Man of Steel Already Told a Relevant Superman Story for the Modern Generation

We recently got an in-depth report about Warner Bros.' plans for the next phase of DC Comics movies, and one of the biggest reveals was the one DC property that WB can't seem to move ahead with: Superman. Six years (and counting) after the release of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, the Superman franchise has no new installment on the immediate horizon, nor any plans for current Superman actor, Henry Cavill. The news that WB can't make "Superman relevant" for today has sparked a big reaction, with a lot of fans taking to social media to express what they think a modern Superman movie should be.

But here the thing: pretty much everything that so-called Superman diehards claim they want from a modern movie version of Superman has already been done, either in Snyder's Man of Steel, or its sequel film, Batman v Superman.

It's almost comical to hear people describe a modern Superman movie that would address the characters immigrant status, and why (despite a lot of hate and fear toward him) Kal-El / Clark Kent chooses to instead devote his power to protecting Earth and its people. That is literally the main thematic arc of Henry Cavill's Kal-El/Clark Kent in Man of Steel. As I've discussed in several editorials over the years, Zack Snyder's biggest gift to both fans and the character was lifting Superman out of the mold of being the paragon of the old American ideal about strength and power, and expanding the meaning of Superman into a metaphor of positivity and hope that now appeals to group of people who were never felt they were included in the happy-go-lucky, all-American classic versions of the character. That includes:

  • Immigrants
  • LGBTQIA Community
  • Minorities
  • Anyone who feels like an outsider in any way from "normal" society

Snyder gets criminally underrated for making that change to the thematic core of Superman's origin story - and did so in a emotionally affecting way. The segments of young Clark Kent's life are the best showcase of this, as we see Clark both literally and figuratively hiding in the closet to keep his identity as a foreigner a secret. It wasn't just a revolutionary change to the character - given the changes to the socio-political climate that came in the following years, Snyder was downright prophetic in championing the plight of the disenfranchised, and showing them a pathway to pride and power in defining themselves.

Man of Steel Best Superman Movie Modern Times Generation

The other big point of contention that Man of Steel can never seem to escape is the idea that Superman is a perennial optimist and symbol of hope, who can never be tarnished in any way. The fact that Man of Steel pondered ideas like Superman can't (and shouldn't) expect to save everyone, or that Superman could kill someone (Zod), are often labeled as blasphemy by the so-called Superman diehards. This is often the most specious reason for tearing down both Snyder and Man of Steel, as Snyder's entire storytelling goal was to establish how Superman came to be that shining symbol of good.

Yes, Man of Steel explores uncomfortable notions that show Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman to be a much more flawed being, be it he and Pa Kent's talk about letting people die to protect his secret, or the killing of Zod in the finale. But while some want to take those moments out and label as "wrong" for the character, the truth is that Man of Steel was just a starting point for the Superman origin story. In reality, Zack Snyder had a 3 - 5 film story arc planned for Henry Cavill's Superman, which was intended to track Superman's transition from the flawed place he started from as a fledgling and inexperienced hero, to the symbol of hope and idealism he becomes after dying and being resurrected in Justice League. In short, Snyder hoped to convey how Superman was able to find such unshakable conviction and righteousness after such a difficult start to his life as an Earth man, and such a difficult start with humanity, both as Clark Kent and Superman.

0comments

Batman v Superman (specifically the Ultimate Edition) was where Snyder did the hardest heavy lifting of this thematic concept. The Ultimate Edition of BvS makes it much clearer that films thematic arc for Superman deals with humanity's fearful perception of the god-like being after "The Battle of Metropolis" in Man of Steel, while Clark Kent becomes a compassionate advocate of justice and human rights, through his impassioned journalist pursuit of the story involving the criminal that Batman tortured and branded, eventually leading to that man's brutal death. Batman v Superman doesn't let Superman (or Snyder) off the hook for the decisions that were made in Man of Steel - in fact the entire point of Batman's presence is holding Superman (the "outsider" or foreign "other") accountable as the threat to our way of life that Batman sees him as. Lex Luthor is the wealthy elitist who truly benefits from stoking the first of discord between the opposing socio-political ideals that Batman and Superman each represent - which again, was very prophetic for a film that arrived before the 2016 election.

Which brings us to Justice League. Superman's sacrifice in stopping Doomsday was his first big selfless act on behalf of humanity, and when Kal-El returned, Snyder had an epic story planned where a dark and evil Superman under Darkseid's control would finally provided the mirror for Superman to realize what he never let himself become, and therefore define his discipline to be the bright shining beacon we know him as. This dark/light comparison would've hinged on Superman's most "human" quality: his love connection to Lois Lane. "Evil Superman" would've been created when Lois (symbol of Superman's humanity and compassion) was murdered by Darkseid, and that darkness would've been cured in a time-travel twist that allowed Lois to be saved. If you consider that intention, and compare it to what we actually got, it becomes pretty clear: fan impatience and studio interference derailed what could've been one of the best dissections of Superman's character yet; but instead, Man of Steel fans will forever be forced to live with the first bare glimpses of that potential.

Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Justice League are all now available on home video.