Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, June 17, 2013

A Man of Steel for all seasons

The big movie this weekend was the latest relaunch of Superman entitled Man of Steel, which raked in multi-millions(chump change to Lex Luthor,who wasn't even in this film) and garnered quite a few respectable reviews.

 It also had it's fair share of nay-sayers who found fault with the tone of the story,claiming it was either overblown in the last half or lacking in the true spirit of the comic book character.

In my opinion, the Superman that we get on either the small screen or the large is a reflection of what fills the pop culture need of the moment. Let's examine some of the depictions of this last son of Krypton that for better or worse,showcased the hero we were all hoping for at the time:

Superman(1978): This first major film version of the Superman story(which had more put into than the cheesy Saturday matinee movies of the 1950s) brought this character out of the shadow of the iconic fifties TV show and set it's flag on the moon of the movie landscape with both box office and,for the most part,critical love.

Being released during the tail end of the turbulent times of the seventies and just before the more corporate echo of the eighties could be heard did add significant weight to the film's reception. It was both tongue in cheek and highly optimistic in it's depiction of  the bumbling Clark Kent and the confidently suave Superman who managed to charm the cynical Lois Lane as he saved the day.

The follow-up film,Superman II,was considered to be even better and people were thrilled to believe that not only could a man fly, he could be the one constant in a crazy,ever changing world to look up to:

LOIS & CLARK(1993-97): Sadly, Superman wound up leaving the movie theaters by the 1990s,due to a series of insipid sequels that made the franchise box office Kyptonite.

So,our hero returned to television and was revived by a light hearted but surprisingly popular series,Lois & Clark. As the name suggests,the main focus of the show was the bond between Clark and Lois,whose work and personal relationships were becoming hard to separate as the real third man between them was Superman.

The bickering couple who's really in love but can't admit it for whatever reason was a strong trope on TV at this point,with shows such as Moonlighting and Remington Steele,so taking up this tact for a new Superman show fit the bill nicely. Lois & Clark had it's ups and downs,however the main benefit of the show was to keep Superman's foot in the pop culture door and it succeeded handily:

SMALLVILLE(2001-11):This series took a few steps back yet went forward with the Superman legend as the shift of attention went to the early "Superboy" years(not to be confused with the weak attempt at a Superboy show in the late nineties) and Clark Kent was once again front and center as the true core of the character.

 A deeper edge and angst was given to Clark regarding his origins and use of powers,which some referred to as the "Marvelization" of Superman but no matter where the source of his character development came from, it did make Clark a more down to earth hero that both teens and adults could relate to. Not to mention that traditional heroes able to appreciate the irony of their situations(Buffy the Vampire Slayer,for example) while maintaining a trace of innocence were fast becoming the pop culture norm.

 Despite the increasing mix of over the top villains and complicated story lines,along with soap opera antics between Clark and his various love interests(Lana Lang,Chloe Sullivan and by the end, Lois Lane),the show did last for a solid ten seasons and brought in a new legion of fans who felt the need for renewal after the shocking events that started the new millennium. Some even said that Smallville could have become a new bridge to the silver screen for Superman but the studios preferred to go their own way in that regard:

SUPERMAN RETURNS(2006): Hollywood tried to bring back the spirit of the Richard Donner Superman films with this reboot/sequel/homage from X-Men director Bryan Singer but the uneven tone of the entire movie failed to find a toehold with audiences.

In some ways, it was as awkward as many felt during this time period,caught between wanting some of the safety and comfort of the past yet not willing to embrace that idealism in a  wholeheartedly naive fashion.

The film did it's best to recapture the magic that the original films once had yet for many reasons, it wound up dropping the ball both at the box office and with old fans and new. Fortunately,Hollywood didn't completely abandon any future Superman movies and maybe this clumsy attempt was a good way to break the ice:

So, our fresh new Superman is upon us and perhaps it will pave the way for more good superhero flicks based on DC characters to come. While Marvel has been a little hit and miss lately, their points are still higher in this game and now that the Batman trilogy is done,it would be nice to see more of the Justice League up to bat. While the future of Superman films is as uncertain as our own, perhaps both of them will benefit from continued interest in keeping truth,justice and peace for all mankind as part of our lives:

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