This article contains spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
One of the points I briefly made in my Batman v Superman review was that the film was more interested in deconstructing the superhero myth than actually telling a story about these characters that we know so well. I intentionally left this point vague as I didn’t want my analysis to turn into a “not my Superman” bash fest. After all, the film has plenty enough problems already. But the truth is, on top of being a bad movie, Dawn of Justice is a film that fundamentally does not understand the character of Superman. Worse, if you pay attention to Snyder’s treatment of the character both here and in 2013’s Man of Steel, I believe that Snyder flat out hates him.
Yes, the man who DC Comics and Warner Brothers has put in charge of crafting the vision of their entire cinematic universe…hates Superman.
The sad thing is, he’s not alone. A lot of people feel this way. Superman is boring. He’s corny. He’s dated. The boy scout, goodie goodie that always does the right things is a relic of the past. A character like Superman, who lives in black and white, cannot exist in our world of varying shades of grey. After all, this isn’t the 1940s anymore. The world is a whole lot more complicated now. Right? This is the mentality that Snyder and his writers took when trying to craft the character’s place in their new universe. You can see it everywhere in the film, but nowhere more readily than in one particular scene: Perry White, chastising Clark Kent for wanting to do some old fashion journalism, tells him that he needs to enter the modern world. That this isn’t 1938 anymore. Why 1938? Well, that year a comic book called Action Comics #1 came out. The first appearance of Superman.
But Snyder is wrong.
In 1938, the world was going to hell. The United States was in the midst of the great depression. Hitler was in power in Germany, fascism was spreading, and all of Europe was about to be plunged back into war. Things weren’t so simple. Superman was created in this time by two Jewish men from Cleveland. Two guys, looking at the world and trying to make sense of everything. They created a man that was better than all other men. The Man of Tomorrow. A man who could stand up against the encroaching darkness and say no. Superman has changed a lot since those days. His origin story has been added to, he’s hung out with different groups of people, and he’s even died a few times. But the core of the character has remained the same. This is who Superman is.
Superman is a being with unfathomable power, but also unending restraint. Yes, as Bruce Wayne says, he could burn the whole world down if he wanted to. But Superman never would. He could do whatever he wants, take whatever he wants. Instead, he uses his powers to protect mankind. The biggest moments in Superman’s long career are not the ones where he punches a guy so hard he crashes through a building. They are the smaller, seemingly insignificant moments. When he saves a person from a burning building. When he protects somebody getting bullied. When he’s there for someone when they need it the most:
There is something inspiring about that. Something encouraging. The symbol on Superman’s chest means hope and that’s what the character provides, not just to the people of Metropolis, but to the kids sitting at home reading or watching him. It sets an example for people and encourages them to have their own tiny moments of heroism. To stop and help out when you witness an accident. To lend a hand when you see someone struggling. To do the right thing even though you don’t have to. That is what Superman represents. That is truth, justice, and the American way*, and it’s timeless. It never goes out of style.
In 2016, our world is going to hell. Unrest in America is high. Our political process has been so corrupted that a man spouting hate and inciting violence is about to win the Republican nomination for the Presidency. Elsewhere in the world, violence is spreading. Crazy people are blowing people up. People are dying, suffering, starving. Not much has changed in 80 years, has it?
At the conclusion of Dawn of Justice, Superman is dead and buried. We know he will be back; Superman will always come back. But which Superman will it be? Will it be Zack Snyder’s version: a grim, cold character who’s quick to anger and punches his way through problems? Or will it be the Superman I know and love? A man who encourages us all to be our best versions of ourselves, even if it’s a little corny.
I hope the latter, because we sure need him.
Small sidenote: If you’re looking for what I think is the best portrayal of Superman on film, look no further than Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant. This inspiring film captures everything that is great about the Man of Steel. It’s also finally coming out on Blu Ray!
*Of course by this I mean the America that we aspire to be, not the America we are.