Zack Snyder would have enough of a challenge on his hands making Man of Steel reinvigorate the Superman license, while simultaneously launching a potential movie universe for DC's entire Justice League. But the film will also be charged with correcting some of the mistakes of Superman's last appearance: Bryan Singer's Superman Returns (2006).
It would be unfair to say Singer's take was a total failure, since Snyder is repeating some of his predecessor's work. He's found himself a relative unknown for the titular role, and a new take on the classic Kryptonian super-suit - but that's where the similarities largely end. Expectations range from skepticism to unbridled optimism, but now we have an idea of where Singer sees the most promise, and the most cause for concern.
Snyder's casting of an Oscar-nominated actress for the role of Lois Lane promises something different from the secondary characters (even if it's not as dramatic as changing gender), and a close look at the Man of Steel trailer shows that this movie will tell a vastly different story from any previous. And in case it isn't already clear, it won't be resembling the sequel to Superman Returns for which Bryan Singer laid the foundation.
So, is Singer disappointed that the next Superman movie has been handed to someone else? Speaking with Total Film, the director reveals that he still wonders what might have been, but is first and foremost a fan of the big blue Boy Scout:
“If this was a few years ago, I might have [been disappointed] - but so much time has passed. I’ve done two movies since, I’ll be on my third movie now in the [X-Men] universe… so whilst it would have been nice then, now I’m actually genuinely looking forward to seeing Zack’s movie. At my heart I’m a fan. I’ve always been a fan.
“The original 'Superman' movie was the one that educated me - the first act of Donner’s 'Superman' was what inspired me to take 'X-Men' so seriously. Now I get to go see a 'Superman' movie and I don’t have to f***ing make it! [laughs] They’re not easy! He’s not an easy character!"
That's quite the understatement, since the character has challenged experienced writers for decades, for fairly obvious reasons: If Superman can do almost anything, what could possibly bring conflict? Screenwriter David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder have decided to build the conflict for their film from the inside out, addressing the fact that Superman is a son of two fathers and not truly a 'man', regardless of how much he pretends to be one.
Those ideas set a fairly serious tone for what is usually seen as (and promised by star Henry Cavill to be) a character that is nothing if not the stuff of fantasy, and certainly not a Batman-level-brooder. Of course, playing it on the safer side of whimsical nostalgia doesn't always work, since Superman Returns' functioning as a direct sequel to Richard Donner's film(s) didn't please everyone either.
It's one of the hardest challenges for a modern comic book writer: finding the balance between a) capturing what made the character so successful in its earliest days, and b) updating the story to make the character relatable for a completely different generation. Singer knows which side of the equation his film landed on, but notes that a deeper, darker story is always difficult to tell given Superman's unwavering morality:
“I got very nostalgic with my movie but even if you take it in another direction it’s very challenging… inherently he’s such a good guy… what’s easier about 'X-Men' is that they’re all so conflicted. ”
Singer hits the nail on the head, and voices the concerns and vehement criticism from fans taking issue with the 'darker' view of Superman Goyer and Snyder are going after. Of course, to make the argument even Singer stops short of - that Superman is always a good guy, and possessing nothing of, say, Batman's inner turmoil - is to claim that 'being good' and 'being conflicted' are mutually exclusive.
But while Superman may be a hero, he's also a refugee from another world, adopted, and eventually forced to choose between his new family and the old one he never knew... let's just say that a story ignoring the emotional and mental toll that would take on anyone is missing out on an opportunity to say something powerful.
The person who will be largely responsible for pushing Superman beyond his role as 'good guy' in Man of Steel is none other than classic villain General Zod (Michael Shannon). Equipped with a suit similar to to Superman's, the set photos of Shannon haven't shown the costume in its entirety. Fan renderings and the accompanying Man of Steel toy lines have given an idea of what to expect, but thanks to Kapow Props, we now know what logo will be emblazoned on Zod's armor. Have a look:
CLICK TO ENLARGE
We still have our questions about the relationship between the Houses of El and Zod prior to Krypton's destruction, but at least we know both possess a family crest worthy of mounting over a fireplace.
What do you think of Singer's take on the difficulty of telling a new and edgy Superman story? Should Superman be portrayed as a troubled soul, or does that miss the point of his character entirely? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Man of Steel hits theaters June 14th, 2013.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.