Superman is dead, and Hollywood killed him
the attempt to re-launch the Superman franchise with "Superman Returns"
(2006) – part-remake and part-sequel to the Christopher Reeve
films – failed, critics blamed
the Blue Boy Scout's squeaky-clean image. He was too boring for
sophisticated tastes and no longer relevant to modern society, they
The sentiment is echoed in the 2016 film itself, when Lois
Lane wins a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial titled, “Why the World
Doesn’t Need Superman.” Our cultural elites, infatuated with
ambiguity and subversion, certainly agree. So, it should surprise no
one that Hollywood decided that the apparently stodgy and archaic Man
of Tomorrow needed a makeover.
Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster created the character in 1933,
Superman has undergone numerous transformations in comics, television
shows and movies, including a supervillain akin to Nietzsche’s
Übermensch, a Stalinist, and even an ex-American having renounced
his citizenship. The following commentary will limit its scope to
analyzing the moral and intellectual perversion of the Superman
character on the silver screen.
The Movie" (1978) and "Superman II" (1980) canonized Christopher Reeve’s
portrayal of Superman as a hopeful, compassionate and humble
superhero who disguises as the bumbling reporter Clark Kent by day.
Reeve’s Superman is neither seduced by moral ambiguity or
interested in engaging with identity politics. His actions are
directed by a strong moral compass instilled by his loving adoptive
parents in Kansas, and by the spiritual guidance of his biological
This iteration of Superman is of Krypton but also
human, an alien but also an American. He does not cling to the
conflict and angst inherent in a hyphenated identity. Rather, he
finds strength and solace by inhabiting a plurality of being.
In addition, Reeve’s Superman defies the current political tendency to pit an imagined oppressor class against various victim groups. Though he is literally an all-powerful white male, and thus a member of the alleged privileged class, he has no desire to abuse his gifts toward selfish ends. Instead, he chooses to fight for “truth, justice, and the American way.” Consequently, this Superman represents an anathema to the cultural-media elite class.
resolve the issue, Warner Bros. hired Christopher Nolan to
deconstruct and reimagine the superhero as a brooding and tortured
figure, like he had done with Batman in his Dark Knight Trilogy
(2005, 2008, 2012). Inspired by the macabre realism of Frank Miller’s
graphic novel series, The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Nolan broke new
cinematic ground by rebooting the Batman movies as neo-noir crime
Failing to realize that dark and grim interpretations, while
appropriate for the tragic character of Batman, would not lend well
to a figure destined to serve as a “beacon of light for humanity,”
the studio commissioned the subversive
dissembling of Superman.
new "Nolanized" Superman (Henry Cavill) debuted in "Man of Steel" (2013),
and was seen again in the recent release, "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of
Justice" (2016) – both directed by Zack Snyder. Rife with pessimism
and paradox, Cavill’s Superman is an isolated and miserable figure
who does not regard earth as his world, and grapples with his
relevance to human society. He is constantly referred to as an alien,
lest we forget his otherworldly origins.
In this version, his mother
does not offer moral guidance, but compounds his existential confusion
by telling him that he does not owe humanity a thing. Indeed, the
ensuing nihilism aligns well with the ideology of cultural elites
that define morality, not in black-and-white terms, but in 50
shades of gray.
a cinematic canvass of bleak grayscale and sepia tones, Snyder (who
that he cannot fathom why “everyone clings to the Christopher Reeve
version”) further distances his work from the bright optimism of
the Reeve films. Abundant religious resonances (eg. Clark Kent’s
baptism when he saves his fellow schoolmates from a drowning bus)
emphasize Superman’s parallels with Christ. However, Snyder depicts
Superman in uncharacteristic form, floating above suffering humans
rather than rushing to their rescue, to cast him as a fickle alien
deity and not a loving savior.
new films also attempt to undermine Superman’s role as a force of
good for mankind by focusing on the destruction of Metropolis in the
wake of his epic battle with Kryptonian arch-villain General Zod.
Finally, good and bad characters remain skeptical about Superman and
wedded to the unfounded belief that he will turn on them. In fact, a
dream sequence in the recent film depicts Superman as an evil warlord
– likely a prediction for the next installment, "Justice League"
This alternatively stoic and woebegone avatar does outright
injustice to the character of Superman as we had come to know and
love on the big screen – an American hero that embodied
benevolence, moral fortitude, and geniality. That Superman is now
dead. And, Hollywood killed him.
Hansen is a cultural critic based in Windsor, VT. The Vermont House
Republican Caucus consults with her communications firm, Pierson A.
Harleth & Co.