the heart removed. For as much as it is about truth, justice, and the American way, Superman is also a romanticized story. Superman has always allowed the ‘little guy’ to feel stronger. Batman is an alienating character. Superman is one of us. Described as the ideal immigrant story, Superman exemplifies all that it means to want to be good and to want to make the world a better place, one small act of kindness at a time. Man of Steel was just that: steel-like and cold.
No doubt, children everywhere will enjoy the film for it’s endless destruction and explosions. But it saddens me to think that new generations will never know that feeling of hearing the orchestration build, the anticipation of Clark Kent seizing the opportunity to slip away and become Superman. The mystery is gone. The romance has subsided. The all-American, farm bred, everyman who embraces his destiny has been reduced to another run of the mill, tough guy.
Somewhere out there, someone is sitting on a script that encompasses all that is needed to do the story of Superman justice. I only hope I’m still around to see it come to life.
With red trunks.