Searching for Purpose

Two gems and a dud: 'Superman Returns,' 'Nacho Libre,' and 'Click'

Early summer has brought us a trifecta of family films about men in search of themselves, and in search of some sort of change that will bring meaning to their day-to-day existence.

If these characters were kids, women, or members of minority ethnic groups, you'd likely have touching independent features. But since these are various incarnations of white guys (well, one is half Mexican, one is an adopted Kryptonian), you wind up with one action film and two comedies. Fortunately, two of the men succeed in their quest, and in their movies. Only one winds up not much better off for the journey--nor do we end up any better for seeing the film.

Superman Returns

Superman Returns

Often, summer action films substitute special effects for human emotions. Somehow, though, at the center of this summer action movie beats real heart. Yes, there is

Christ imagery aplenty


and echoes of Dali paintings and even "The Da Vinci Code," but last time I looked, that's not what hooks the kids. Or me.

What I love about Superman, and why I loved bringing the kids to this movie, is that he is an approachable, understandable superhero. His secret identity isn't a rich guy with a butler and a secret cave; he's a regular Joe, from a poor family in the heartland, who is constantly shunted aside by busy bosses and good-looking girls because none of them see the true makings of a hero before them. Isn't that how every kid--okay, every one of us--often feels?

"Superman Returns" deals in the mythic--fathers and sons, learning to understand and embrace your strength, sorting out which battles are yours and which aren't. It's about what each of us does to cope with our basic alone-ness. And it's about the strength that is found in love and compassion.

I love that Jor-El sends his son to Earth because of human beings' "infinite capacity for good." I love how when ordinary folks see Superman doing good, they find the strength to do good also. I wish our politicians would start leading us by our noble instincts, rather than by fear and loathing.

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