Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Sexy are the Virtuous: On “Superman Returns”
I’m not the world’s biggest Superman fan, but he is my favorite superhero and I adored the 1978 film by Richard Donner and the Salkinds. (Especially the soundtrack, but I’ve already posted about my worship of John Williams.) So I consider that enough qualification to blog about the new movie, “Superman Returns.” For what it’s worth, I loved it.
I loved it mostly because director Bryan Singer and the scriptwriters were true to the character as interpreted back in 1978 by Christopher Reeve, and newcomer Brandon Routh likewise delivered the same version of the Man of Steel. To me, the unique charm of Superman is that in spite of his near invincibility, he is soft-spoken, gentle, polite, and humble. His physical powers are actually surpassed by his virtuousness. He is flawlessly honest, selfless, and committed to doing right. That is the heart of the character in these films.
A number of comic book heroes have been presented on the screen, especially recently, and they represent a variety of male archetypes. Spider-man is the ordinary kid struggling to master his powers responsibly while sorting out the meaning of his life. Batman is an anti-hero, a sort of bad boy who fights for good, balancing on the line between justice and homicidal mania. Wolverine of the X-Men is a tortured soul whose powers are almost a disease, a tragic figure trying to survive by machismo and a sense of humor.
Each of these characters is very much a flawed human being. Superman, on the other hand, is an alien, offspring of a superior race. He can empathize with humanity, having been raised in the midst of it, but is not truly of it. He is not perfect nor is he a god, but he’s not just a guy with superpowers either. His nature truly transcends this world.
The creation of Superman’s alter ego, the “mild-mannered” reporter Clark Kent, was meant to create contrast. As one scene in “Superman Returns” demonstrates, no one can imagine Clark could be Superman no matter what the resemblance: he is just too bumbling and ordinary. However, it’s interesting to note that when Clark transforms into Superman, he does not change from a self-effacing, quiet fellow into a cocky egomaniac. He is just as sweet and humble as ever, nothing but an all-powerful, overgrown Boy Scout.
Spider-man is sexy in a boyish way, Batman and Wolverine both exude sexiness. But what of this other-worldly Boy Scout? Isn’t he just the quintessential Nice Guy, the one the adage says always finishes last?
I don’t know about you, but I find Superman’s virtuousness extremely sexy. This is a guy you can trust with your life, a guy who will never lie, cheat, betray, and will seldom even disappoint even though he has huge obligations. And he can fly. I loved the reprise of Superman and Lois’s flying scene in the new movie, so like the 1978 one, because to me it tells the whole story. Superman will never drop you, or if he does, he’ll catch you every time. His flight isn’t crazy dangerous, it’s gentle, graceful, magical and peaceful.
This is romance personified.
I recently watched an excellent documentary about Superman in which Margot Kidder discussed the scene in “Superman II” in which she, as Lois, had sex with Superman. Ms. Kidder said she wished that scene hadn’t been in the script, that she “sided with the prudes” on that one. Well, being the kind of erotica writer I am, I couldn’t disagree more. Superman is the embodiment of purity and wholesomeness, just the kind of character I want to see engaging in the sex act with his one true love. When Superman makes love to a woman, it is going to be good love, and by that I mean in the moral sense. It’s a model of what lovemaking in its most sanctified state can be. The filmmakers achieved the mood very effectively, too, showing the angelic sweetness and beauty of the naked Man of Steel and his beloved, sleeping together tenderly in the shelter of the Fortress of Solitude.
I’m attracted to a lot of different sorts of men, a lot of male characters spanning a range of personalities. But I think to me personally, the Superman archetype is the most charismatic. He inspires in me gratitude, trust, inspiration, and yes, arousal. He is, after all, a super man, in many ways the ideal of masculinity, and as a woman I naturally respond to that physically.
The goodness of Superman, especially in the context of the unpleasantness of much of the human race, is awe-inspiring. It is comforting and uplifting. And yes, I must insist, it is also very sexy.