Why So Serious?

We love our super men,but by rebooting them we have lost out on some of the old fun

Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Published:June 23, 2013 11:21 pm

We love our super men,but by rebooting them we have lost out on some of the old fun

It was not just the trademark chaddis over the latex pantsuit,artfully clamped in the right places,that I missed in this newest version of Superman,which calls itself Man of Steel. I wasn’t really looking out for that phone booth in which quicksilver change of costumes occur. I wasn’t waiting for someone to say the iconic bird-and-plane line. In this oh-so-serious film that intones,rather than speaks,I just plain missed the hell out of Superman.

He is the superhero with a back story that involves noble parentage,planetary travel and back-stabbery of an inter-galactic order,who has been sent to Earth to do good. Simply,minus angst,minus darkness. He is the guy who wears the two primary colours,red and blue,the first choice of most children’s crayons. In my mind’s eye,Superman needs to have a kissworthy curl on his forehead,Christopher Reeve-style,and,be,yes,nice. Because that’s what his superpowers are for: to save us from the bad guys,and if he manages to save the planet while he is at it,well,that’s a bonus.

My affection for Superman doesn’t trounce my feelings for the other superheroes. I quite like Spidey. I like that the webbed wonder has a caring aunt and uncle,and sports acne,and has other teenage anxiety nodes that shoot out as strongly as the webs (will my girl Mary Jane kiss me: what if I hang upside down,won’t that be a liplock to remember?). I like him leaping about tall buildings,and generally being a pesky teen who has to grow up,while saving the planet,of course.

And I’m fond of the Bat too,even when he wears a suit that has too-prominent nipples. It’s quite refreshing that he doesn’t have a single superpower (unlike Superman who is super strong,and Spidey who can scamper from one tall spire to another) other than being a billionaire,and the possessor of an ultra-cool car called,yeah,you all know it,the Batmobile. He’s got a great den,too,and is always being served by sardonic persons with plummy Brit accents.

The trouble began when the re-boots began. How do you tell stories that have been told before? Especially those that feature beloved superheroes with old histories,the ones that have got embedded deep in popular culture. New age Hollywood knows there’s nothing like a superhero saga to build a global buzz,but it also knows that in comparison to the “newer” heroes like Ironman and that guy with claws and those teens with special powers,the original trio needs an upgrade. But new is not necessarily better. When the good-looking Andrew Garfield returned as the Amazing Spider-man,there was grumbling. With Tobey Maguire fresh in our memories (his first Spiderman was out as recently as 2002,and that gravity-defying kiss is still quite something),what was the point?

Batman’s been at the receiving end of much movie attention (remember George Clooney clunking about in that suit) through the years,but not until Christopher Nolan got his hands on him did we get the best Bat of them all,in a terrific reboot. Christian Bale got the right mix of strength and sensitivity into his Bat,the orphan in search of the light,fighting the forces of darkness. The problem wasn’t with Batman,the character,but with his surroundings. Batman’s Gotham City’s shadows have been lengthening from the time Tim Burton and Michael Keaton teamed up in ’89. By the time Nolan got there,it seemed like there was no natural light left. Watching the Bat and his acrobatics has always been for me a toss-up between admiring gasps and thirsting for some sunshine.

But then that’s the Bat’s tragedy. He can operate most productively only in the darkness. Spidey gets too angsty for his own good. It was always Superman who could fly up to the sun,in his red and blue costume and cape,with the yellow S glinting on his chest. Superman could rescue a cat,and out run a train,and best villains called Lex (adults could appreciate the camp; for kids,the Luthor man was always faintly ridiculous,just waiting for his comeuppance). And,of course,catch the pretty reporter Lois Lane,as she fell,and take her for a breathtaking flight in the sky.

Who better than the man from Krypton to catch you when you fall? This latest Man of Steel is a fake and a fraud,I say. The film doesn’t even call him Superman till nearly the end of the film,and then it feels like an afterthought. And there is no fun to be had in this self-serious,done with not-an-ounce-of-irony film. Somewhere over there,in the distant horizon crowded with actors all being supremely solemn and silly,Superman is left to fend for himself. Sharp viewers have caught signs of impending sequels,and given Snyder’s bent for clanking metal and noise,we are in for more of the same.

Whatever happened to joy and innocence,and good old fun?

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