Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reality vs Superman... and Me

Tomorrow I will take myself to see the new Superman movie, Man of Steel. I expect it will be well made, and probably a lot of fun. I also expect to see a number of attempts made by director Zach Snyder and writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan to "modernize" Superman, to "make him relevant to today's audiences." Fine, I say. Whatever. As long as the main character is still Superman.

It doesn't take much to amuse the little kid in me. Add Superman to a movie, or a giant transforming robot (or both!), and you're 90% of the way to making me happy.

Other people, I've noticed, are much harder to satisfy. They want their inner (and outer) adult catered to, with childish things put away (or left to cartoons). They want their movies to have Reality, to feature characters and stories you would expect to see in the Real World. Fantastic stories have their place (again, cartoons), but if you want Grown-Ups to like it, you must make the fantasy Believable. Relatable. It must Say Something About the Human Condition. And Gritty. Don't forget Gritty.

Grit is fine, in and of itself. I'm a big fan of many Gritty, Relatable films and stories (like Batman Begins, Michael Bay's Transformers, Iron Man, etc). I do not, however, think that every story of the fantastic needs to be that way, especially if the concept behind it doesn't lend itself all that well to those elements.

Take Superman. He can fly. He can see through walls. He can lift continents, and his fists could shatter the Moon. And, he's a pretty decent guy. Hooray, say kids! Nonsense, say Grown-Ups. A character like that can't possibly be interesting. How can you Relate to him? He isn't tortured! He doesn't like to kill people! He's NICE, dammit! Such a man can't possibly be REAL.

No, he can't. Superman isn't Real. He isn't supposed to be.

But... Superman is something the child in us wishes was real. He's an amalgamation of everything that's good in humanity (so it's only natural that he's an alien!). He comes from above us, lives among us, and protects us from the worst in ourselves (and Solomon Grundy). Fine, say Grown-Ups, but he needs a Believable Reason for doing so. Is he trying to avenge the death of his parents? Is he making up for a mistake that cost his uncle's life? Is he fighting to prove his kind aren't evil whilst fighting the evil members of his kind? For God's sake, is the man Being Paid?

No. And that's Superman's crime against Reality - he protects us from evil because he can, and because he believes it is the right thing to do. That's it. No burning rage, no agonizing guilt, no paycheque. He's just a really nice guy with super powers.

That, of course, isn't Believable. That's not a Well-Rounded Character. Nice isn't Reality! Grown-Ups hate Nice. It's naive... childish. Real people aren't like that.

Nice guys finish last, no one will go out on a date with them, and they always get picked last in gym class. Nice guys are NOT supposed to be able to save the world from asteroids, alien invaders, criminal masterminds and kitten-capturing trees. They are supposed to get kicked to the dirt while the Real Heroes - the ones with guns and knives and attitude - embrace their dark natures and show ya how we get things done!

But Superman doesn't get kicked to the dirt. Because he's Superman. Try it, and he could punt you into the dirt... on Mars! Except he won't. Because he's Superman. Instead, he'll tell you not to kick him because you'll break your own damn foot. Then he'll fly off to put a stop to Lex Luthor's insane schemes, pausing just long enough to rescue a little kid's balloon.

That's not Interesting! People can't Relate To That! It's not REAL!

Why not?

Because nobody's actually like that!

I know. It's a fantasy. For children, or the young at heart. Or the naive. Or anyone who still believes that people can be good.

So I'm going to see Man of Steel tomorrow. And I hope that, despite attempts to 'make him relevant', he'll still be the nice guy in the red and blue suit with the super powers.

There'll be plenty of Reality waiting for me afterward.

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