I have never been at a loss for words about my feelings with the depictions of Superman in the Zack Snyder directed films. However, in an attempt to put the ideas in a form I can just direct people to so as I can focus on other matters, I will leave it here. So if you like the tone of Mr. Snyder’s work, and do not want to take any other opinions into consideration here is your exit… Still here? Awesome.
First, let me explain my relationship with the character that is Clark Kent; from here on out I will be referring to him primarily as Clark, because that is the character you have to understand to build a story about him. Clark is not my favorite comic book character, he isn’t even my favorite DC specific character. (Kyle Rayner Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Dick Grayson are). He wasn’t even the character I remember watching first. I was born in 1985, the first movie I ever saw in theaters was “Batman (1989)”. But at 5 I fell in love with comics, and media related to their characters, and one thing stood out in my mostly DC loving experience. The character that not only saved more people, but inspired the people of the world and the other heroes was Superman. To me, Superman became not just the guy with near limitless power, he became a symbol for good. A being who despite that power, that many says makes him boring, he would not let himself be corrupted. For me, he became a standard to aspire to as a person, and with each good writer to take the reins I learned about the imperfect man (Clark) representing an ideal(Superman) for the world. And that ideal is what has inspired me to work to be better. That is what Clark means to me.
The above is why I am so disheartened by the films of the current DC cinematic universe. Because while I am happy to hear other takes on the world that reflect the more cynical age and how Clark would interact with them. I am not okay with grittiness being portrayed as reality, and Clark and Jonathan Kent being products of it. Now I know some may jump on me and say “well you aren’t really ready for a different take on Superman are you?”, but listen to me. The world we live in, despite what the media would like you to believe, is not a the distopian future predicted in 1984. Now, while we are far from a utopia; I have seen war and human beings risk life and limb to volunteer to help others. The world does not even visually look like Snyder’s bleak one with its blue hues. So the argument could be “this is fiction it doesn’t have to represent the real world. Hell, a man flies.” Yes, I know it is not the real world, but when confronted with the world being to “Gritty” the argument is often that the filmmakers went for “realism”. For you making an argument for Snyder’s universe all I ask is pick a side on that one. Snyder is either trying to make a “realistic” depiction of the world we live in, or a stylized fictional one. Neither one really matters in my argument against them, except that one reinforces the idea that the world we live in is the worst it has ever been.
The real problem with Snyder and writer David S.Goyer’s depiction is they seemed to forget what makes Clark “Super”. They make remarks about it, but they never really show it. Clark isn’t Superman because of his powers, or his costume. Plenty of characters in the DCU have costumes and powers, the ones with comparable powers are often villains. What makes Clark Superman, is that he is Clark. When Batman goes home, takes the cowl off, and talks to himself he uses the name Batman; because since age ten there has only been Batman. Even before he invented the identity, “Bruce Wayne” died with Thomas and Martha. Clark on the other hand comes home, takes off the tights, and calls himself Clark. He is the guy who wears the tights not to scare people or punch monsters, but to inspire people like his dad inspired him. Clark is trying to be the man Jonathan was for him at age 10 to the entire world. If you think that makes him boring, or impossible to tell a story with, you A) lack imagination and B) Have never seen “Captain America: Winter Soldier”. It is easy to tell the story of a powerful boy scout trying to inspire the world to what some would call an out dated sense of good, vs the complexity of the modern gray morality of the times. However to do this, you must show Jonathan Kent as the hardworking bastion of hope he has always been depicted as in the media before hand. Not as some paranoid father who would teach his son to let others die to protect himself. That kid does not become Superman, because he does not learn to have faith in humanity, or even value human life. For Clark to be Superman he needs to have HOPE. And really, in a world full of dark heroes, corrupt politicians, and paranoia of our fellow humans; don’t we as a species deserve to have some too, if even in the form of an unflappable comic book hero? Marvel thought so, but they and Disney have always known the value of Hope. I wish DC and WB would remember it. They knew it in 1978.
Clark Kent is more than a boy scout in tights, while Batman puts fear into the hearts of villains, Superman is there to inspire hope in the hearts of everyone. That’s why I love Clark, why Snyder’s universe is not enjoyable for me, and why I think that having different tones for different characters is necessary. Because scaring bad guys is cool, but inspiring hope for a better tomorrow is even cooler.