Last month, after Ben Affleck abdicated the director’s chair, Warner Bros. and DC Films ended weeks of consternation and doom-filled speculation about the fate of The Batman when they locked down War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves to direct the Dark Knight’s next adventure. With Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman soon to debut in movie theaters, the biggest question mark now is about the final crown jewel of DC Comics’ Holy Trinity: Superman.
Though Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice grossed over $873 million at the box office, it’s generally regarded as a disappointment considering what lofty heights the movie was aiming for. Batman V Superman was originally conceived as a direct sequel to Man of Steel before the concept was reworked to include Batman and serve as a gateway to the forthcoming Justice League film – and, by extension, the greater DC shared movie universe. Superman himself, whose lasting impression coming off of Man of Steel was as a joyless would-be savior who allowed Smallville and Metropolis to be devastated while he fought and ultimately executed General Zod in a very un-Superman-like manner, seemed even more angry and disenfranchised in Batman V Superman – and then he died at the end. He saved the world, yes, but it was a world on the brink of turning on him.
Superman returning to life in Zack Snyder’s Justice League later this year is the worst kept secret in superhero movies. Henry Cavill has posted about being on set on social media and Superman is part of Justice League‘s promotional materials. Superman remains an integral part of the DCEU – and rightly so. When Superman does return, a proper sequel (tentatively dubbed Man of Steel 2) is in order. The question facing DC Films and Warner Bros. is how to continue Superman’s cinematic adventures, and which filmmaker to entrust the Man of Steel’s future with?
Good news about a Superman movie has been as rare as gold Kryptonite lately, which is why the rumors that Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn is being eyed to direct Man of Steel 2 have quickly taken flight. Back in 2010, Vaughn and Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar had “a very brief chat” with Warner Bros. about their ideas for a Superman film before the studio opted for the concept by The Dark Knight Trilogy‘s creators Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, for which Zack Snyder was ultimately hired as director. During that initial period of interest in Vaughn for Superman seven years ago, Vaughn offered this tidbit for his take on Superman and how to do a Superman movie:
“I think that’s the one thing not to do with Superman, trying to do the serious ‘The Dark Knight’ version. Superman is about color and fun, or it should be, for me.”
Whether or not Vaughn actually becomes the director of Man of Steel 2 – and these talks are still at an early stage that could ultimately amount to nothing – his words from years ago strike a particular chord among Superman fans. In a way, his comment is a prophetic warning about the direction he saw the Superman movie project headed. What’s more, whether Vaughn gets the Superman gig or not, whoever becomes the new Superman director will be faced with a question: Should Man of Steel 2 be a soft reboot?
Superman is tethered to the ambitious plans for the DC Extended Universe moving forward, but Warner Bros. has been in damage control mode for a while, promising a “lighter tone” and direction for the next gaggle of DC superhero movies we’re about to see, led by Wonder Woman and Justice League this year. Superman is expected to be resurrected as some point in the course of Justice League, but it would primarily be up to Man of Steel 2 to reintegrate Superman into his own corner of the DCEU and reintroduce Metropolis, the Daily Planet, and his life as reporter Clark Kent (also back from the dead). Superman coming back to life is literally a second chance; it’s a way to undo a lot of the negativity that has plagued Zack Snyder’s version of the character. It can all be done simply by changing the tone of Superman Snyder established.
MATTHEW VAUGHN KICKS ASS
In 2010, Vaughn made his mark on superhero films with the R-rated Kick-Ass, a scathing satire of superhero movies steeped in ultra-violence, with foul-mouthed tween Chloë Grace Moretz stealing the show as Hit-Girl. Around that same time, the X-Men franchise was in sorry shape. 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand was the nadir of the franchise – that is until X-Men Origins: Wolverine came out and was even more of a disaster. Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Men movies, returned to produce a new X-Men prequel trilogy after Superman Returns under-performed. This was Vaughn’s take on Superman Returns:
“It had no idea what it was. Was it a remake, a prequel or a sequel? What was it? I actually think Bryan Singer has done some fabulous movies, but I felt that that was just a mess. There’s no other way to describe it.”
Despite that withering view of his Superman effort (or perhaps because of his forthright honesty), Singer hired Vaughn to direct X-Men: First Class. The results spoke for themselves. Injecting a swinging retro vibe to First Class’ 1960s setting and characters, Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman dazzled audiences with a rambunctious young Charles Xavier played by James McAvoy, a studly but tortured young Magneto played by Michael Fassbender, and showcased Jennifer Lawrence, who would soon become an Oscar winner and one of the biggest movie stars in the world, as Mystique. Vaughn garbed his X-Men in the comics’ traditional bright blue and gold uniforms and it all worked splendidly. The success of First Class allowed Singer to return to the director’s chair and deliver the well-received time travel romp X-Men: Days of Future Past, followed by another misfire in the form of X-Men: Apocalypse.
Currently, Vaughn is continuing his youthful and ribald invigoration of the British spy genre, Kingsman: The Secret Service, by directing its sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Vaughn seems to have the golden touch when it comes to jolting well-worn genres with wit, style, and kinetic in-your-face energy. Which isn’t to say Vaughn doesn’t also have a fanciful, playful side to his work – he wrote and directed the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. Vaughn bringing his unique vision and edgy brand of movie magic to Superman is an exciting prospect – if he gets the job.
COLOR AND FUN
Whether or not Vaughn is the man for Man of Steel 2, we can go back to his quote from 2010 and agree with his assessment. It seems so obvious and clear-cut – Superman is about color and fun. Bright red cape swirling behind him as he soars majestically across the blue skies, off to save the day when people are in danger. A dash of self-aware wit. There’s a reason why Superman doesn’t wear a mask: even though he’s Superman, he’s supposed to be approachable. He will speak to you, he’ll be polite and nice. He’ll smile at you while he saves you. Superman likes people, and he cares about everybody.
Superman smiling is such a simple yet vastly underrated component of that character and how audiences react to him. The lasting impression Christopher Reeve’s Superman left on a generation was of him flying over the Earth, looking straight at the camera, and offering an assuring grin before he zooms off and the credits roll. Henry Cavill’s Superman was allowed just a couple of fleeting moments of levity in Man of Steel – flashing a grin at the very end when he arrived at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane greeted him with “Welcome to the Planet.”
Batman V Superman‘s glimpses of a smiling Superman are even more brief. When he’s saving people from a burning building in Mexico, he’s scowling. When he’s called to appear before Congress – a moment that demands he be inspirational – he says not a word and does nothing to prevent a bomb from exploding and killing everyone around him. Batman hated him and wanted to fight, so Superman’s response was to lose his cool and start throwing punches, even though he desperately needed Batman’s help. Batman V Superman has its supporters who appreciate the vision Snyder presented, but most would tend to agree that Snyder’s idea of Superman could stand a lot of improvement. For one thing, he could act like Superman.
Vaughn’s belief that Superman should be about color and fun is succinct and accurate. A Superman movie should be enjoyable. Superman should be better than violence for violence’s sake. Superman should be about inspiration and heroism. Superman is supposed to rise above, not wallow in despair. Superman is about showing people a better way, pointing to a better tomorrow. In a 2009 interview with Wired, Grant Morrison, who wrote one of the best Superman graphic novels in decades, All-Star Superman, summarized why we still cherish the idea of the Man of Steel:
“Somewhere, in our darkest night, we made up the story of a man who will never let us down…”
When Superman returns in Justice League and takes flight in his long-awaited solo sequel, it is a prime opportunity to begin anew. Not completely, of course; Superman will have to retain his ties to the DCEU and the characters and concepts Justice League will introduce. But in terms of tone and presentation, the best idea would be to have Matthew Vaughn or whomever helms Man of Steel 2 take the film in the direction of a soft reboot. By then, enough years will have passed since the events of Batman V Superman that the long-needed light of day can shine over Metropolis, and bring Superman with it.
What Superman definitively needs is new energy and a new visionary behind the camera. Vaughn’s established capacity within the superhero and other genres he’s played in to find the crux of the idea and infuse it with kinetic energy mixed with flashes of sly wit would make him a fine fit to direct Superman. What’s most important, if DC Films really is serious about doing an about-face from the issues they’ve faced about the quality of their output thus far – especially in the wake of Marvel’s unstoppable juggernaut of crowd-pleasing blockbusters – is actually delivering a Superman movie that is, if nothing else, “fun and colorful.” Snyder assembled as fine a cast as Superman could ask for with Academy Award nominee Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White. Henry Cavill remains an ideal Superman who seems like he’s dying to be allowed to cut loose and enjoy himself in the role. So let them loose, let them play, give them a story with worthy of Superman that actually gives audiences a fun experience.
Zack Snyder killed Superman and is bringing him back. The Superman we get after Justice League needs to be, to borrow a famous quote, the hero we deserve and the hero we need right now. All it would take is a little bit of soft rebooting.