Some Ramblings - Man of Steel (2013)
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Et tu Supe? In the era of dark, brooding, sulking, and conflicted heroes, Superman had no option but to flip over his sunny side and turn his cheerful smile upside down. For, this not simply following suite, it is the natural order, eventual evolution. After chasing cat burglars and picking up (quite literally) purse snatchers and fighting crimes of general nature, time has come for him to look inward and introspect a bit about the true nature of his existence. A fantastic choice on the part of Nolan and Goyer to site the story where the man (and the boy) come to grips with his paranormal persona. M. Night Shyamalan's 'Unbreakable' treaded similar waters before exploring the psyche of a seemingly normal person slowly realizing the enormity and gravity of his potential. And this Nolan at helm here, who couldn't leave even the cape worn by Batman alone without providing a lengthy logical explanation for his flying than simply falling back upon 'he simply does'. For him, to leave out such a juicy chunk of the Superman mythology, his growing years, and dive right into the flying and rescuing part, doesn't agree with his M.O., where means matter more than the ends. What a heady mix that is during the formative years, where innocence and ignorance co-exist and confusion and rage rule supreme. They aren't the wonder years that everyone romanticizes about, in fact they are brutal years and they are hard, long, slow and painful. And that is just for mere mortals. How about throwing on top of it, the extra awareness of super powers? How does (and how can) a child reconcile with it, how can he rein in his emotions when he knows he is unstoppable, and how to take all the insults and taunts and yet not retaliate? The parallel to Christ is unmistakable here, but then again Christ never had to go through middle and high schools. Superman is a man of his choices, not one simply of superior genes.

The main problem with Superman, on screen, has always been the lack of any rough edges. If anything, the man feels the weight and carries the burden of his powers, making him more a sympathetic figure, than an exciting and edgier one. This was the problem whenever the character needed to be dusted off the shelves and brought back into currency for a new generation. But the current times are such that not an academic year goes by without some school somewhere getting its walls and floors painted in brick red with the blood of its inmates caught in violent rampages. The times are such that not a single news bulletin passes off without reports of some suicide bombing somewhere or some horrific explosion is some crowded marketplace, taking out scores of innocents out of reckoning. And to still parade Superman around, one who is omnipotent and near omniscient, stopping robberies and fixing rail tracks and broken dams does grave injustice to the concept of the super hero. That is the reason why the earlier outing 'Superman Returns' tried taking him the sentimental route letting him discover the softer side of him, which didn't find wider acceptance with the audience for obvious reasons - after all, who would want to see him mend his bleeding heart. And so when time came around for yet another reboot, the writers had no option but to drag him into the real world which would provide for the obligatory 'darkness', than some imaginary la-la land in a hunky-dory time, letting him deal with the issues as a gifted person, an outsider, who would become a natural target for all things normal. His two fathers, the biological and celestial Jor-El providing the intellectual heft and his surrogate and terrestrial Jonathan Kent giving him the much needed moral compass, shepherding him on the path of right and virtue, Superman, like the rest of his freak brethren, is ready for a world that is fraught with conflicts, dualities and nuances. There is a beautiful conversation between Papa Kent and Clark that sums up this new take on the old hero, that it is worth letting a school bus full of kids die in a rescue act than risk himself being outed, because world cannot comprehend the concept of such a supreme power. This is not the Superman of the yore, or the Superman, the noble. Aptly named, this is the 'Man of Steel', whose resolve for the greater good of mankind might (and would) come with a costly collateral - sometimes of property and some other times of life. And that is still acceptable, because in life, everything is a trade off...just like in the real world.

That said, 'Man of Steel' is a surprisingly humorless film, breaking away from its earlier mould, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The script simply doesn't have any room for levity, and any humor would have come across as forced and jarring to what the makers were aiming for. Added to that, probably for the first time on celluloid, Superman comes across as someone who could truly be faster than a speeding bullet. The third act of the movie, devoted to confrontation between two celestial powers remains true, in principle and execution, to an epic showdown of gravity defying powers (Parallels again to a similar street and sky brawl between Neo and Agent Smith in 'Matrix Revolutions'). It is interesting to see where the makers would go from this solid start, if they are to stay true to the 'alien caught in real world dynamics' foundation. Physically, he is indestructible. So if his villains were to vanquish him, they would have to hurt him emotionally, and that makes Lois Lane as the primary target. 'The mask is not to conceal your identity, it is to protect those you love' confides Batman at one point. Expect a more detached, unemotional and unromantic Superman warding off any overtures from Ms. lane. For he knows quite well that no one is safe, no one gets a pass, not even himself in the real world. This is a hero for the new generation, one that is aloof, smart, cynical and very cruel. And on this front, he has no choice.

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