Friday Flotsam – Mostly on Superman

1. Been adjusting lately to various life developments (yeah, I’m gonna go with that), which means I haven’t quite worked out how to fit blogging into the picture. I intend to blog more regularly going forward, but so far I haven’t worked out how.

2. Working on a post summarizing how I think Zack Synder butchered Superman and Batman. There’s a lot there, but I’m realizing that, if I want to be entirely fair, I should probably revisit the DCEU. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of the Snyder films (mostly because I hated them), and in that time I’ve become a much more fervent and informed Superman fan. Watching clips now I keep thinking “that’s wrong. That’s stupid. Man, they really didn’t care there, did they?” So at some point in the future I may do a DCEU rundown as a companion to my Marvel rundown (though, as the DCEU has no real ending nor any plans for one, I’ll probably cut myself off at some point. Maybe with the *shudder* Snyder cut…).

3. Speaking of which, I also need to revisit the Christopher Reeves films. I saw them long, long ago and remember not really liking them that much, despite Mr. Reeves’ definitive performance. Mostly it was because I didn’t at all like some of the story choices (e.g. the turning back time in the first film, the de-powering subplot in the second, etc.). But perhaps they’ll play better now.

4. Honestly, one of my favorite iterations so far is Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman from the mid nineties. Despite the lackluster special effects, reduced Superman powerlevel, and the oft-cheesy scripts I think Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher are among the best incarnations of Clark and Lois, especially Mr. Cain, who makes Clark perfectly the ‘normal, decent guy’ he’s supposed to be. Like, I love the detail that his fridge is full of junk food since, while he doesn’t need to eat, he likes it and so goes for whatever tastes the best because why not? That’s the kind of development onto Superman’s character that I like: thinking through the logical implications of his powers and asking how a guy like Clark would respond. Or the way he regularly calls home to his parents to discuss how his life is going. And I like the Kents’ charmingly casual approach to his powers (when Clark’s a little dubious about the cape his mother insists “It’ll look great when you’re flying”). Or, one of my favorite touches, Clark gets his job at the Planet by interviewing an old actress as she says goodbye to a theater being torn down. That’s the kind of guy he needs to be; sympathetic, open, and showing interest in and value for everyone he meets.

Miss Hatcher’s Lois is on point as well, with that delightful blend of sarcasm, self-assurance, and vulnerability that makes the character. She and Mr. Cain have fantastic chemistry and really come across as honest-to-goodness friends in spite of their chop-busting antics.

5. See, here’s what I think most people get wrong: when making a Superman adaptation, the most important thing is to get Clark Kent right. Because if you do Clark right, Superman will follow. But if you focus on Superman, you’re liable to miss the whole point. You see, Clark Kent is the real character. Even if you have Superman in costume most of the time, you have to remember that Clark is the true identity. Fundamentally, whatever crazy stuff you’re having him do, carrying a satellite into orbit or fighting psychic vigilantes on the Moon, you have to keep in mind that it’s the kid from Kansas who is doing all this (as Lois says in Superman vs. the Elite: “You can take the kid out of the cornfield…”).

4. I think another problem filmmakers run into when adapting Superman (and similar properties) is simply that they overthink things. See, I suspect that a lot of filmmakers will approach a major cultural touchstone like that and think “Since this is such a big, important property, there must be some real depth to it. It must be full of hidden meaning and subtle complexities, and if I’m going to really do this right, I have to be just as deep and complex. I have to really make this an event!”

What they’re missing is that it is precisely the simplicity of the story, the straightforward, unapologetic nature of it that gives it it’s power. The fundamental Superman story is “man has the power to save the day in every circumstance, but never takes the credit for it so the woman he loves has no idea what he does.” You can sum it up in a sentence (I just did), but there are almost an infinitude of things you can do with it.

Now, you can do things with Superman beyond that simple formula, but the point is that the Superman idea is a pretty straightforward one. The more you try to make it ‘deep’ and complex, the more you add to it, the more specificity you give it, the more likely you’re going to lose the thing that made it interesting in the first place.

To put it more simply, I remember someone saying that if you want to make a good Superman movie, just take the airplane sequence from Superman Returns and do that for ninety minutes. Which is pretty accurate.

Greatness in storytelling is not a matter of complexity, ambiguity, believability, relatability, or anything of the kind. It is a matter of a unique idea perfectly realized.

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