We’ve definitely become more of a culture of wanting to identify with characters, rather than wanting to see characters that we couldn’t be. It’s not just movies and superheroes. When you look at protagonists in television, they’re kind of crappy people. There’s Don Draper or Dexter or Walter White. They’re not one or the other — they’re muddy.
What you see coming out now — after the era of '90s superhero movies — is sort of like the transition between glam rock and grunge, where you have the square-jawed heroes being phased out. They’re kind of one-dimensional, there’s not really much of an arc, they’re just there to facilitate all of the action and just sort of be the opposing force to evil. But now people want to see more humanity, and I honestly think that has a lot to do with the Internet.
The way we interact with the Internet, the way that we’re all in each other’s business with YouTube and vlogs, we’re just used to seeing humans. And that’s what we’re identifying with, seeing other humans. People are bored by the one-dimensional, “oh, he can do anything” hero because what’s at stake then? What are they battling? We’ve seen so much of it up to this point that the one place that superheroes hadn’t really gone, at least in film yet, is inward.
What works in “Man of Steel” is just the idea of taking the heroes off the pedestal and going, “They’re still … if not humans, then creatures. Creatures with struggles.” Because that’s what people get wrapped up in, story and struggle and not just, “Oh look, he’s better than everyone else.” It’s the idea that he’s not better than everyone. And Superman has a lot of struggles in the movie, more so than just, “Oh, he’s got superpowers and he beats the crap out of those guys and it’s all going to be fine because he’s indestructible.” People have seen that. You still want your healthy dose of action scenes, but then you want to identify with the characters.
Chris Hardwick is the creator of the Nerdist podcast and Youtube channel.