[Update: There's word that the Superman Reboot is on the way!]
A lot of you may still be buzzing from the news that Chris Nolan will be “mentoring” the Superman franchise for Warner Bros., in order to get it back on track. Unfortunately, a huge dent was put in that news recently, when DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson stated that the Nolan/Superman connection is just a rumor.
Chris Nolan may end up being involved with the Superman reboot in some capacity – then again he may not. Only time will tell. However, this latest turn of the rumor mill has done us the the wonderful favor of rekindling the debate about what we, as fans, want to see in the next Superman movie and the inevitable franchise that follows.
We’ve had this debate again and again, but it doesn’t seem to get old. Last time, I asked you what should Warner Bros. do about the Superman reboot – it was a question. But that was then, and nothing has been done since (that we can confirm), so now I’m done asking – now I’m pitching some theories. Keep on reading and see if you agree.
FOCUS ON THE CHARACTER
You know what made a movie like Batman Begins so enjoyable? The fact that two-thirds of the film were dedicated to exploring the central character and answering the two basic questions that should be at the heart of every superhero franchise: Who is this guy/gal and what is he/she about?
You know what tripped me up about Bryan Singer’s vision for Superman Returns? The cheesy, hokey, thinly-veiled metaphoric question of the central narrative: What does Superman mean to the faux world of the film, and by extension, what does Superman mean to us in the real world? YAWN.
As a former fanboy, I know what Superman means to me – I didn’t go to the theater to take a friggin survey on it. A Superman film should demonstrate to the audience that the filmmakers understand what the character means and that they are able to communicate that understanding in a way that resonates with the audience.
You know why Richard Donner’s cut of Superman II is such genius? Because that film invests so heavily in exploring who Superman/Clark Kent is, both as a hero and as a man. And, so as not to weigh things down too heavily, three badass super-powered Kryptonian villains were thrown in there to provide the necessary blockbuster action, while still managing to expand the story of Superman’s identity crisis in a logical and meaningful way.
My point: If you want to reboot Superman successfully, keep the story focused on the man in the red, yellow and blue suit! How hard is it to mimic a formula that Donner clearly mastered way back when? Don’t just retell an origin story – explore what that origin means to the character. How does Superman/Clark feel as the orphan of another world? How did his Smallville upbringing and human adoptive parents make him more “human” than most people?
Exploring old topics from new angles opens interesting doors…
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE “DARK”
As contemporary movie goers, we need to be reacquainted with Superman. And I’m not talking the Superman of some nostalgic past (as Mr. Singer tried to resurrect) – I’m talking about a version of the character who exists in our day and age, when so much of the world seems to be advancing, and yet, simultaneously heading in the wrong direction.
Superman represents hope. That is the symbol he has always been, and, in my opinion, should always be. He’s the being who can do anything, withstand anything, rise above any challenge – and yet, he chooses to be a man (keyword) who stands for compassion, hope and all those other benevolent emotions. Just as incorruptible as Batman – but in a completely different way.
It doesn’t matter how much darkness Superman is surrounded by, because he doesn’t allow it to drag him down or corrupt that noble heart of his (a quality which makes some cynics roll their eyes). It’s why Supes is so famous and enduring: he’s an indestructible (read: indelible) symbol of good always triumphing in the end.
So don’t be afraid to drag him through the mud!
A few years back, we heard rumors about Superman Unleashed – a “dark Superman movie” that would serve as the sequel to Superman Returns. As soon as Unleashed rumors started leaking, droves of fanboys lost their minds. And, in a sense, they were right to.
This was after Chris Nolan had polished the Batman franchise into the new golden stature of comic book movies. In true Hollywood fashion, everybody was trying to copy Nolan’s blueprint, which in their minds translated to “Make the character dark – modern crowds like dark, troubled characters.”
FALSE. The truth is that contemporary audiences (in whatever genre of whatever medium) have come to accept that the world isn’t so simple or clear-cut. The Superman of the post-WWII 50s simply cannot be the same character we get in this new Millennium. Right or wrong, there are now too many new views and opinions about morality and ethics – not to mention that it’s pretty obvious to all of us that the world is currently in a state of flux and change. So why baby your audience? Why take some condescendingly simplistic approach to a hero’s story? Why not give us Superman – the shining example of enduring hope – in the full complexity of modern context?
You can keep certain things edgy, for sure – the story, the conflict, the stakes – Superman can take a beating, suffer some terrible loss(es) – hell, he may bend and nearly break. So long as he never loses hope and ultimately overcomes the challenge(s), Supes can be dragged through hell and back again and still rise to the occasion of being the hero we expect him to be. Cripes, it’s basically what Superman II is all about!
A WORTHY ADVERSARY
Enough with the Lex Luthor crap, we get it: Lex is Superman’s equal – only with his brain rather than his brawn, see?
That’s all well and good, but seriously, if I’m paying current movie ticket prices to see a Superman flick (in 3D, because you know it’s coming…) then yes, on some level (read: a major one) I want to see some drag-out, city-wrecking, sound-barrier-breaking, super-powered slam-dancing take place.
Writers of the Superman comic books have spent decades building up a wonderful gallery of super-powered rogues that can give Supes a run for his money. Brainiac, Mongul, Zod, Parasite, Kalibak, Cyborg Superman, Metallo, Doomsday, Atomic Skull – even creepy, non-super-powered types like The Toy Man. It’s a big wide world of Superman bad guys – so why the hell are we constantly limited to the Superman vs. Lex rivalry?
Superman Returns was the worst offender of the bunch, in my opinion – yes, even worse than Superman IV. At least the latter tried to throw in some half-baked (get it?) Superman clone who was strong enough to bury Superman on the moon! Returns tried to sell us on some “big conflict” involving Luthor growing “real estate” out of freaking Kryptonian geodes. That so-called “plotline” still turns my stomach…
Quick lesson in metaphor: you want to demonstrate how Superman inspires hope, in even the darkest of times, without getting too overtly literal or dragged down by politics? Throw my man Darkseid in there along with his war-crazed army and psycho lieutenants from the planet Apokolips – have them invade planet earth with only Superman standing between humanity and total Armageddon.
Remember Superman: The Animated Series? That show tackled the Superman/Darkseid epic in a three-part episode that was a classic, as far as I’m concerned. It hit all the right notes: Superman’s role as both inspirational symbol and super-powered protector; Apokolips and Darkseid as metaphors for dark times and indisputable evil; those “city-wrecking” battles I spoke about; even a wonderful subplot about the Metropolis police sacrificing their lives to battle Darkseid and his forces, reminding Superman that “heroes” don’t need to be “super” – they just need to have bravery in their hearts.
Do you see how easy that was? Makes you wonder how a cartoon show can get it so right when a movie franchise with a massive budget misses the mark… Hopefully, with DCE promoting some of its best creative minds to top positions, we movie buffs floating around the ‘Net won’t be the only ones pitching the good ideas.
In my eyes, it really isn’t that hard to get Superman right. You just have to remember to value the basics. Both Marvel and DC are currently bringing their universes back to some core heroic roots, signaling that the people at the top have heard fans’ cries that they’re tired of an era in which every super hero needs to have Freudian issues, mental problems, or some other stain on their costume.
Our super heroes are totems – symbols of values we hold dear or aspire to in our own lives and Superman has always stood as the tallest totem there is.
All DCE/WB has to do with this Superman reboot is remind us why.
Announcements about the Superman reboot (and many other DC movie projects) are expected to come soon, so stay tuned to Screen Rant.
Artwork by: Alex Ross, Jim Lee, Ed McGuinness and Philip Tan