Yes, you can probably file this under “Chris is thinking too much about Superman again.” But the latest trailer for Man of Steel is out, and I am almost physically excited by the chances for this movie now.
I admit, I’m an easy target for anything about Superman. As a kid, I wore the Underoos, I ran around in a red cape, and read the comics. I saw Superman III in the theater, and even that did not kill my love of the character. So I was going into the theater on opening day, no matter what.
To put it in the kindest terms possible, that hasn’t always been the case.
Superman, despite being on the level of a primal myth for us now, is not an easy character to bring to life. The idea behind him is elegantly simple, and almost encoded into our DNA: a perfect man comes from the stars to save us all. That’s easy to understand and often incredibly hard to pull off in execution.
But two things in this trailer makes me think that’s going to be time and money well spent, that make me believe the filmmakers really understand what a Superman movie needs — what every Superman story needs.
This is the first: when Lara says to Jor-El, “He’ll be an outcast. They’ll kill him.”
And Jor-El responds with one word: “How?”
That’s brilliant. It’s more than just a badass line. It shows a fundamental understanding of what makes Superman so compelling.
In most fiction, the threat of death — “They’ll kill him” — is the ultimate raising of the stakes. I’ve read that every good story ends with a death, and while that may not be true, it’s definitely true that death is the engine that drives the drama. Characters seek to escape it, avoid it, or deal it out to their enemies. But they cannot ignore it.
Except, as Jor-El points out, Superman can. By virtue of his powers, he is beyond the usual punishments and sanctions that mortals must endure. He is outside the old rules of the game, and that makes his story a new and compelling set of problems. How do you create drama where the protagonist is invulnerable — literally — to what usually drives the story?
Many writers have a problem with that, which is one reason why Superman stories are not easy. It’s hard to find conflicts that a perfect man cannot end simply by spinning the world in another direction.
But the second moment in the trailer is what makes me confident they can do it.
When Clark first reveals his abilities by saving a school bus that’s gone into a river, his foster father Jonathan Kent (played by Kevin Costner, because, come on, who doesn’t want the guy from Field of Dreams to be his dad?) tells him that he’s not from Earth.
Clark responds by asking, “Can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son?”
And Jonathan Kent pulls him in close, and, voice cracking, says, “You are my son.”
If you didn’t choke up a little at that, well, you’re far less sentimental than I am.
Moses and Christ allegories aside, this is where we see how Clark chooses to deal with the legacy of great and unearned power from Jor-El and Lara. He still wants to be human. And his father embraces him for everything he is — not out of fear, but out of love.
Superman is not about what he can do. As Chris Sims recently said, if Superman wanted, he could rule us all and force us to be good, because after all, the dude’s got laser eyes. It’s about what he chooses to do. And he chooses to be good. He chooses to do the right thing. He chooses to care about humanity.
His enemies will say that this makes him weaker. But because of what he’s learned from the Kents, it’s actually what makes him a hero.
That’s the movie I want to see.
With super-punching, of course. Because you’ve got to have the super-punching.
(A regift. Originally published December 22, 2009. Merry Christmas.)
As someone who was not really fond of the holiday season for years — long story with familiar elements: divorce, family tension, bills, et cetera — I’m sort of surprised how many of my favorite movies are Christmas-themed. It starts with Die Hard, which is still one of the great action flicks of all time, where John McClane hands out whupass from a seemingly bottomless Santa bag in some of the best set pieces leavened with humor ever done.
Then there’s The Sure Thing, an underrated and underappreciated movie that was John Cusack’s first starring role.
Cusack plays a desperate college freshman traveling to L.A. to get laid. Directed by Rob Reiner, this could have been just another 80s teenage sex comedy. But the brilliant script by Steve Bloom and Jonathan Roberts is filled with sharp dialogue and smart scenes, like this one, delivered with veteran timing by Cusack:
Then, when I met my endlessly wonderful wife, I discovered her Christmas tradition: watching The Ref, with Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis. It’s a deeply strange, unsentimental and still very funny look at how the holidays are almost always improved by an armed intruder.
When it comes to more traditional Christmas movies, Scrooged is one of the only takes on the Dickens classic that I can stomach, even with all the souvenirs of another decade it includes, like Bobcat Goldthwait, “a top-of-the-line VCR,” David Johansen, and such. It has Bill Murray, and his performance can outshine any number of trouble spots. His dry, matter-of-fact delivery grounds every moment, no matter how strange or maudlin, right down to the dirt floor of reality. And if you don’t tear up at his closing monologue, well, you’re dead inside.
But my all-time favorite Christmas movie — and one of my all-time favorite movies — is Love Actually, which features a cast of mostly British actors being so ridiculously beautiful, smart and charming you wonder why all our lives can’t be a Richard Curtis movie.
With a cast that includes Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Laura Linney and more, there are too many great scenes to list. Seriously, just go pick up the DVD. But here is my favorite:
Oh, and I’m also pretty fond of the line where the kid says, “All right, Dad. Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”
Merry Christmas and God bless us, every one.
- San Diego Comic-Con beckons. Here’s geek centerfold fantasy and Daily Show correspondent Olivia Munn on her favorite things about Nerd Prom.
- And he might not be Maxim-worthy, but Chris Sims has his own take on what to see at Comic-Con.
- And while I’m not trying to start rumors of an impending Chris Sims/Olivia Munn whirlwind romance and marriage, here’s advice about how to get laid at Comic-Con. I wholeheartedly endorse #8, which advises showering.
- BTW, my panel, “Fang Boys and Fang Girls,” will be at noon on Saturday, July 24, in Room 7AB. I say “my panel,” but we all know the truth. It’s Charlaine Harris’s world. The rest of us just live in it.
- The Goon coming soon.
- Dept. of Dishing It Out But Not Taking It: Elizabeth Hasselbeck edition.
- “I am obsessed with Survivor, so I thought it would be fun.” One-star reviews of classic books on Amazon.
- Great news for Jack Reacher fans. Christopher McQuarrie (of the amazing and underrated Way of the Gun) to take on adaptation of One Shot.
- Interview with Bill Murray. That’s all you really need to know.
Gotta love these guys. Not the Nazis, the filmmakers. Rather than jump through Hollywood hoops, they’re making the movie themselves.
I have a confession to make: I have no desire to see Kick-Ass. None.
If I’d gone to junior high in the aftermath of Columbine, I would have been locked up. No joke. I buzz-cut my hair, wore a black trenchcoat every day, and wrote violent short stories in bad imitation of Hunter S. Thompson where I used a bazooka to blow up the school.
So I think I get where Kick-Ass is coming from. And it’s safe to say that if I were still that same 13-year-old misfit, I would be camping out in front of a theater right now, waiting for the movie to open.
But somewhere along the line, I stopped wanting to see a little girl disembowel people with a samurai sword. I think Roger Ebert says it best in his review of the movie: “Shall I have feelings, or should I pretend to be cool?” (This is the same Roger Ebert who raved about xXx, by the way.)
I love Matthew Vaughn’s direction, loved his previous films Layer Cake and Stardust, and have little to no problem seeing grown-ups onscreen tortured, shot, beaten and blown up. I loved Mark Millar’s runs on The Authority and The Ultimates, and was even with him on Wanted, until probably issue four.
But Kick-Ass? Maybe it’s because I’m a father now, and I’ve grown just as compromised and old and hypocritical as a dad in a bad sitcom. But I don’t think so. Sad to say, I just don’t respect the effort very much. It’s a cop-out to claim you’re just following the rules of the real world — by showing mind-blowing violence — and then jump back when people protest and say, “Whoa. Just a joke, folks.” As if to say, “We think it’s realistic and gritty to show a dad shooting his daughter in the chest at point-blank range — unless, of course, you’re offended. In that case, we were only kidding.”
In other words, the whole point of the movie is to deny the very reason the filmmakers claim they made it in the first place. I have more respect for Romero and the Troma team, who at least admit they’re going for the gross-out.
My inner 13-year-old is kicking and screaming as I type this, fighting me every step of the way. He’s calling me a traitor and a hypocrite and many other things that I try not to say out loud any more.
I can see his point. Maybe he’s right, and Kick-Ass would be a great, fun movie. The one thing I’ve learned since being 13 is that I’m wrong. A lot. It’s how I go on learning.
But the little bastard is still going to have to wait to catch it on HBO, and then, only if nothing else is on the TiVo.