Friday, 1 May 2015

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet, More Heroic in Full Colour

I'm gonna talk about Superman because of course I am. The Batman V Superman: Yawn of Justice teaser trailer landed a week or so ago and the time is ripe for me to talk about Superman once again. It's not like I've talked about Superman that often before on this blog...

Well, aside from my first ever post, that one time I argued Nicolas Cage would have given us the greatest Superman movie of all time, or those other times I discussed how Superman and Captain America are similar icons and why it's okay he killed Zod in the movies. Oh, I also wrote about how Wonder Woman is the perfect balance between Superman's light and Batman's dark.

I think my point is that I've written about Superman quite a bit on this blog and often in regards to the same theme: that Superman is a symbol of hope and inspiration, embodying our most noble ideals. I've repeatedly belaboured this point since I don't think people realise just how important having icons that we can aspire to are in terms of the types of stories we tell ourselves and narratives we weave in our culture.

"I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal."

When I was younger, I always seemed to be more geared towards more flawed superheroes like Spider-Man and saw more idealistic superheroes like Superman as boring since they were perfect. However, as I've gotten older I've come to truly appreciate icons like Superman and Captain America who are fearlessly good and true.

Whereas Spider-Man and the majority of Marvel's superheroes are characters we relate to and feel we are like, Superman and the majority of DC's superheroes serve as aspirations to what we could be. This isn't an original observation but I think it's an interesting one and also highlights how Zack Snyder has no idea what to do with DC's iconic characters.

"I just don't know if they're dark and gritty enough." - Zack Snyder, definitely.

As many people before me have pointed out before me, notably Patton Oswalt, you can't have different superheroes bouncing off of each other if each character is brooding because then they aren't bouncing off of each so much as they having an angst party with a colour theme of gray-scale and a platter of self-important cake.

What got me thinking about this yet again is that I saw someone do the impossible, make Man of Steel look like a Superman movie. Now, don't get me wrong, despite the many issues I have with the film, there were brief moments where Man of Steel almost got it right and felt like a Superman movie.

The best example of that sense of hope and awe that Superman is supposed to inspire the movie ever got to was when he learns to fly for the first time. It is one of the few legitimately awe-inspiring moments in a film desperately needing such hopeful moments.


That actually feels like Superman. Going beyond what should be possible and inspiring some sense of wonder. Russell Crowe's overwrought and on-the-nose narration aside, it is a great scene and possibly my favourite in the movie.

Superman flying across the sky. Such a simple image yet one that seems to carry more weight and inspires more awe than should be possible. Just the idea that a man in a cape could soar amongst the clouds overhead seems to stir something in the imagination.

Now, what made Man of Steel look Superman-y was a video by VideoLab which restored the natural colour to a film which had been heavily desaturated to the point it looks as though it was shot in gray. It is, in all honesty, a revelation to see what could have been.


That first flight scene I mentioned above would have been truly awe-inspiring with the contrast of Superman's bright red cape streaking across the blue sky, solidifying that simple but powerful image. But even more so than that scene just seeing the bright primary colours of Superman's costume in all their glory is such a pleasant sight.

Superman is a bright and hopeful character. He isn't Batman. He doesn't live in the shadows nor is he morally ambiguous. He lives in the sun and is wholly good. He isn't self-important or angsty. He is self-effacing and optimistic.

I have nothing against gritty superhero movies as long as the source material is gritty. Batman is a gritty character in the comics and works perfectly for gritty movies. Superman is a light character in the comics and works terribly for gritty movies.

Well... that's not a nice thing to say.

That said, they could still have made a gritty Superman movie and that could have worked... if they had made Superman the one beacon of light in that movie. A symbol of hope in a world shrouded in gray and cynicism. That could work since then the character of Superman remains constant and expresses the ideals he should while people can get their gritty fix or whatever.

However, I'd like to move backwards in time to a more simpler and less desaturated era when Superman fought giant dinosaurs and mad scientists on a regular basis, mainly to save Louis Lane since she routinely and recklessly put herself in danger.

I'm talking, of course, about the 1940s animated Superman serials. Did you know you can see all of these 10 minute clips in one single YouTube video? Because you can and it's wonderful.


Every episode follows the exact same structure:

-A mad scientist or antagonist does something evil which will cause destruction to Metropolis
-Louis investigates the story on her own and gets captured or in danger's way
-Clark Kent says, "This looks like a job for Superman" and changes into his costume, flies over to the scene
-Superman beats the bad guy or monster and saves Louis
-Louis writes an article about the incident
-The episode ends with Clark Kent winking at the camera while someone says it's all thanks to Superman.

Essentially, they found a formula that worked and ran with it, and to be honest, due to the short length of the clips and pace of the story, coupled with the fantastic old-timey animation, this formula works really well.

It might be repetitive but that repetition isn't really annoying and I actually think works somehow. Maybe because with such a simple set up, merely changing the details of the scenario is enough for an episode to work. Also, I think the repetitiveness gets a pass since they nail the character of Superman so perfectly.

I mean, they got the pose down and everything.

But more than that they got the ideal of Superman, that he will never stop trying to save the day, no matter the odds or how hard it may be. That he will suffer or struggle through anything in order to protect everyone and will always come flying across the sky to help anyone he can (mostly Louis).

There was a moment in [SPOILER] The Avengers: Age of Ultron where Captain America is faced with saving a city full of people or the rest of the world. So of course, he resolves to save everyone in the city and the world and won't leave until everyone is saved even if it means he would die trying.

Steve Rogers: Perfect human.

That is exactly the type of ideal character that Superman is. Where characters like Batman would consider the possibility of not being able to save everyone (even if only for a moment), Superman would never even entertain that option.

For example, in an episode of the 1940s cartoon, Superman needs to hold two bunches of broken cables in order to create a current that runs through his body to complete the circuit so a giant magnet can repel a comet hurtling towards the city (it's kind of as silly as it sounds). And he holds onto those cables despite the fact they are causing him serious pain since he won't let nothing stop him from saving everyone.

Nothing.

And that is who Superman is. That is what he stands for. He is a symbol of hope, of inspiration.

That's why I don't want to see Batman make Superman bleed in Batman V Superman. I want to see Superman fly up above while Batman scales rooftops before they hang out later in a cafe.


References:

What if Man of Steel was IN COLOR?

The Biggest Superman Compilation: Clark Kent, Lois Lane and more! [Cartoons for Children - HD]

Patton Oswalt Talks DC, Marvel, Star Wars & More!

Super Cafe: Batman v Superman - It's On!

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This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

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