The glory of movies is their grandeur, their bigness, their desire to tell a story they think the whole world should want to hear.
This grandiosity is also their failing, admittedly. The new "Superman Returns" movie turns heavy and stilted towards the end, trying to convince us that the Man of Steel could actually die.
But bringing back Superman also means bringing back his greatest antagonist, the gleeful evil-doer Lex Luthor. And, as Alfred Hitchcock always said, suspense thrillers are driven by the strength of their villain. This is especially true with comic books. The great comic book villains–Lex Luthor, the Joker, Doc Ock–think big.
They’re not just criminals. They’re civilization-enders.
Maybe this is why supervillains are so entertaining. They express our worst thoughts, which then are destroyed as spectacularly as possible by the good guy. Which is why we leave the theatre thinking: Ah, now I feel better. Plus, the continuing success of our way of life is assured.
A highlight of the new "Superman" is Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. My favorite moment comes when his moll, played with jazzy petulance by Parker Posey, asks regarding his latest evil scheme:
GIRLFRIEND: "Lex, is it true that billions of people are going to die?"
Some say the latest "Superman" offers a metaphor for global warming. I’m not convinced; it’s like saying the movie makes "Superman" into a sort of secular Christ figure. (Yes, you can find that in there too, if you look.)
But the movie does effectively put innocent people on the spot as various forms of silent disaster strike. The look on their faces as the possibility of doom crosses their mind tells a story of its own.
Does Lex Luthor cause global warming? If only he did! Then we as a people might actually act!
[Correction: that’s Lex Luthor. My apologies.]