Thursday, July 12, 2012

Never Ending

Ahhh...the internet. Like the 24hour cable news network, the internet requires that the people there always have something to say. So people say things. They have to. Sometimes it's their job. Sometimes it's because there's a medium, which is a vacuum. And culture abhors a medium vacuum, so people fill it. They fill it with things like this...
Why There Will Never, Ever Be Another Great Superman Movie

This is labeled news, and I guess it qualifies if you're writing for E!. It's that weird thing on the internet where somebody writes an opinion in wildly overblown hyperbole. It should be on a comment forum for something, or on somebody's blog. But it's on E!. Which is weird. If you read the article, there's an argument there, and there may be some merit to it. What the writer, Joal Ryan, is saying is fairly simple: Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie was pretty fantastic, and because it was the product of its time, and because times have changed, there will never be another movie like it. The reason it was fantastic was because of the sincerity with which the character and superheroism was handled. We live in a more cynical time, where sincerity makes us uncomfortable. So we won't have another movie like this. Ever.

This quotation should sum up  his point nicely:
Above all, Superman is a confident, unburdened hero because Donner and his writers let him be. And Donner and his writers let him be because, all those years ago, they didn't have graphic-novel-prescribed psychoanalysis to answer to or sift through.
Today, the modern movie superhero is a wreck.
He (and it's still almost always a he) must be touched by a form of madness in order to get to the point where he dons a suit.
The Superman in Superman: The Movie, by comparison, just does it.

Here's the thing that's interesting to me. This is precisely the same thing that, more or less, happened to comics sixteen or seventeen years before Donner's Superman movie. The superheroes, following the example of Superman, were going along just fine in their straightforward, sincere, and uncynical adventures. Then came the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and most importantly, Spider-Man. They were complicated, and selfish, and flawed, and their psyches were there on the page to see. This is precisely the 'graphic-novel-prescribed psychoanalysis' that Ryan refers to, happening in 1962. Or at least that's the generally accepted story.

From Superman 61, by Bill Finger and Al Plastino

It's not true, of course. Batman, as soon as his origin was revealed, was a Freudian's dream. And when Superman's origin was revisited, so that for the first time the character became aware of Krypton's destruction and the death of everyone in the cosmos who was like him, he gets a host of psychological trouble for it. Both those origin revisions, by the way, were in the 1940's. Both were written by Bill Finger. If you want to see scans of the pages from all the major retellings of Superman's origins, check out the site Superman through the Ages. History is never quite as linear as people like to say it is. Trends are never smooth.

I may be criticizing the unabashed hyperbole of Ryan's article (which may just be a symptom of the internet culture), but there is something to it. What he's really saying is that the psychologically troubled superhero sells right now, so the people who are making big-budget movies will probably stick with that formula. But there's no real reason they have to. Sure, we live in an age suspicious of sincerity, but maybe that will change. Maybe there's a movie out there that can show us the folly of cynicism and remind us that there's value in pure heroism. Times change. Never say never.


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