A-List Blog: That Superman thing
What’s the deal with Superman?
That’s what I was thinking while leaving the theatre Wednesday after a screening of “Superman Returns.” The final image in this rather dark interpretation of the Superman story is that of him contemplating the Earth while floating above it in space. As he tells Lois Lane in the film, he hears everything going on down there with his super-hearing, and it kinda drives him nuts.
But why is the Superman story so fascinating and enduring? Or is it just plain silly: a guy in tights and a cape flying around while his alter-ego – who looks exactly like him except with glasses and a slightly less-tousled hairdo – operates unsuspected not only around his coworkers – who are charged with reporting about and photographing him – but a former lover who bore his child?
Like any fantasy or sci-fi story, “Superman” requires a healthy dose of disbelief suspension, and generally I’m fine with that. I’ve watched fascinated as the X-Men do their thing, as Spiderman crawls up buildings, as Harry Potter inhabits a wizards’ school and as various crews of the Enterprise flitted about space.
Something about this new Superman, though: He winds up in the hospital, for one thing. The sight of him lying on a gurney being wheeled down the hallway was simply disconcerting, incongruous to the whole image of Superman. Sure, we’ve seen him down, but he usually bounces back pretty quick and he damn sure doesn’t need to visit the hospital. (Literalists might also wonder who picked up the tab, since presumably he couldn’t use his Clark Kent insurance through The Daily Planet. Was it Medicaid? In which case, could Superman soon to be a target of conservative Republicans, who see him as an illegal alien on the public dole?)
With the open-ended conclusion of this film, it seems clear the message the filmmakers were trying to get across is that Superman isn’t and can’t be a whole-earth savior. He can only do so much, and he’s resigned at times to floating above the whole mess we’ve created and sighing with frustration and sadness.
Since the various iterations of Superman over the decades have in many ways reflected our own “real” world at the time, it’s a grim comment on our own times when Superman is resigned to shrugging at all the pain he can’t prevent while mourning his own inability to pursue a more normal life.
Probably, I’m reading too much into it. Maybe it’s always been this way, and this new Superman is simply more of a realist.