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The Selling of Superman

Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ has already recouped more than two-thirds of its budget before it hits theaters this Friday. However, is it at the cost of true artistry?

Casual film fans, comic nerds and even cinephiles will soon storm movie theaters across the country to see Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s take on Superman, which hits theaters this Friday. While some critics remain skeptical of Snyder’s skills as a director (see: Watchman, Sucker Punch), expectations are generally high for Man of Steel

In addition to marking the return of the archetypal comic book hero to big screen, the sure-to-be blockbuster has all the ingredients of a hit summer film: a great cast and mind-boggling special effects, made possible by a massive budget of 225 million dollars.  Given their extraplanetary investment in the project, you’d think there must be a few executives over at Warner Brothers who are sweating a little bit. But they're not. 

'Man of Steel' is more of a marketable product than a cinematic work.

Why no studio anxiety? Man of Steel has already recaptured $170 million of its budget and the movie has not had even one paying screening. How so? Companies like Wal-Mart, Kellogg’s, Nokia, and Converse have paid big bucks to be part of the Man of Steel juggernaut. Factor in the toy manufacturing rights, which have been purchased by the likes of Mattel, Fisher Price and Lego, and you are talking megadollars. Whether the film is well reviewed or well received by the movie-going public is immaterial at this point. Like most blockbusters, Man of Steel is more of a marketable product than a cinematic work.

Case in point, those of you who are NYC commuters may have noticed the giant Man Of Steel themed Gillette advertisements that are plastered all over the subway cars, unless you have confused them with ads for the actual movie. The campaign is centered around a question:  “How Does The Man of Steel Shave?” With this pretty brilliant marketing ploy, Gillette is engaging consumers, but at the same time, enraging fans.

From the comic books, it’s clear that he uses a mirror to blast heat rays from his eyes to his stubble. Yes, you read that right. However, Gillette has enlisted filmmaker Kevin Smith and others for a series of YouTube videos in which they share their own theories (and viewers can vote on their favorites) of how the Man of Steel gets rid of that five o’clock shadow.

Is this all in good fun or another instance of corporate shills using the icon to sell products? While Kevin Smith loves to talk comics for hours (and I love Kevin Smith), did he just sell a little piece of his soul to Gillette? The answer depends on your perspective.

Another campaign using the visage of the superhero is targeted at real American heroes: The National Guard. If you visit Soldier of Steel, you’ll see the tagline: “National Guard and the MAN OF STEEL™. Two American icons who put on the uniform when duty calls.” Okay, we get that the National Guard needs to find creative ways to target new recruits, but is exploiting the image of an iconic but, more importantly, fictional American figure the way to go?  

Check out the video game that incorporates elements from Man of Steel in a design that has players piloting experimental helicopters and using prototype weaponry to blast targets. Everyone is grabbing a piece of the action, and the marketing profits continue to soar.

Everything and everyone has a price—even Superman. And who is to complain?  Certainly not the advertisers who are using the film and its images so effectively to sell their products, or the studio executives who are raking in the dough.  Somewhere buried in all of this hoopla, however, is a motion picture made for audiences that want to be engaged, not sold.  If Man of Steel fails that essential test, let’s be the one to complain!



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