“Supes” and the beauty of spectacle

The years of 1977 and 1978 changed my life. The two greatest movies of my childhood came out; Star Wars and Superman. These spectacles made me want to tell stories for a living.

There are more than enough Gen X’er nostalgic pieces about Star Wars. However, I’ve seen very few about Superman.

While this meant seem unusual, we forget superhero movies used to be off limits in Hollywood (some people still wish they were). For example, Stan Lee almost went broke trying to get Marvel into the movie business. Everyone thought super hero movies to be campy, silly and dumb.

Then came 1978 and Richard Donner’s Superman. The movie changed attitudes by showing superheros could be serious profitable fun. In other words, Hollywood gold. The movie also made Superman a huge part of my kid life. I had Superman T-Shirts, comic books, records, and a huge six foot puzzle of the Man of Steel (Yeah, it WAS as cool as it sounds). Combined with my Catholic faith, “Supes” made me want to tell stories and help people.

My “helping people” record has been a mixed bag. I’m  not very good at it, but I try. The desire to tell stories that transform people’s lives begins with the release of my novel, 3 Gates of the Dead. So, yes, Superman changed my life.

Imagine my delight when I realized Zach Snyder and Christopher Nolan would try a Superman reboot, the Man of Steel. You see, there was actually another “movie” called Superman Returns. I cry at the memory. It is one of the “bottom five” superhero movies, a list that includes George Clooney’s infamous “Bat Nipples’. A new “Supes” movie was much needed.

Yet, the real question is, would it suck?

I can tell you with passion and intensity that….

It doesn’t suck….in fact……It might be on the top five list for me…

I know, I know. There are a lot of critics out there who hated it. I frankly don’t care. When I read their reviews (and other reviews of superhero) movies, it seems as if writers are personally offended by the idea might try to save the world and be heroic. Articles in the Guardian and Salon, even throw around the world “Facist” and “Republican” as if those terms (they clearly don’t understand either) damn the superhero genre. The Salon piece even decides to rant against Christianity, as Superman often reflects the Christian story of Jesus.

Aside from the fact Superman was created by two Jewish kids from Cleveland, there are some undeniable Christ elements to Supes. There is no doubt Nolan and Snyder play these elements up in Man of Steel. In one particular scene, Clark decides his destiny in a church with a stain glass window of Jesus in the background. I thought it was a cool touch, but the writer at Salon hated it.

Ah well.

There is no doubt that “Supes” is the force for good in this film. In contrast to Nolan’s darker Batman world, Man of Steel presents a picture of hope (see the “not an “S” on his chest) and optimism. Jor-El and Jonathan Kent, Superman’s dads, teach him in their own ways about giving people hope, love and leading people to do good.

Obvious fascists, right, Salon?

Further, the reviews rail against the movie because of its sheer love of “spectacle”. It is in vouge among movie critics and Christian arty types to rail against fight scenes and the visual “wow” factor in movies. One person even thought our desire to see these movies is the same that droves humans to watch the Gladiators in Rome. In some cases, that might be so. I would argue such impulses are a twisting of a good human need for spectacle or drama.

We human beings have innate desire to see grand, crazy things. To hear some arty Christians talk, this is somehow in inherently a bad thing. We forget sixty percent of the Bible IS spectacle. We forget that Jesus dying on the cross is the ultimate piece of drama, craziness and terror. The Son of God, Creator of the world, dying for the world’s sins. Superman’s battle with Zod doesn’t even compare to that.

Don’t get me started on the book of Revelation.

The point? Christians should never be afraid of spectacle, even if it can be used in bad ways. Spectacle,  such as Superman battling Zod to save the planet, can point to the grander story of the Christian faith. It can point to the ongoing battle of Good and Evil. Spectacle can remind people the cost of this battle and the absolute need to stand up to the destructive affects of evil

Do we always know what the evil is? No. We don’t. Sometimes, may times, we get it wrong. That doesn’t change our obligation.

Don’t get misunderstand me. I’m a fan of quiet, introspective movies. But, when it comes to Superheros, there needs to be drama, passion, fire and fighting for what is good.

The Man of Steel has all those. Superman is noble. He fights for what is good. He fights to protect people and not for his own selfish ends. He gives us the spectacle of doing good.

Now, excuse me, I’m off to give my children a little spectacle.

 

 

About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, will be released Fall 2013 in book outlets everywhere.


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