I fully get that at this point, there’s no real reason to talk speculatively about a Jon Hamm lead Superman movie. I know that ship has sailed and will never come back. What I’m talking about is my ultimate Superman fantasy movie and why Jon Hamm would be the best Superman ever.
First of all, I should explain my perception of Superman, because it may be different than the perception a lot of people have.
Over the years, there have been many different interpretations of Superman, both in comic books and in movies and television. When I was a kid I watched the Max Fleischer cartoons.
and reruns of the George Reeves TV show.
And, of course, I watched the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, and while I enjoyed them (I’d say I appreciate the first one more as an adult than I did as a kid) I always felt that Christopher Reeve was just a little too skinny and fragile looking to play Superman. He was a great actor and he certainly had the performance down, but for me, Superman needed to look a little older and a little burlier. In my mind, Superman looked like a wrestler from the 30s.
As the movies progressed, they got farther and farther from my idea of how Superman should be portrayed. They started getting sillier until they became unwatchable. By the time they’d run out of steam, Superman was a big joke and nothing at all like what I wanted Superman to be.
I should also point out that over the course of this period I started reading comic books. Somewhere around the age of eight or nine. I gave Superman a few shots, but could never really connect with him as a comic book character. For me, Superman was better as a idea than as a practical, viable character. I liked him as a character in other comic books. I would read Batman and enjoy the issues where he would go to Metropolis and deal with Superman. Or in The Dark Knight Returns when the President brings Superman in to get Batman under control. There’s that great page where Frank Miller starts us with just the American flag and dialog where you understand that the president is talking to someone and each panel pulls us back a little more and intercuts with the color yellow as we start to realize that we’re looking at the S symbol on Superman’s chest.
I like the idea of what Superman represents more than the character himself. I like that he is an alien trying to pass in the human world. Practically a God on earth, yet he desperately wants to be accepted as a human. Because he was raised as a human. Even though he could crush anyone on the planet, all he wants is for people to care for him and respect him as a person, not because he’s more powerful than they are. Yet he’s never weepy. He’s not Batman crying about his dead parents. He’s not The X-Men making a political issue out of his differences. He’s a quiet, reserved guy, perhaps shy and, even more so, deliberately contained. Even though he wants to be accepted by humans, he also knows that he can never BE human, so there’s a detachment that makes him mysterious and maybe a little frightening. Ultimately though, he’s emotionally vulnerable. So rather than indulging his psychosis and acting like a nutcase like Batman, he’s just very quiet and observant. Occasionally having a meltdown or two, but for the most part he keeps it together. Or he tries to anyway. So many of the best Superman tales are stories that focus on his grip slipping and losing his composure.
Which brings us to Jon Hamm. Because in so many ways, his character on Mad Men, Don Draper, IS Superman. Don Draper deals with so many of the same issues that Superman deals with. He’s a scared, alienated guy scrambling to keep his life together, even though it’s a massive lie. He’s a guy who knows that at any moment, the truth could come out and his life could fall apart. The way that Don Draper deals with that constant fear and need to stay detached from those who love him is to hide behind this American ideal of masculinity. While Superman has his powers and persona and American Pride to hide behind, Don Draper has this character that he’s crafted of the strong, silent but brilliant model of a 1960s man. The guy who drinks and smokes and sleeps with lots of attractive women. But it’s all just covering up this inability to connect to anyone. This alien nature and fear of rejection.
One of the things that I thought that Superman Returns got right (and I know I’m in a small group of people who actually liked a lot of things about that movie) was that it brought Superman back to being an alien. Before that movie, Superman was floundering in the world of TV melodrama. Between the fairly corny show Lois and Clark, which was like Felicity with Superheroes to the downright awful Smallville, which was like The Babysitters Club with Superheroes, Superman had become a story about on-again-off-again love affairs and high school drama. Those shows strived to humanize Superman. Make him cute and lovable and something for teenage girls to crush on. Basically the exact opposite of what I think Superman should be.
I felt like Superman Returns took great strides toward bringing the alien nature back to Superman. Reminding us that he’s an outsider and can never fully be invested in a human relationship. There are parts of that movie where Superman is downright creepy in how strange and un-human he comes across. In casting that Superman, they went with Brandon Routh (who put in a good performance, don’t get me wrong) who is like a less masculine version of Christopher Reeve. That’s another area where Jon Hamm works for me. He’s a solid looking man’s man. He looks like someone’s particularly attractive, well built dad. An all American guy with a serious stare and fantastic head of hair. He looks like those old Max Fleischer cartoons.
If we could combine the tone and attitude of Mad Men and Donald Draper with the alien detachment and strangeness of Superman Returns, and give that project to a director who understands how to be methodical and thoughtful in pacing and character. A director who can capture the deep rooted fear of rejection and the inability to connect with anyone around you. A director who understands how to take vulnerable characters and make them strong and powerful through public perception rather than any real confidence. Because that’s what Don Draper and Superman do. They get by on what people think they are. They hide, frightened, behind their persona.
Darren Aronofsky comes to mind. Specifically because of The Wrestler and Black Swan. Both stories are about characters who find strength through some talent they have rather than any personal growth. The lead characters in both films use their persona and artistic abilities as an escape from dealing with the mess of their lives and their own personal demons. To a degree, that’s also what Requiem For a Dream was about. He tends to make movies about people channeling their fear and pain and self loathing into some other outlet. Drugs and wrestling and ballet.
That’s the Superman movie I would want to see. Darren Aronofsky directing Jon Hamm as Superman. I know it will never happen, but goddamned that would be a great movie.
And just for the sake of discussion, as long as we’re fantasizing, lets get Daniel Day Lewis in there as Lex Luther and Jennifer Connelly as Lois Lane.
And Michael Shannon as General Zod. Just because that casting choice is absolutely inspired and brilliant.