What’s Wrong With the DC Movies’ Superman

I think it’s fair to say that not many people like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Even our own review here on 3rd World Geeks generally says it’s good but terribly flawed. One of the issues a lot of comic book fans have with Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder’s new movie as well as Man of Steel actually, is what they’re doing with Superman. And I just so happen to be one of those comic book geeks.

Guess which one has the more animated personality. Get it?

Guess which one has the more animated personality. Get it?

Now, I don’t actually have issue with Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the Man of Steel himself. I think he does an okay job of pulling off the role and is good with what’s given to him. My problem with the new DC movie Superman is that, well, this new Man of Steel is so different from the Superman I grew up with. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that they’re totally getting the character wrong.

To sort of illustrate my point, let’s first talk about Superman’s myriad of superpowers and abilities. He’s super-strong; he’s actually strong enough to push a planet out of it’s orbit! He also has super-speed, hence the phrase “faster than a speeding bullet.” Superman also has the moniker “The Man of Steel” as his skin is nigh-impenetrable. Superman can also fly into the deepest reaches of space if he wanted to. Heck, he can see through wall and even burn a person just by looking at them due to his various “vision” powers! That’s how powerful he is!

Now, imagine if you just had one of Superman’s amazing abilities. Just one. What would you use it for? I would say the immediate answer would be for good… but that’d be a lie. Oh, you know in your heart of hearts you’d probably use it for some unscrupulous purposes once in a while. But not Superman! No, Superman wouldn’t do that because he’s more than just a man and more than just his super powers. He’s more of a symbol. To borrow from Spider-Man most famous phrase, Superman is the epitome of a person wielding great power (in Superman’s case, “great powers,” plural) with great responsibility.

Superman is essentially the epitome of everything good a person should embody. Clark Kent was adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent and raised on a farm in Kansas. There, Clark’s parents taught him not just how to fit in with regular people, but the value of being a good person for no reason but to just be good. Clark didn’t need to witness his parent’s murder at the hand of street crime like Batman to use his powers for good. Nor did he have to be kidnapped by terrorists to figure out that his weapons could be used for good like Iron Man. No, Clark Kent decided to become Superman and use his super abilities for the good of mankind because he knew it was the only right thing to do.

And he's got the qualifications to do his job well!

And he’s got the qualifications to do his job well!

Superman is essentially optimism personified. He symbolizes that everything will be alright even if they world is in bad shape. And it’s actually kind of refreshing to see such a picture of such positivity, especially today. The world has gotten really cynical and grim in the eyes of a lot of people, which is probably one of the reasons why Batman, with his cold and dark demeanor, has become so popular. But unlike Batman, who’s decided that the world will go to hell in a handbasket, Superman still looks at the world and sees hope in it and that we can turn things around for the better.

And this is the version of Superman we got time and time again before. He was like that in the comic that started way back with Action Comics #1 in 1938. He was still a beacon of hope during the old Max Fleischer cartoons of the 1940’s. He was still the boy scout when he appeared in his various TV outings like Lois and Clark, Superboy, Smallville and more. He was still the picture of positivity when he entered the DC Animated Universe produced by Bruce Timm. And Christopher Reeve practically embodied what Superman is when he took on the role in those old feature films. I mean, at the end of each film, you would see him flying in the sky just as the sun rose on the horizon before smiling at the camera. If that’s not the picture of positivity, I don’t know what is!

But what Superman did we get with the new films brought out by Zack Snyder and Warner Bros? We got a Superman who would scowl a lot, was super serious and, while not as grim as Batman, a man who didn’t really understand why he was trying to protect the world. This was a man who wasn’t sure if he should be using his abilities to save anyone as he felt there would be consequences to his actions. In short, Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. sucked out one of the most integral elements of what makes Superman an endearing character: his positive outlook in life.

The movie producers seem to think that we all want our superheroes to be gritty like Batman, who thinks the world is a cruel place and we have to live in a world of fear and darkness. Superman is the total opposite. He’s more than just the most powerful superhero. The character honestly believes there’s goodness in the world and we have to nurture it. Superman is the yin. Batman is the yang. Unfortunately, Zack Snyder decided to make Superman also a yang, which totally goes against what Superman stands for.

Light vs Dark

Light and Dark

In fact, we need Superman to be that symbol of pure good more than ever. With all the trouble the world is facing, we need someone who can inspire us to do good for no other reason but it’s the decent thing to do. Warner Bros and Zack Snyder took that away from us because they only see the darkness, not the lighter side of goodness that Superman symbolizes.

What do you think of the Superman from the new movies? Let me know in the comments section below!

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3 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With the DC Movies’ Superman

  1. Hello there! Thanks for the read. Ironically, Man of Steel is the film that made me a fan of Superman, rather indirectly, because it motivated me to begin reading his books and when I came across some real great material, I was blown away at the underestimated simplicity and ideal of the character. Before that, I primarily read mostly Batman and Spider-Man.

    I hope what I’m about to say makes sense: I definitely agree with you about the Zack Snyder version being far short of our expectations of who Superman is, but a closer examination of that sentence reveals that these may just be ‘expectations’. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that these characters (particularly Batman) have been revised and reinvented countless times. Given that when they are, they ought to maintain their central and core elements. Batman’s motivations for example haven’t changed too dramatically and Superman is still from the planet Krypton.

    However it’s perhaps an oversimplification to say that any single version of the character is the truly definitive version.

    Think about that for a moment. Who is the definitive Superman? The Silver Age one? The Golden Age one? The New52, modern Superman? How about pre-New52? Was it George Reeves’ or Christopher Reeve’s? Or was it the radio show Supes? What about Smallville? The animated series? How about Cavill’s (people growing up today will never know Reeve)? Which of these is the best in a purely objective sense?

    Case in point, several of the superpowers you mentioned are from the Silver Age: pushing planets out of orbit, for example. Breathing in space is also something that the animated series Superman couldn’t do. The character has been made OP at times and then had his powers dialed down at others. Even the Fleischer Superman is dramatically different than Reeve’s: the former couldn’t even fly and flight is now considered to be at the core of the character. Thus, is Reeve’s the definitive version simply because we grew up with him? Superman, now, cannot always fly so fast he reverses time (or travels through it) in every version of the character, and some of the the comic book Supermen are more of bare-knuckle action-heroes than Reeve’s Man of Steel who barely sees action in Superman: the Movie. I loved Reeve, so don’t misunderstand me.

    The Snyder Superman is interpreted as more conflicted, given that the reaction of the entire planet toward him is such as it is in these newest films. I mean, he was being blamed for a worse urban attack than 9/11 by thousands of people. This actually fits in with some of the more broody and less smiley Supermen in modern comics such as Earth One. Further, considering the best of Superman’s reading material is actually ‘elseworld’ type non-canon stories (Red Son, Kingdom Come, All-Star, etc.), it might lead to believe that the core of the character is vastly reinterpretable and that’s what makes it more intriguing. Even in Kingdom Come, Superman is far from a smirking beacon of hope for the bulk of the story. But that’s what allows the character to be redeemed.

    So it may not be that they’re getting the character “wrong”. It may only be that the character is “different” from what you grew up knowing him to be like, which clearly can’t define the character absolutely at all. I’ve read a lot of articles claiming that the character is being done “wrong” but without giving any kind of objective reason why, other than he didn’t meet my expectations, there really can’t be any argument against the assertion.

    I know this is quite long for a single comment but I’m trying to say I both agree and disagree. I understand why this Synder Supes rubs the wrong way. I saw BvS and was like “my gosh does he have to grimace at everything?” Sure they could have given us more scenes that stressed his humanity and charm. But at the same time, I think it’s a misstatement to say that Snyder’s Superman somehow isn’t Superman because he doesn’t meet our selective expectations based on a few (or the most popular or contemporary) examples of Superman that we know of. Cavill isn’t Reeve. That’s that.

    However, that doesn’t exactly mean that I trust Snyder has the storytelling chops to really bring this Superman full circle from an anxious, worried, defeated and sorrowful “Superboy” new at the gig to the confident, sure, warming inspiration that we know the Man of Tomorrow to be ultimately. I’d love to see that kind of development for a character who has been degraded as having no room for character development in his films. But again… not sure Snyder can pull that off.

    The source material is there. “They will join you in the sun”, “On my planet it means hope”. It’s there. They just need someone who can nail it.

    • I appreciate the comment and, yes, I do have to agree with you somewhat that it’s does seem kind of unfair to judge Synder’s version of Superman based on one’s expectations. But the biggest problem with Synder’s Man of Steel is that his version just doesn’t work.

      When you mentioned the “S” on Superman’s chest means hope on Krypton, I kind of had a flashback to Man of Steel when he said it. I muttered to myself, “Then why does it seem like you feel hopeless?” This new Superman doesn’t feel right because it’s hard to get why he’s doing things. It certainly doesn’t help when his two fathers have conflicting ideas on what he should do with his powers. Should he use them for the good of the planet like what Jor-El wants? Or should he just hide them like Jonathan Kent said? So, when he does decide to don the big “S”, it seems like he’s doing it half-heartedly.

      I’m not against making radical changes to a character. I’m perfectly fine with the campy Batman from the 60’s live action show as well as The Brave and the Bold cartoon. But it has to work well. Maybe a lot of it has to deal with how Snyder is telling the story like you said. I would love to see his Superman mature and become more positive in the future as you said. But based on Batman v. Superman, I’ve the sinking feeling we’ll be getting something along the lines of the Injustice version of Superman.

      • Well said. It’s like the source material/potential is there with the idea of hope but they don’t do much with it. And as you say, his motivations are extremely muddled.
        I have the same sinking feeling. I would use these films to give us a Superman who has learned to work through his inner conflicts. It’s ironic that for years people complained about Superman being boring, not conflicted enough, and too nice, and now we have too much of that. I don’t trust Snyder to learn from his mistakes.
        The best thing you just said was that this Superman doesn’t work. New iterations are fine, but they should at least make for good storytelling.

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