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First Posted: 6/24/2013

What is it about superhero films that are so controversial these days?

Decades ago, those types of films were few and far between, so maybe we were all just happy to see our favorite characters adapted in any way at all, but now with this rush to create the next big blockbuster franchise, we’re a bit spoiled (or bombarded, depending on your perspective) by all these spandex-clad heroes on screen, so our standards must be a bit higher these days.

It was only a matter of time before the rebooted Superman yet again, arguably the first and most recognizable superhero of them all. It’s ironic, then, that many comic book geeks like myself aren’t really big fans of the Big Blue Boy Scout, as he’s generally written as a bland, generic hero – he was the template for all the others, after all.

Considering his long list of amazing powers and Goody Two-Shoes personality, contemporary writers have tried to humanize and modernize the 75-year-old character, with varying results. In film, director Bryan Singer made him a baby daddy in “Superman Returns,” which only made him seem like a clueless (and helpless) deadbeat. In “Man of Steel,” director Zack Snyder, along with writers Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, portrays Clark Kent growing up as a bullied outcast, and as an adult, he wanders the Earth searching for his place in the big scheme of things until he discovers his true calling. In other words, he grows up as Spider-Man and becomes Wolverine.

OK, not exactly, but it’s clear that they took elements that have succeeded with other characters and forced them onto Superman in an attempt to make him grittier, yet more relatable. It works in some parts, but not others – it’s hard to believe that an attractive, athletic young man like Clark has trouble fitting in, and we spend so much time flashing back and forth between his childhood and the present that I don’t feel like I really got to know actor Henry Cavill and his interpretation of the character. When I first saw the intense, Hans Zimmer-scored trailers, I was actually pretty excited for “Man of Steel” and its decidedly different take on Kal-El, but like many fans and critics, I left the theater bewildered by where exactly they took him.

I try to keep my columns spoiler free, but in this case, I want to discuss one big element that involves the end of the film, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you may want to skip to the last two paragraphs. After talking more to his dead father than his surrogate parents, Kal-El learns of the evil General Zod’s plot, so instead of forming a logical plan of attack that would protect the most human lives, he decides a punching contest would be the best course of action. This leads to the utter decimation of Metropolis, something I could never, ever imagine him allowing to happen. The big shocker at the end was supposed to be Superman taking a life, but the impact of this was severely dampened by all the 9/11-level destruction that no one seemed really horrified by in those final wrap-up scenes, including Superman himself. How is the Daily Planet even still standing? Are we supposed to not care because all the important characters survived?

While I really enjoyed the abundance of science fiction elements and settings built into the story, I feel like they missed some essential facets of Supes’ character, and with the dip in box office attendance and Internet outcry, I think others feel a similar confusion. If he’s the strongest, greatest hero of all time, why did he let so much of his beloved city get destroyed? In Nolan’s Batman trilogy, he built up to the destruction of Gotham City over three films, saving the biggest threat until the third act. With “Man of Steel 2” already greenlit, how does it get bigger than laying waste to half of Metropolis (and large parts of Smallville)? Is Superman going to allow the destruction of Earth in an hour-long “guys flying and getting knocked into buildings” scene?

If “Man of Steel” did one big thing right, though, it has paved the way for a larger DC Universe to be built in the cinema. By introducing and focusing on the more otherworldly parts of Kal’s origin and forcing the people of Earth to accept that we are not alone in the universe, it makes the introduction of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and others easier to swallow if they do finally go forward with a Justice League film. Before they put the cart in front of the horse, however, I hope they spend some more time with Cavill that isn’t computer generated. Allow us to get to know Clark Kent, ace reporter, and maybe let him hang out with Lois Lane a bit more before tossing her into peril again.

And once he dons that famous red cape (maybe in a Verizon store rather than a phone booth, to keep it modern), please let him be the hero we know he’s capable of being. Superman is a symbol of hope, of the best of us, not some muscled brute unaware of his surroundings. Our world needs saving, and so does this character in film – build on “Man of Steel,” but please don’t repeat it.

-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedimaster, and cult film fan. E-mail him at [email protected]