Superman: the iconic and quintessential American superhero. Everyone knows his colors, can identify the S-shaped symbol on his chest, and quote his lengthy list of super powers and abilities. So why do we seem to have such a difficult time liking his movies?
Superman’s most recent onscreen representation came via the highly anticipated Man of Steel blockbuster. But Superman has certainly received the Hollywood treatment a time or two before. Yet, none of these renditions, including Man of Steel, have captured audiences to the extent we’ve seen with franchises like The Dark Knight, Iron man and even Spiderman.
How can a hero as legendary and globally accepted as THE Superman be so difficult to capture on film? Despite multiple attempts throughout the years to tell the story of the spaceship-wrecked visitor from the alien planet Krypton, the reception of each product has ultimately been mixed at best. Even in the case of Man of Steel, which flaunts a gigantic budget and ties to successful names like Christopher Nolan, the reviews have been less than stellar with an underwhelming amount of post-release buzz. Perhaps a closer examination of the elements will reveal the answer.
Let’s look at Man of Steel as our test subject. Although arguably the most successful and interesting installment so far, it would seem that many excited viewers felt let down by the result—critics included. So what is it about the film that just didn’t quite do it for everyone? Certainly the filmmaking itself can be ruled out for the most part. There were plenty of beautiful scenes and interesting direction to keep most happy from a visual standpoint. The storyline, although a bit cluttered and hurried, wasn’t too off the map either. So if the elements of the movie seem decent enough, perhaps that can leave only one other possibility. Perhaps the problem is Superman himself…
Maybe Superman’s character just doesn’t translate to a movie audience. Maybe because he’s not as vulnerable as Peter Parker, or as angry and imperfect at Bruce Wayne, or as charming and eccentric as Tony Stark, we just don’t invest our emotions in the same way. Maybe his near invincibility makes it difficult for us to really believe that our hero is in danger. Maybe the refiners fire just doesn’t burn hot enough in our hero’s journey. Perhaps, in the movies, Superman’s real worst enemy is himself.
Presumably, the audience’s desire to care about the hero stems from their ability to relate to them and to experience the journey that has motivated them to do what they do. Can that be successfully achieved with such a character as Superman? Or do we already care, but just haven’t seen his story the way we want it to be? You won’t find the perfect answer here. The fact remains, however, that every Superman movie thus far, including Man of Steel, hasn’t hit the sweet spot.
Whatever the true underlying issue is, it is clear that no one has yet knocked this franchise out of the park. And until someone can locate that Kryptonite, our Man of Steel might be in store for a not so “super” Hollywood career in the future.