It’s only been in theaters for a few hours, and the complaining has already started. “Why is everyone fooled by Clark’s disguise, he’s only wearing glasses?” “Why do they have him get hurt by Kryptonite? That doesn’t make sense!” “Why doesn’t anyone question that Clark and Superman return at the same time?” “Why isn’t Superman more realistic like Batman?”
Someone on our message board this morning actually complained that the movie didn’t start with the premise that all the previous movies were garbage, scrap the entire concept, and then create a new idea from scratch. If you didn’t want to see a Superman movie, why did you buy a ticket?
Some people will never like Superman no matter how good his movie is. Superman represents a kind of idealism that most have in the past twenty years or so thrown by the wayside. He represents the best in mankind, the standard we’re supposed to achieve to. We’ve become so bitter and jaded as a people, that we no longer have room in our hearts for those sorts of idealistic heroes. Instead we’re obsessed with anti-heroes. When someone asks why Superman Returns isn’t more realistic what they’re really saying, whether they know it or not, is “why can’t he be more like me” or “why does he have to be so much better than I am?”
We’re no longer interested in achievers. Our idols are flawed, and in many cases failures. Our baseball players take drugs, our basketball stars rape women. William Hung has made a fortune out of humiliating himself so others can laugh at him. We choose a president who cheats on his wife with unattractive women, and then another with an IQ of 89 and a problem with word pronunciation. Superman stands above any of that. He’s not Batman battling dark demons. He’s not Spider-Man struggling to manage a hectic lifestyle. Superman has no flaws, and that makes us uncomfortable.
Superman Returns is a movie about a guy flying and shooting laser beams out of his eyes. If you show up to the movie expecting realism, maybe you should skip down a theater or two to the latest independent film about teenage drug use. When you complain that the movie isn’t realistic, you’re really complaining that Superman is better than you. We no longer struggle to bring ourselves up to Superman’s level, instead we want to bring him down to ours. The flaw is not with Superman, but with ourselves.
Superman’s heroism may not be realistic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something we should aspire to. Right now that kind of heroic measuring stick, at least in American pop culture, is dead. Superman Returns will try to resurrect it this weekend. Will you reject it, or embrace it?