I didn’t know I had such strong opinions about Superman until we watched Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut this weekend.
I’m not a comic book person. If you’d asked me two days ago which superhero I identified and cared most about, I probably wouldn’t have picked Superman.
But, I should have.
When this movie is mentioned, everyone shrugs and says, “campy.” But, that’s not what drove me to sit down and write a post. I don’t mind campy. Or bad effects. Or cheesy. Or even that rotten, nonsensical ending. After all, I have the taste of a ten-year old. I giggle at slapstick and puns.
I absolutely do mind writing that doesn’t respect a character or misses a huge chance.
Superman is the loneliest being in the universe. He’s in love with a human who fetishizes him (at least in the Reeve movies). He has an idealized view of humans, and he refuses to give up on them, even when they refuse his compassion and tough love.
The entire storyline of Zod – whether in the new or old movies – is a trap. A political trap. And, while Superman has always been political, this is akin to making Captain America a secret Nazi. It’s cheating.
You have a being who comes from a world where the death penalty has been outlawed. Where this is touted in the stories as making their society advanced and moral. But, now there are three beings who are unable to be rehabilitated, per Jor-El. The planet is going to explode, but instead of life in prison (which would have been short-lived because, hey, exploding planet), Jor-El banishes them to the Phantom Zone. A never-life-eternal.
Does no one else have a problem with this precedent being declared, that someone is irredeemable? Or this cruelty? Is this truly how we believe Krypton would have handled Zod’s crimes? This is never questioned or challenged in the movies (to my knowledge). It is declared by the writers as a truth, and I want you to stop a second and consider why.
The opinion that there are people in the world who are irredeemable is just that, opinion. Dangerous opinion that feeds fear which in turn feeds into justification for authoritarianism. (*gestures at current events*)
I feel it is antithetical to Superman’s belief system. His whole schtick is everyone gets another chance. That people make mistakes or haven’t learned enough yet to ‘do right.’ He doesn’t murder. He’s not a vigilante. He expects justice. He demands it. He forces all of us to be better in the face of injustice. Not meek. Not naive. But, honest and fair. (Yes, I know that assumes a fair judiciary, which is up for debate.)
By forcing Superman to choose between killing Zod or having Zod kill humans, you’ve set up a false narrative that deploys an insidious worldview. That there are humans so dangerous that the only recourse is to murder them – without any judicial oversight.
What does this do to the idealism of Superman? To the lesson that process and arbitration and education and a stronger, equitable social system are how to combat crime?
Setting that aside, let’s look at Superman’s decision to give up his powers to love Lois.
He doesn’t discuss it with her. He doesn’t explain why it would be necessary. But, my really big complaint is that he doesn’t struggle with his sudden human nature. He has a fight in a diner with some bully. He loses. Badly.
In the real world, most guys I’ve known would lash out at Lois for her attempts to help. And, Clark would have then felt overwhelming self-loathing and guilt. What a great story if instead of choosing to reclaim his powers because he needed to save the world from Zod, he had instead chosen to reclaim his powers because he couldn’t cope with the powerlessness and impotence he felt. He couldn’t live surrounded by pain he couldn’t fix or problems he couldn’t solve. Not because he needed to be a hero, but because he couldn’t stand not being able to help anyone, even himself.
That’s the Superman story I crave.