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Man of Steel: The Fantastic Untold Origin Story (Not Really)
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
This summer, DC Entertainment is set to try and launch a new superhero movie franchise with Superman. Again. For the fourth time.
And while I'm happy to see this strange visitor from another planet return to the big screen in Man of Steel, this time directed by Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen) with a script by David Goyer (the most recent Batman trilogy), I have to wonder why there's a need to reboot a character like Superman at all? Is there really anyone out there at this point who DOESN'T know the origin of Superman, or at least have some grasp on who Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent is?
Overall, comic book reboot movies have been popular as of late. Over the last few years the X-Men franchise was rebooted with X-Men: First Class, Spider-Man with The Amazing Spider-Man, Batman with Batman Begins and even (yes) Superman a few years back in Superman Returns that ultimately wasn't successful and would lead to Man of Steel.
But why reboot? Why not keep telling a continuing story of the character with different actors and a different creative team ala the James Bond franchise? Here's why I think that comic book movies, and comic books too, keep going back and retelling the same origin story over and over again; the origin story represents the only real a permanent change that will ever happen to the character.
Think about it. In the Iron Man (2008) origin, Tony Stark goes from being a self-centered weapons manufacturer who makes billions off of wars and conflicts to someone who's brought to his knees when he's almost killed by terrorists to a man who changes his corporation to do good and builds a super-suit of armor to try and benefit humanity. That's a lot of changes and one heck of a character arc for Stark in Iron Man.
But in Iron Man 2 and 3 Stark doesn't change too much. His character arc consists of him using his super-suit of armor to fight the baddies and protect the innocent. And the same goes for Stark in The Avengers too. In that movie, there's a lot of Stark's witty banter and him fighting armies of bad guys, but there's not a lot of change there either.
Let's not forget Thor (2011) where a literal god who's full of himself and wants to rule because he sees it as his birth right is humbled and becomes worthy enough to lead and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) as well who goes from a literal 90lb weakling wanting to fight for his country in WWII to risking his life to become a super-soldier in order to do so. But the only change either of these characters has in The Avengers is screen time and how many of the baddies they each take down.
I suppose there's an argument to be made that the Bruce Wayne character in The Dark Knight Rises does change from the previous films -- in the movie he starts out as a retired recluse broken from his past adventures. But most of these changes are physical and are only at the beginning of the movie. Minutes after a crippled Howard Hughes-like Bruce Wayne is introduced he's rappelling out of windows and is back to his old gravely-voiced Batman self.
I think it all goes back to an old axiom of comic books that says telling stories that have the illusion of change are better than ones with actual change. At the end of the day no matter if Captain America is killed by a sniper's bullet or Superman dies fighting some gigantic alien terror, in no time it will be revealed that the bullet that “killed” Cap really froze him in space and time or that Superman was brought back to life via alien technologies.
And within a few issues Cap will be back to being Cap and Superman being Superman.
So that's why movies like The Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men: First Class and even the upcoming Man of Steel retell the origin of the character(s) in a reboot movie, it's the only chance the audience will ever get to see the characters change and act as a reference point to what they become.
Man of Steel, really Superman VI, is set to be released in theaters Friday, June 14.
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