To say that the DC film universe, led by Zack Snyder, has left fans divided would be the understatement of the year, right up there with Prince was a pretty good musician or Donald Trump would make a terrible president. Man Of Steel & Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice may have made some money at the box office, but long term fans of the characters & critics at large didn’t react as well to the films as the corporate executives at Warner Brothers probably expected. Enough has been said about those films and their faults, but I want to examine in particular how Superman, the perpetual Boy Scout, has been done right in film. But not by DC in recent years or even going back to the beloved Christopher Reeves films, but by Marvel and the one and only Captain America.
Captain America faces many of the same problems that Superman faces when being adapted for the big screen, namely that he’s a do-gooder with a strict moral code who will straight up and down whip any opponent that comes his way. While not on the power level of a Superman or even a Iron Man, Captain America has the inner drive and inability to see defeat that allows him to triumph over pretty much any enemy. Like Superman, his ideals seem to come from another time, and in the case of Cap they really do, as he has been transported from the 1940’s to present day. Captain America represents and embodies the very best of what America imagines itself to be, a land where freedom is a right to each and every person regardless of their race, sex, class, etc. While some would say that it’s unrealistic for a man from the past to have such a progressive view of the world, the creators behind the comics and the films choose to show an idea of America that is free from the constraints of cynicism and doubt.
One argument for the two Snyder-led films is that they represent the America of today, a cynical place that sees the American Dream as having failed the majority of the people, and that we would react to a reveal of an alien god in much the same way as the Batman of the sequel. The problem that this presents is that it reduces Batman to a rage monster who doesn’t think through the effect of his words & actions. Remind you of anyone in politics today? So if Batman is Trump does Superman represent Obama? Is this why Obama Supes seem so morose & unwilling to actually do anything to make change? Is Wonder Woman actually Bernie Sanders? Tired of the foolishness going on between the men but not enough people believe in her to actually make a difference?
Some say that comics are just escapist vehicles and that we shouldn’t look to them to represent the real world, while others argue that fiction should and usually does reflect the world that it was created in. While both DC & Marvel have created films that represent the fears & worries of today, in the Marvel universe we have been given a character that seems to represent the best in humanity. There is a serious lack of science fiction & fantasy that shows a hopeful future for humans in recent years, with most films showing doom and despair on the horizon. Superman is also known as The Man Of Tomorrow and perhaps the films going forward can showcase this aspect. Yes we live in a world that is filled with horror, but if the ‘S’ on his chest truly represents hope then maybe the films can give us all a little bit more of that when we leave the theater. And while it is always a good idea to temper hope with reality, sometimes we need to be shown that we can be better than what we think we can be.