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Saturday, May 25, 2013

I just want a good Superman movie

Let's make this simple.

I like Superman and I am really looking forward to the upcoming Man of Steel-movie premiering this june. So I figure I could rant a bit about the live-action incarnations of Superman that are the most relevant to me. Because I'm a nerd and I like to rant about these things.

First up is the classic Superman movie with Christopher Reeve as the titular character. This movie came out in 1978 and still holds up surprisingly well. The story does a great job of covering all the most common beats of the Superman mythology. The destruction of Krypton, the Kents raising him as Clark, his secret identity of the mild-mannered reporter at the Daily Planet, his relationship with Lois Lane, kryptonite weakening him and Lex Luthor, all presented in a really well-developed manner. I'd actually say that if you want to educate a person in who Superman is and what his general deal is, making them watch this movie is a very surefire and quick way to give them the gist of it all they also get a nice movie experience out of it.

The film is also notably iconic with a musical score that gets into your head and settles in for an extended period of time and a tagline that is just perfect for Superman. "You'll believe a man can fly" is what they said about this movie. Again, that's perfect for a Superman movie. It's a line that's filled with the unabashed wonderment and awe that a person would feel when they see the coming of the most amazing and awesome thing ever. And there are a bunch of really good lines from various characters. Lastly, most, if not all, of the performances are pretty damn solid. Many feel that Christopher Reeve's portrayal of Superman and Clark Kent are the definitive live-action, version of the character.

So, it's a good and would for the most part hold under an objective analysis. But there are of course several things that don't quite work, at least in my opinion and this is my seldom updated blog so shut up.

First of all is of course the idea that you rotating the earth on its axis will turn back time and not actually cause lots of geological problems is so silly and preposterous that even within the realm of film like Superman it seems ridiculous. It's a thing that's often mocked, rightly so, and will always be there to kind of ruin the mood of the otherwise perfectly serious superhero movie by making you think "Oh dear this is STUPID!". It just is.

Another less mentioned bit that kind of really dates the movie is the representation of Lex Luthor as a madman scientist who lives underground and refers to himself as the greatest criminal mastermind of all time. This isn't a bad portrayal and Gene Hackman is certainly exceedingly entertaining in the part but this kind of character just doesn't fit Lex Luthor anymore. Not that he hasn't been the mad scientist type before, it's just that nowadays it's more common to portray him as a brilliant corrupt businessman/politician kind of character who sits on top loads of shady deals, occasionally tries to kill Superman and sees himself as the hero and Superman as a threat to all of mankind. And having a stupid henchman named Otis is so not in supervillain fashion anymore.

I also think that the way the movie treats the time between Clark Kent the teenager and Clark Kent becoming Superman leaves quite a bit to be desired, he goes into a crystal machine where a recording of his father Jor-El teaches him everything. It works for the movie in that it gets to the point that most people care about, him being Superman. But still, it feels a bit like a shortcut that I don't think a lot of people would enjoy in more modern superhero movies where we have to go through every single beat.

Still, it is a good movie that just happens to have some things that kind of dates it, which is really really impressive all things considered. Also, this just me personally, Christopher Reeve isn't dynamic enough as Superman. MOVING ON!

Next is a series that was a part of my childhood and has actually influenced me a lot in terms of how I view Superman, his world and superheroes in general. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 - 1997) follows the same general beats of the Superman mythos, the ones I went through above, but it puts as much of the focus on the relationship between Lois, Clark and Superman as it does on the fantastical adventures of the man of steel. I like this because it highlights how both aspects of his life are important to Clark and that they can blend into each other at various points.

The cast was freaking fantastic. Dean Cain was the first Superman that I saw on a consistent basis and he really set how the character should be in my eyes. As Clark Kent he's all average and has in one way has to pretend that he's less than he actually is while also showing how he can do things without his super-powers and as Superman he 's just this really nice and inspirational kind of guy who can toss you over a skyscraper if you threaten people. And Terri Hatcher's Lois Lane was so strong, clever, fun, flawed and humanly complex that I wept a bit any time I would see the wimp she played on Desperate Housewives. This series also has the only version of Jimmy Olsen and Perry White that ever really stuck with me. Lane Smith's Perry White is the one I always default to and hear when I see the character in the comics and all other versions are just kinda less developed shadows of him, though that's probably an unfair view-point but it's how it is. And the show's Jimmy Olsen, first played by Michael Landes and then by Justin Whalin, is the only version of the character that I really believe in as a character, whereas most others are just kinda overdone as Superman's best pal.

Lastly for the cast, I really really REALLY love Eddie Jones and K Callan and Jonathan and Martha Kent. They're just so sweet and funny and cute as an older married couple that perfectly contrasted Lois and Clark's budding relationship. These two are probably largely responsible for my opinion that happily married couples in fiction are in fact NOT boring and are actually awesome. They're also why I'm not fond of Jonathan Kent dying in so many of the Superman continuities nowadays.

Another thing I really like about the show is how it could do smaller stories for some episodes, saved the really big and epic time-travelling/alien invasion/clone conspiracy stories for rarer occascions and then found a happy medium for most of their stories. Everything nowadays in mainstream comics has to be so big and earth-shattering and world-changing that you, or at least I, get bored with it rather at some point and it all feels the same and blends. A little variety in scale is all I ask for and Lois & Clark delivered just that.

Oh, and what happened to all the superheroes with a secret identity? Barely any character in Marvel or DC has that as a relevant aspect anymore. They did loads of fun stuff with it on Lois & Clark and I demand more of it from everybody. Like there's this one time when, after they've gotten married, a dude who wants to be more popular than Superman gets a photo of Lois and Superman in bed published which ruins Superman's reputation and credibility just as he's in the process of helping peace-talks between Fakecountryztan and Doesnotexistia. So they have to figure out a way to fix this problem without compromising Clark's secret.

Of course, nothing is perfect (we love the things we love because of and inspite of their flaws after all) and this series is no different. The reasons, in-universe, for delaying and pushing back the wedding were so forced and silly that I kind of want to headbutt my wall just thinking about it. Many of the stories could get kind of silly. For example; there's the time the desceased Lex Luthor's ex-wife uses subliminal messages in books to get people to hate Superman in a convoluted plot to get revenge for Lex's death. And then there's the time when a dude gets the same powers as Superman through a lightning storm during a suicide attempt and begins charging people for saving them and then his shrink tries to use him for evil purposes. And who can forget the eccentric rich couple that made a credible attempt of adding Superman to their private evil collection of weird shit. know what, as weird as these all sound I'm having a lot of fun just trying to remember them. I guess that I do view the series through nostalgia glasses. But it really is a fun series and I recommend it do comic book fans everywhere. Now let's move no WAIT! I got another one. There's an episode where a super-powered serial killer and his wife are out for revenge against a bunch of scientists and to get to their last target they befriend Clark and Lois, who is getting an interview with the reclusive target, as another recently married couple which leads to a very funny dinner scene where both are trying to hide the husband's secret identity while their powers are on fritz. It's really funny.

Now we're moving on!

Of course, we can't bring up relevant live-action incarnations without bringing up Smallville (2001 - 2011).


Smally Smallville...

What to say about Smallville? never really clicked with me. Actually, that's not true. I like it during the first season when the idea that Clark and Lex Luthor were teenage buddies felt all fresh and new and clever and it kinda felt like a neat show that would show how Clark Kent's early life before he sets off to become the superheroiest of all superheroes. But then it kinda went and did it's really own thing and now it can't really be counted as anything but a completely seperate take on the Superman mythos. Which is fine in and of its own, but it kind of became too much of a chore to watch, at least for me.

First of all, there's so much damn teenage angst in this series that it at times rivals that of Twilight. Teen angst is not something I like to mix with my Superman thank you very much. And then there's the show's producers' infatuation with the Lana Lang character who is by far the most annoying and least likeable of the entire regular cast. And it did some pretty weird things with Doomsday, Darkseid and Mr. Mxyzptlk. Not to mention how they worked around Lex coming back to life and then forgetting Clark's secret.

I will give them this though, Smallville may have the cleverest Clark Kent in terms of how he uses his powers and they certainly weren't afraid to cover the entire gambit of weirdass shit that can go down in superhero stories. Time-travel, parallel earths, the Phantom Zone dimension, heroes in colourful costumes, magic and all other manner of weird stuff that I would never have thought they'd do but they did and they made it work for the show. Also, congrats on successfully moving away from the villain of the week format that existed in the first few seasons.

Really, Smallville did its own thing completely when compared to other live-action incarnations of Superman. Some people hate it, some people love it, some people ignored it and some people just don't quite know what to make of it. I belong to the last category. It never really geled with me and I'm still rather astounded that it was on as long as it was. But it deserves props for keeping Superman kind of relevant to a larger non-comic reading audience.

And finally we've got the most recent big screen adaptation of the big blue boyscout. The well-intentioned but ultimately misguided Superman Returns (2006).

Misguided in that much of it was just a rehash of several ideas from the 1978 (of which this one is a continuation of) movie without really adding anything new to the story of Superman, as in no new perspectives or approaches of its own in regards to the character and/or his position in the world. Hell, even Lex Luthor's plan is pretty much the same. So yeah, nothing new. Actually, that's not true. There is a new thing added to the mythos but it kind of makes Superman into dead-beat dad which is weird.

As it deals with Superman returning from a long journey it doesn't really reintroduce him to the audience which was probably a mistake. Yeah, a lot of people are familiar with the character and his story but skipping out on the origin story just meant that the producers skipped out on making something of their own. It's much too reverent of the first movie and didn't do anything daring.

Now would be a good time to mention the good aspects but the problem is that I don't really remember much of it. It was probably a decent movie but not one that I remember very much of besides Kevin Spacey's big "WRONG!" scene. Don't know what I'm talking about? Search "Lex Luthor WRONG" on youtube.

So yeah, it didn't do anything new or fresh with the character and it was pretty forgetable. It still made a fair buck at the box office but a proposed sequel never got made because the people with the money were disappointed with this movie. That's the way things go.

There we have them. The four, to me, most relevant live-action incarnations of Superman to ponder in preparation for the Man of Steel movie.

Seriously, I am psyched about this thing. Zack Snyder is an awesome director and the trailers look awesome. Though I am a bit concerned about the lack of the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent from the trailers. Though that may just be a marketing choice, or as it is an origin story he may not appear until later in the movie which would be interesting. It also looks like the most action-packed live-action Superman to date, which works out just fine if you ask me. When it comes to action Zack Snyder is BRILLIANT!

It's kind of interesting really. With last year's multi-box office record breaking superhero epic The Avengers the whole superhero action/adventure movie as a genre may have reached its natural peak and it's a bit unsure whether it'll continue to prosper or if audience will begin to lose interest in it. Either way, DC comics and Warner Bros. are really banking on Man of Steel to be a box office hit so that they can use it to lead into a Justice League movie and stuff before people start losing interest in superhero movies.

I don't really care about that. I just want a good Superman movie. It's time for one for this generation.

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