Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ and the Struggles of Modern Masculinity

Lots of folks have joked, on seeing the trailer for Zack Snyder’s newest movie, that they’re excited to see Terrence Malick’s Man of Steel:

The thing that actually strikes me as most powerful about this trailer, though, is that Pa Kent’s speech is one a mortal man could easily give his human son. Our superhero movies have gotten kind of disconnected from masculinity in general. Bruce Wayne has a particular violent experience in childhood that spurs him to superheroism, and even more particular resources with which to finance his ambitions. Peter Parker may be the only person to be bitten by a radioactive spider, but great responsibility doesn’t come only with great power—sometimes that relationship is crushingly inverse. The X-Men are valuable precisely because they’re a metaphor for otherness. But the truth is that white men are more likely to possess money and privilege, the currency that can purchase or convey the closest things we have to superpowers, and how they use it matters.

It’s easy to treat Superman as an alien, or even as a kind of bodhisattva. But he’s potentially even more interesting as a man, a kind of sober Ron Swanson, a vision of masculinity divorced from contempt for women or concerns about heterosexual credibility. I don’t know that there’s anything in Snyder’s ouvre that suggests he’s up for that. And after The Dark Knight Rises, I have significant concerns about David Goyer’s ability to handle big ideas with much in the way of deftness or commitment. But it’s a thought, and I’ll be curious to see if either of them rise to the occasion.