When I was ten years old a movie came out that blew me away. Superman. I loved it so much that every weekend I begged my father for five bucks so my little brother and I could watch Christopher Reeve save California and Hackensack, NJ over and over again. We could do that because movies were in theaters for months back then, not two weekends. And even though I must have heard it twenty times, when John William’s score poured out of the Dolby speakers I got goose bumps.
Now Batman’s edgy and cool, Spiderman’s an arachnid idealist and I don’t know what the hell The Green Hornet is. But Superman was pure, incorruptible and could kick all their asses. And what little boy doesn’t dream of having superpowers? So when I zoned out in Ms. Redel’s fourth grade class I wasn’t imagining being Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. I fantasized that I was blasting though the air at Mach 20, moving mountains with my bare hands and saving the little red-haired girl who sat next me. She teased me a lot as I recall, but I still wanted to fly her to Bali.
Of course I got older and Superman was forgotten. It wasn’t hard. After Superman II the rest of the films were duds. Reeve should have quit while he was ahead. But a few weeks ago I revisited the original movie on Netflix as my girlfriend and I lounged in bed. When I saw Superman swoop up to save Lois Lane from a plunging helicopter Alicia said I looked like a little kid. She was right. Watching the Man of Steel took me back to a simpler time, before I learned about corruptibility and weakness, a time when I was an innocent little boy. That was a good feeling.
So I rented the 2006 film Superman Returns last night and watched it on my big plasma TV. And when I saw Superman sonic booming though the skies to save a fiery plane from crashing that smile retuned. Now many critics panned the film, saying the director overplayed the whole Superman as Jesus thing. But what those dolts didn’t remember is that Superman is a reincarnation of a very old myth. Yes, Kal-El was sent to Earth by his father to be humanity’s savior, sort of dies, wakes up and flies into the heavens. I get the comparison. Jesus kind of had superpowers too. But the myth even predates the Gospels. Remember Hercules, the strongest man in the world? The son of Zeus who performs great feats, journeys to the underworld, cheats death and ascends to Mount Olympus? Sound familiar? So when the twentieth century rolled around we recycled an old myth and put it tights and a red cape. And that’s why I think so many people love the idea of superheroes and The Man of Steel in particular. It touches on something primal and endless; our secret wish that there’s a benevolent being greater than all of us – someone who will save us from ourselves.
So when the movie ended I had the same tingling sensation I felt as a kid – that if I only got a running start I could slip the bonds of Earth and vault into the skies. Now all of us have dreamed we could fly but, unless you’re tripping on acid, you know you can’t. But man wouldn’t it be great? No more pat downs at the airport, usurious baggage fees and wondering if the guy in 24A is a terrorist. Up, up and away! Of course I’d like to have x-ray vision too. And if you’re wondering why you’re as dumb as a lump of Kryptonite. Who wouldn’t love to be Superman? Even though I’m forty-three I still think I have a shot. But I wouldn’t look good in the costume. I love doughnuts too.
Now life is always full of interesting coincidences. When I got up this morning still humming William’s theme, I read that Joanne Siegel, the wife of one of Superman’s creators and the model for Lois Lane, passed away at the age of 93. I shook my head and smiled. I like to think Joanne finally got that ride with Superman after all.
Maybe one day all of us will.