by Chip Zdarsky, comic illustrator and the guy who talks to Applebees on Facebook
I don’t really care about Superman and you don’t really care about Superman, so why did last summer’s modern reboot, Man of Steel, upset me and others? There’s a public fondness for Christopher Reeves’ classic “aw-shucks-spandex” portrayal from 1978, but most people would agree that our modern tastes wouldn’t be too accepting of the old-fashioned flawless farmer Superman. So, yeah, he needed an update. But the resulting nihilistic dud, last summer’s Man of Steel from hollow director Zach Snyder and dark, meandering producer Christopher Nolan was as fun as a fire in a Planet Hollywood: destruction and sadness burning away any goodwill brought in through nostalgia.
We were treated to Henry Cavill’s dour Superman, raised to not help anyone, and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, devoid of charm and saddled with clunky dialogue where she has to tell people she’s a Pulitzer-winning journalist so people will realize she’s a good journalist. The relentlessly bleak movie culminates with wild disregard for human life in a grim, destructive finale that went on forever and ended with (SPOILERS) Superman slaughtering his adversary, crying and screaming to an unjust god amidst a city he helped destroy.
I’m not the audience, I figured as I left the theatre. I could barely handle the sombre Nolan Batman movies, so maybe I’ve just (gasp!) outgrown superhero spectacles. But then, a few months later, I saw the Thor sequel.
Now, the fact that a Thor sequel even exists is kind of mind-blowing to a guy who used to dream of a Spider-Man movie when he was a kid. Thor always seemed like a third-rate hard-sell, but after Chris Hemsworth’s surprisingly fun turn as the blond thunder god in two Thor movies and The Avengers, it’s now pretty clear to me that Thor is the new Superman.
Thor smiles; naturally, even. The new Superman smiles with sad eyes, like it’s a bone thrown to the audience to let them know that this isn’t just a flying Batman. Thor battles the bad guys with a sense of fun, even though, and here’s the interesting part, he’s a warrior who surely kills people. So, do I have a double standard here? Why is it OK for fictional alien do-gooder No. 1 to kill people and not the other guy? Well, it’s all in the execution, so to speak. Superman unleashed holy hell in a dark, painfully contrived, no-win scenario, culminating in a disturbing snapping of a person’s neck. Thor threw his super-hammer at a rock monster in a daylight battle, smashing it to pieces, and then delivering a fun quip. Did that rock monster have a rock family? A little rock monster at home, wondering where rock daddy is? I don’t know. Who cares? It was gleeful and ludicrous and unreal, like a comic book. Bloodless and bright.
Thor is fun, the way Superman should be; his cape is a bright, hopeful red and you want to hang out with him. The Superman in Man of Steel is a guy you want to keep your distance from, more coldly alien than the Asgardian who just arrived here. They’re both immigrants to Earth, but even though the Man of Steel Superman was raised here, Thor feels more connected to humans in his movies, more their champion. More their Superman.
Back in the ’60s when Marvel Comics characters such as Thor first appeared in their books, they were complex, well-rounded antidotes to the campy, consequence-free narratives of DC Comics’ Superman and Batman. However, somewhere along the way to modern movie appearances, the managers of the DC characters mistook complex for mirthless, and Marvel has managed to balance their history of multi-dimensional characters with a sense of fun onscreen. You come back to Marvel movies for the characters, not the spectacle.
Now this, of course, is a Cultural Lesson gleaned from 2013, but I don’t think DC and their parent company, Warner Bros. are going to change tactics with the 2015 Superman sequel featuring a Ben Affleck Batman. It will undoubtably have the dark palette and brooding characters we’ve come to know and shell out money for. It will make a zillion dollars and parents will still, shockingly, be debating whether or not the new Superman movie is appropriate to take their kids to, or, should they hire a babysitter. But, if I may make a suggestion, if you’re interested in seeing a Superman movie that summer, I’m pretty certain Thor’s going to be in Avengers 2.
Who would you rather: Chris Hemsworth or Henry Cavill?