The first images of Henry Cavill as Superman are up and about. He looks good. Case closed, which frees us up to ask the more important question: Who is the Man of Steel? Underneath all those bulging biceps—deep down inside—what’s really making him tick? What motivates him? Who is he at the center of his being?
Not too long ago moviegoers were asking the same thing about Captain America, and it turned out that despite the director’s best efforts at self-sabotage, it turned out to be a good film.
Because Superman is an American icon, writers and directors worth their salt need to have a firm grasp on America’s core principles. Superman should exude our highest ideals, which is why doing him “right” is extremely difficult. Placed in the hands of a confused writer or pseudo-intellectual, the character will collapse under his own weight. Writer Grant Morrison (who can be brilliant at times) misses the mark when he says:
“Each decade, these characters represent our own best idea of what we’d like to be, our own big idea…Superman started out as a socialist fighter for the oppressed in 1938, but that was the time of the Depression. In the ’80s, he’s a yuppie,” (H/T Four Color Media Monitor).
Wrong. Only bad writers are so lured by a sign of the time that they’d boil a character down to something that can be summed up in pithy pejoratives or political talking points. Only bad writers mistake universal rights for international opinion. Only bad writing essentially creates FDR’s Superman and Reagan’s Superman. Good writing transcends the kind of political sniping Grant Morrison sets the stage for.
So when Henry Cavill says he wants to “[be] as true as I can be to the original character and who the character is,” someone needs to follow up with the soon-to-be Clark Kent. They need to poke and prod his muscles with something deeper than, “How cool is it to put the big ‘S’ on every morning for work?”
I have confidence that Zack Snyder will do Superman proud. In fact, I would argue that his spot-on understanding of Dr. Manhattan (an awesome, yet cynical, take on what Superman would end up like if he existed) has prepared him for the task. He’s ready.
And now, it’s time to watch Rorschach die in all his awesomeness.