The Reality of Superman or Why There Can’t be a Good Superman Movie

Henry Cavill as Superman in MAN OF STEEL (Image Credit: Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

Henry Cavill as Superman in MAN OF STEEL (Image Credit: Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

What I’m basically talking about:

I saw the latest Superman installment, Man of Steel and was once again horribly disappointed. But rather than condemn DC Comics, Christopher Nolan or anyone else, I decided it was the idea behind a Superman movie I had a problem with.

But that’s almost un-American!

No, it’s not. I can totally explain where I’m coming from with this.

Who is Superman?

Superman (in case you didn’t know) is a superhero. He was sent from the planet Krypton by his parents because their planet was going belly-up. He is adopted by the Kents, a middle class family who name him Clark. He then moves to the big city (aptly name Metropolis), where he goes on to defend Metropolis, then America and then the world, no— the universe, all while being triangulated in a weird romantic game with Louis Lane and himself as Clark Kent. The sun gives him superpowers that enable him to fly, run really fast and be invincible- so long as he’s not near this stuff called kryptonite, which ironically are remnants from his planet that are transformed into radioactive material by the bad guys who destroyed it (I bet you didn’t know that). And (just in case you forgot) Superman fights for, “truth, justice, and the American way.”

What else is Superman?

Since his 1938 conception, Superman has been a symbol for much more than improper underwear wearing. He’s been a symbol for America! That’s right, the big US of A. Superman and America go together hand and hand, like Coca-Cola and apple pie. He is the greatest American hero ever. He achieves his legendary status because of what he believes in, certain (American) cultural traditions he adheres to and his embodiment of all things American.

 It sounds a little un-American if you keep saying “America.”

 I’ve got nothing against America.

Why is that relevant?

When Superman was first introduced in Action Comics 1, America was in the depths of the Great Depression. Jobs and morale were at an all time low. Siegel and Shuster’s comic creation projected an American idealism people were happy to escape their realities with.

In years to come, Superman would become America’s greatest weapon.


It gave people a very black-and-white world view. Where many people’s lives were filled with conflicts, nuances, poverty and starvation, Superman had good guys and bad guys. The world was put in very basic terms.

Where are you going with this?

Just stick with me…

Why can’t everything be that simple?

We all know the world isn’t black and white, and since the dramatic rise in terrorism, neither are the real life “good guys and bad guys.” Because the idea of bad guys being anybody is such a scary concept, we are at times paralyzed by our own fear. The bad guys Superman faces aren’t the enemies of the modern world, and any attempt to complicate the world of Superman to make it more “realistic” (which Superman, by its very nature, can’t be) would ruin the magic of the hero’s world. Ergo: you can never make Superman “realistic”, and therefore cannot make a ‘good’ Superman movie.

You’re really complaining about how it’s “unrealistic?”

Kind of. I understand there are more than a few creative liberties taken with reality in movies. But look at The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan successfully adapted a level of realism that worked…anyway, you can’t make a Superman movie “good” unless it’s realistic and you can’t really make a Superman movie realistic. It’s the “real” human side of things that get in the way.

So, that’s it.

I’m just saying, they haven’t made a good Superman movie, as of yet. Logic seems to indicate that this can’t be done and I’ll believe it when I see it. But until then, I’ll just blame it on the human side of Superman.


2 thoughts on “The Reality of Superman or Why There Can’t be a Good Superman Movie

  1. harrysatalok says:

    I think you’re on the right track with this anti-realism perspective (in fact, I made a similar point in a recent blog post at ). The essence of Superman is mythology and too much realism can only diminish the potency of the myth. It’s a kind of reductionism – if you deconstruct a legend and tinker with its components, you end up with less rather than more. Interesting article.

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