Superman looks ridiculous.
I’m not talking about the whole underwear-on-the-outside thing. Nor that curly bit of hair that always hangs down over his brow. I’m talking about how he looks when he’s flying across a movie screen. I’m sorry but, however well it’s executed, the visual effect of Kal-El zooming through the skies is just fundamentally wrong.
Before all you Supie fans clench your Kryptonian fists and punch me through the nearest wall, I should probably qualify that statement. The shots I specifically take issue with are the classic “speeding bullet” ones. You know, the shots where our hero is racing along in a prone position with one or both hands thrust forward. The shots that make it look like the poor sap’s been shot out of a circus cannon.
The shots that work better are the ones where Superman is landing or taking off, and especially the ones where he’s just kind of hanging around. The very best shots in Man of Steel are those where he looks like an angel.
I have a theory about why this is.
When I was young, I often dreamed I could fly. But not once did I adopt the speeding bullet pose. Instead, I floated. I drifted. I was thistledown on the wind. I believe this rapturous fantasy of flight is not only commonplace, but deeply rooted in the human psyche. It may well derive from the kind of out-of-body experiences enjoyed by shamans in ancient societies. Now let’s factor in the angel idea. Many religious stories have images of people taking to the air, often in a state of rapture. Unaided human flight has nothing to do with blasting through the stratosphere. It’s a vision, a delirium.
In short, it’s a real trip.
That’s why I think Superman looks great when he’s all floaty, and mildly absurd when he’s doing his impression of a cruise missile. Unlike Iron Man, who just looks cool.
“Aha!” I hear you cry. “Why the double standards? What’s Tony Stark got that Supie doesn’t?”
First, he has a suit. There’s nothing magical about Iron Man’s ability to defy gravity. He’s not a god. He’s a pilot. We instinctively know this, so when he makes with the aerobatics, we instantly buy into what we’re seeing. Second, Tony holds his arms down by his sides. This makes him look like a skydiver. We know skydivers really exist, and again we buy the illusion.
Of course, what I’m touching on here is a much bigger issue, namely: “How do you go about making a visual effects shot look convincing if the underlying concept is essentially absurd?” Oh, and by ‘convincing’ I don’t mean artistically and technically beautiful (heaven knows Man of Steel is positively bulging with shots fitting that description, including the speeding bullet ones I’m lambasting) – I’m just talking about shots that look right. But I think I’ll save that argument for another day. Right now, it’s poor old Kal-El that I’m worried about.
As I see it, Superman has two choices. He can work on his “angel” routine and commit to swapping speed for floatiness. Granted he may not always get to the bad guys in time. Granted a few more innocent bystanders may get iced. But, when the Man of Steel does eventually arrive to save the day, at least he’ll look awesome.
Supie’s other option is to give Tony Stark a call. I’m sure they could work something out. After all, Stark has plenty of spare suits. Kal-El with afterburners? Now that’s what I call a superhero!
So how about it? Do you believe a man can fly?