Saturday, July 01, 2006

Superman Returns

Superman Returns (4.5/5)

At long last it's here (I believe this was a part of an earlier script: After a decade of studio development through flightless incarnations, Superman wrasslin' polar bears, and a black suit, the Last Son of Krypton has finally made it into theaters. Of course, nothing could have stopped The Man of Steel. I'm sure that after this long of a wait most people expect nothing less than the second coming from Superman Returns. With all of the Christ imagery in the new film, it seems that the filmmakers were more than happy to oblige.

However, while there are more than a few allusions to Christ in Superman Returns, I believe the film is actually dealing with the broader theme of Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with a Thousand Faces. Much of Campbell’s book deals with what he calls the “monomyth,” which is a single mythic structure that can be juxtaposed on just about any myth from any culture. This monomyth is supposed to be hardwired into us through Jungian psychology.

Campbell then goes on to analyze the themes found in the monomyth. One of the reoccurring themes of the monomyth is the return home. A hero must venture into an outer mystical world (ex: Luke Skywalker leaving Tatooine and Frodo leaving The Shire) on some kind of journey. However, eventually the hero will return to his home with the skills he has learned abroad and give his homeland a “boon” (ex: Luke Skywalker returning to Tatooine and destroying Jabba the Hut and Frodo and his friends saving The Shire during the Battle of Bywater [not shown in the movie]). This boon is supposed to reinvigorate the once decaying society.

Predictably, Superman Returns deals heavily with the idea of Campbell’s return. One of the revelations of A Hero with a Thousand Faces is that although the mythic hero is spoken of in terms of the ideal man, the mythic hero is really just a representation of each person’s true potential. The hero is really just a stand in for all of us at our greatest. This is what Superman Returns understands. There’s a great bit of dialogue from Marlon Brando where he says something to the affect: “They can be a great people Jor-El. They wish to be. They only need someone to show them the way.” (Warning: superspoilers below). Furthermore, Superman is not the only hero in this film. Lois Lane’s fiancĂ©, Richard White, rushes to the aid of his love interest and their son (?). (Okay, so everyone knows by now that the kid is supe's, but I don't think he'd make that great of a father (On a side note, it’s nice to have a film that makes the other guy a decent human being. It seems like every film makes the “other guy” out to be some asshole. This puzzles me, because who has sympathy for a girl who’s going to marry a jerk?) Superman himself needs heroes to come to his own rescue. They come in the form of Lois herself and, later, the police officers and doctors who bring him to the hospital and help him recover. The hospital part in the movie is genius because it expands the idea of a hero beyond the guy in tights to every one of us. The “boon” in Superman Returns ends up being an example that’s not beyond the stars, but firmly within our reach.

There are other themes in the film that bear discussion (the new family dynamics for example). There are also little ways I could nitpick the film (the Christ imagery is a little heavy handed, and weren’t Siegel and Shuster Jewish anyways?), but that’s not a whole lot of fun. While not perfect, Superman Returns delivers some great action, drama, and a pinch of intellectual ideas, but, most importantly, it also leaves the viewer anticipating a sequel. My vote for the next title: Superman Again: Lois Lane’s Quest for Child Support. Picture Brandon Routh out on his dilapidated porch sporting a wife beater with a beer in his hand, and Lois Lane with their kid resting on her hip yelling at his deadbeat ass. (Although, Lois might have to get in line: Now that’s a movie America can get behind.

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