My most anticipated movie of the summer was, without a doubt, Man of Steel. We’re seemingly on an unending streak of quality superhero movies (we don’t talk about Green Lantern round these parts, OK?), and 2006’s Superman Returns was so, so close to being a great movie rather than a good one. On top of all that, Nolan’s more gritty interpretation of Batman showed everyone that even the normally ho-hum and overdone DC lineup could be made exciting with the right touch. And while Zack Snyder probably wasn’t at the top of anyone’s list to rejuvenate the tired-as-can-be story of The Last Son of Krypton, with Nolan in the writer-producer chair the movie still held promise.
Another summer release I was very excited about was
Jay-Z Jay Z’s newest studio release Magna Carta Holy Grail, for not all too dissimilar reasons. Hov’s last solo release, Blueprint 3, was by all means a good album, but it sounded completely same-y and unadventurous. Whereas Watch the Throne showed everyone that Jay Z can still be exciting, both lyrically and musically, all he needs is somebody a little more free-spirited to give him a nudge. Plus, all the the hullabaloo over the rapper-mogul’s deal with Samsung and how its literally changing the rules of the industry is pretty damn exciting.
Both blockbuster releases had promising but at the same time disappointing predecessors, both have evidence of how good they could be with the right person grabbing the reins. Both, I was hoping, would be able to breathe some new life into a subject matter certainly everyone is tired of hearing about.
Unfortunately, both also completely failed to live up to expectations. Man of Steel, aside from the tired aesthetic, hilariously out of place IHOP product placement and unmemorable soundtrack (BWWWWWOOOOOOONNNNGGG), suffers the most from a meandering plot that clumsily jumps from heavy-handed messiah metaphors to some good old fashioned USA! USA! dick-waving without delivering any sort of meaningful message at its conclusion. Well, if there’s no compelling plot to be found, then we can at least expect some sweet super-powered action sequences, right? Nope. Because both Supes and his archvillain Zod are near-indestructible Kryptonians, their machismo-filled
fights flying-tackle fests are about as fun to watch as a pool noodle duel. Despite doing away with the usual Superman elements like Daily Planet, Lex Luthor, and Kryptonite, Man of Steel still manages to tell the same old story and yet somehow…less, even more empty than its predecessors.
Magna Carta Holy Grail suffers in the same way: filled to capacity with awkward usage of buzzwords like ~hashtags~, countless namedrops for namedrops’ sake and completely unrelatable references to his nigh-godhood, the album ends up feeling like just a part of the same old extended victory dance the rap mogul has been doing since Kingdom Come. That’s not to say that the album is completely without merit. “Jay Z Blue”, for example, provides a surprisingly candid look at Jay Z’s thoughts on being a father. And the album is solid acoustically, Timbaland proving once again why he is still one of the best producers in the game. Perhaps that’s why the accompanying braggadocio filled verses ring extra hollow, each line a dull reminder that this record would’ve been good if we haven’t already heard it all several times before. Jay Z’s quoting of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the title track “Holy Grail” was perhaps the most succinct expression of the root of the problem: he spends all this time posturing to be anti-culture, when in reality, he is so far in the culture of America that he’s become THE culture.
Both, as it turns out, struggle with a seemingly impossible task: how do you tell the story of an invincible man, someone who holds quite literally all the power in their respective worlds, someone whose life is just so mind-bogglingly awesome that it’s simply beyond comprehension of us mere mortals? And just to make it extra hard, it’s a story that’s been told umpteen times before?
I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but it almost seem too obvious to say: bring them back down to Earth, show the side of them that is still human. We know that this human side exists, Jay Z has his family, his empire, and more importantly, the politics and institutionalized racism in America for which he is the perfect observer and commentator, largely because he seemingly exists outside of it all. We saw a peek of Hova’s own sociopolitical anxiety on Watch the Throne, and as he said on Twitter himself, “#newrules new problems”. He’s created the new rules, now he’s in position to shine some light on the new (and old) problems.
Superman: Birthright was an example of a retelling of the classic Superman origin story, with that oh so needed human twist. I won’t ruin too much of it for you, but it managed to place the Man of Tomorrow in events parallel to our own history, forces him to decide whether it’s best to tackle problems as Superman or as Clark Kent. The series also explores his childhood connections to the folk of Smallville, Earth’s xenophobia, Lois Lane’s emergence as a genuine character of strength rather than a damsel in distress. All issues that Snyder tried to delve into, but perhaps due to the confines of the cinematic medium, was not able to do justice.
Everyone loves a good rags-to-riches(or superpowers) story. But imagine if there was a Cool Runnings sequel where it was the team breezing through the competition to take the gold year after year, or an Ocean’s 14 where Brad Pitt and George Clooney is spending all their money…investing in low risk mutual funds. Riches quickly loses its luster, but rags will fascinate the human imagination forever.