Seventy-five years ago, as the Greatest Generation geared up to save the planet from tyranny, a figure of Christ-like perfection standing up for Earth’s right to exist was precisely what pop culture needed. In 1938, an alien savior in red underwear appeared in newsprint. Seven years later, the threat of global fascism lay dismantled. For Superman, it was all downhill from there. Original archetypes don’t adapt well (see: the Sex Pistols, Hulk Hogan, Cheerios), and as the world changed, old Supes stayed the same, fighting for truth, justice and the American Way, even as those definitions blurred, warped and finally lost meaning. There’s a reason the Superman mythos has been revisited on film only one other time since 1987, and it’s the same reason people fall asleep in church: Flawlessness is boring. Approaching Superman in the post-Dark Knight
era means either altering fundamental aspects of the character or embracing full-blown camp. Or, y’know, doing what Zack Snyder does in Man of Steel
: recycling the origin story with stone-faced seriousness, and blowing shit up for 2½ hours. Snyder can’t film three seconds of laundry flapping in a gentle breeze without getting jittery, let alone stop to ponder the thin discrepancies between good and evil. This is his Superman, and he isn’t going to think about much of anything else. But if Snyder wasn’t going to rethink Superman for the 21st century, what the hell is the point? Henry Cavill looks the part, with his square jaw and action-figure chest, but he’s mostly there to fill out a suit. Is it possible for Superman, in 2013, to grip the zeitgeist like Batman and the Avengers? He doesn’t have to be a scowly, growly antihero or a wisecracking frat boy. He just has to be more than what he is right now. In Snyder’s hands, he’s the same thing he’s always been: just a god in spandex.