Before moving on to write about other things, there is one more important point I need to make about what has been called the aspirational nature of the Superman character versus our need to make him more "relatable." One of the biggest and earliest fears I had about Nolan and Goyer’s take on Superman that has since been alleviated is the fear that, in trying to ground Kal-El in the real world and make him more "relatable," they would water down or risk losing the almost godlike qualities that I believe have made this character so enduring and important to an increasingly secular and pessimistic world. It was a legitimate fear since making him less powerful and even less righteous is exactly what Hollywood wanted to do in the late 90's. While I agree that stories in all mediums need lead characters that audiences can relate to and appreciate, Superman meets a collective need that few other characters and their stories so effectively can. He is to the secular world what faith and a belief God should be to religious followers and believers: A role model and motivator for humanity to try to act in a manner that at least makes us seem better than we inherently are.
I have no illusions about this being any kind of new sentiment since just about every superhero documentary touches on this, but I’m seeing so much about Superman’s potential modern-day irrelevancy and the need to make him "grittier" and even a little more fallible for the sake of being relatable (there’s that word again) that I really think it’s a point that bears repeating. Some people seem to resent it, but the totality of human history bears out our need for superior role models — in stories if not always possible in life. Consider that if there were no superior heroes, our stories might still be… relatable… but they would do little more than validate our own weaknesses and give us potential excuses for never trying harder to be better. Given humanity’s tendency towards selfishness and self-doubt, among a million other things, that seems like a very bleak prospect, indeed.
Religions and their followers have gotten a bad rap because too many use their god and their own favor in that god’s eyes as an excuse to bully others into either conversion or silence — often with violent and horrific results. I still believe in the value of disciplined religious faith, but where humanity’s flawed reflections of God might fail our increasingly secular, "logical" world, Superman has the potential to help steer us back to the light IF we’re willing to let him be who he was always meant to be. I realize how contentious this probably is, but even as we thrill to his fictitious exploits, I believe he shows us that self-esteem can go hand-in-hand with morality and responsibility, for in being a moral and responsible people, we might feel better about ourselves. Gimmicky as it sounds, despite knowing we’ll never be as strong, powerful or even as altruistically righteous as Superman, the very unattainable nature of the goal can still motivate us to keep striving towards it. Though not the most pleasant of analogies, it's akin to the addict that knows the addiction will never go away, but strives to rise above it, anyway… one day at a time. There is no substitute for religious faith and discipline, but Superman can still be put in the proper context and become a benevolent role model that comes void of the need for worship and the threats of supernatural punishment that, at first, might scare people away from more meaningful guides. Whether in comics, movies or the world’s vaunted myths of old, his brand of superiority and that of others like him are absolutely essential in my eyes to making sure that humanity never grows too comfortable with itself and always fights its selfish and fallible nature. I sincerely hope that after our desire for spectacular battles and special effects has been satiated, we'll emerge from MAN OF STEEL reminded of our own potential. For 75 years and counting, part of it is and will always be "…a job for Superman."