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5 Things We Hope To See In A New ‘Superman’ Film
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Dr. Geek, Ph.D.   |  
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SupermanThe Man of Steel has not fared well on the big screen in the last few decades. After some very well-remembered work by the Salkinds, Richard Donner, and Richard Lester in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Superman movie franchise found itself out in the wilderness. It first passed through the hands of Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus (best known for making B-grade action flicks with likes of Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Jean-Claude Van Damme), only to move through nearly 20 years of development hell under the supervision of Jon Peters (originally known as Barbara Streisand’s hair stylist, but later the producer of Flashdance, The Color Purple, Batman, and Batman Returns, among others.) These changes have not been kind to the franchise, moving it from broad comedy (Superman III) to low budget mess (Superman IV: The Quest For Peace) to high budget mediocrity (Superman Returns). It’s enough to make the conspiracy-minded think that the bottled water served in Los Angeles is spiked with Kryptonite.

Lately, Superman fans have new reasons for hope that Hollywood will restore luster to the franchise. Warner Brothers has put creative control of the next Superman film in the hands of Christoper Nolan. Mr. Nolan brought his Batman Begins/The Dark Knight collaborator David S. Goyer on board to write the script and brought in Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) to direct. This is a creative team known for turning comic books and superheroes into films that are true to their roots, popular with both fans and the general public, and critically well-received. Where past films attempted more to bring Superman to a particular genre (comedy, CGI action), perhaps the last son of Krypton will finally get a story that says something more uniquely about him.

It is in this spirit that I offer these 5 ideas about what the next Superman film should include…

1. A Good Villain

(Rumored to be General Zod)

Let’s face it: Superhero movies are nothing without good villains. Heroes are like the great moral immovable objects; we intrinsically know what they stand for. Superman is especially guilty of this (“truth, justice, and the American way” as the old TV and radio show put it). Without an unstoppable force, the immovable object can become boring. With it, the collision of the two can be fascinating. Batman and the Dark Knight had this in the Joker. Spider-Man II had this in Doctor Octopus. Iron Man had this in Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger. Real menace has been sorely lacking in the last few Superman movies (I’m sorry — I love Kevin Spacey, but his Lex Luthor was so much more hustler and prison punk than he was evil genius.)

2. A Deeper Moral Dimension

The character of Superman has to deal with some interesting internal conflicts. An uncompromising moral figure with a strong sense of ethics, he lives in the morally compromised modern world. As a being from another planet, he looks like human, tries to blend in with human society, but he cannot fully BE human. As Superman, he can be himself (or a different part of himself)… but he can’t seem to be Superman all the time. How does he make his “ordinary” life as Clark Kent and his extraordinary life as Superman fit together? How does he deal with the compromises he sees others make to live, but he cannot make himself? How does he face the fact that the most direct way to hurt and manipulate an invulnerable moral man is to threaten and wound the more vulnerable people around him? The early movies touched upon these questions, but they have never been explored in great depth.

3. Better Casting

Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Mariel Hemingway, Kate Bosworth… casting hasn’t been the greatest friend to some Superman films. The next film needs to do better in this regard. Yes, Christopher Reeve will always have a strong association with the role of Superman, as did George Reeves before him. Will Brandon Routh put his stamp on the role? Superman Returns did not seem to be a tremendous showcase. In any case, this is something that is also on the mind of Christopher Nolan. As previously reported:

I want to cast the way they did in 1978 with “˜Superman,’ where they had Brando and Glenn Ford and Ned Beatty and all these fantastic actors in even small parts, which was an exotic idea for a superhero movie at the time. It really paid off too.’

4. Some Grit

Yeah, yeah, yeah, “you gotta make it gritty” seems to be a big catch phrase when it comes to Hollywood films. The Superman films have gotten a little neat and tidy over the years. Now while it was something of a statement to make a rather sweet, innocent film in the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam 1970s, it’s been 30 years. If anything the tougher economic times are closer in feel to the Depression era when Siegel and Shuster created the character in the 1930s. Two Jewish men writing in Cleveland at that time are going to bring a certain sense of social consciousness to their work, and they had to present stories and themes that were relevant to people living through the height of the Depression. Let a little of that same sense come into the film. This need not be a Batman movie, where the entire palette is lighter shades layered on black… but Superman has to live in the world and comment.

5. A Non-Origin Story

Must a film series reboot always involve a re-telling of the origin story? Let’s hope not. Look at all the superhero origin stories floating around out there: Batman Begins, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men Origins: Wolverine… it’s become rather cliche. Does Superman need a new version of the origin story? No. (Do I look back yearningly at Marlon Brando as Jor-El? No, but that’s another matter.) There has only been one Superman film since 1987. We’ve spent the major part of 20 years looking backward. Unless there’s a really compelling story to be told, it is time to look to something new.

15 Comments »

  1. The phrase is “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” not “life, liberty, and the American way.”

    [We’ve updated the story. Thanks – Ed]

    Comment by Dave B. — October 28, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

  2. I don’t like General Zod as a villain. I want to see someone we haven’t seen translated on screen before, something that presents a opposing force! I’d like to see something more than human, not just alien. Perhaps Metallo or Parasite, Doomsday or the Eradicator. Something scary, something significantly menacing. I’m bored with version after repetitive version of the big blue boy scout. Let’s see Superman put up a fight against something truly dangerous!

    Comment by Paul — October 28, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  3. The problem with Superman is that he is pretty much invulnerable which makes it hard for there to be any drama. In “Superman Returns” we once again had kryptonite make him weak, which is overdone, but then he lifted an entire island made of the stuff which really didn’t make much sense. I’m tired of kryptonite being the only thing that stops him. Part of the drama of “Superman” was how he couldn’t be in two places at once… save Lois or California? That added some nice drama. Of course they let him have his cake and eat it too by flying the world backwards which really didn’t make much sense. Ok, it seems they need better ways for him to overcome his challenges as well.

    Comment by Michael — October 28, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

  4. Brainiac all the way!

    Brainiac would be a perfect villian.

    Comment by Matt — October 28, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  5. For a guy writing an article specifically about what a Superman needs to be done right, it’s a little frustrating when the author doesn’t even get facts right. “Life, Liberty, and the American Way?” Come on, “Truth, Justice and the American Way” goes with Superman the way “I have a dream” goes with MLK. And by the way, the rumor of Zod was debunked more then a week ago by Zack Snyder himself. Oh, and Superman, at least the hero version, was created in 33, and didn’t see the light of day til 38.

    Comment by Barry — October 28, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  6. They have to do drastically different if they want to make an impact with the new Superman movie. Superman Returns was too much like the first two Superman movies, which were fine as is, we really didn’t need more. Will Snyder take a specific storyline and try to do it exactly like that comic? and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zod reappears because fans liked him so if they bring back anything from other films, that’s what they’ll bring back. Otherwise they have to go all new.

    Comment by Fierste — October 28, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

  7. Great article! You even kept down the Superman Returns hate, which I appreciate, since I loved that movie. >.>

    I’m really sad that they’re not going with Brandon Routh in the role, though I understand why they wouldn’t. Every time I see him in another movie, all I can think is, “That’s Superman!” He carries himself that way whether he’s in the role or not.

    I dunno how I’d feel about John Hamm. I feel like it’s in Superman’s character to be sort of ageless, so to see him portrayed by an actor pushing 40, no matter how well he’s kept in shape, makes me think Lois and Jimmy should be grey and wrinkly already… which would be an interesting direction to go.

    Comment by NeverWanderer — October 28, 2010 @ 7:29 pm

  8. All of you fellow writers out there should read this article if you plan to write a super-hero genre story. You could easily take out the Superman details and put in your super-hero’s details and it would still apply. Except for number 3, which writers can only control by creating compelling characters.

    Comment by John Rezas — October 28, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

  9. Hmmm…hadn’t heard about John Hamm as Superman before reading these comments. I try to keep up on the comic adapted movie rumors but there are so many these days. Just Googled his picture and from what I see in his role in Mad Men, think he can pull off a more distinguished take on Clark Kent! I know part of Clark Kents charm is how he bumbles things a little bit to overcompensate for being the Man of Steel but I’d like to see Clark Kent updated too. Age him a bit! A few of the other headshots reminded me of Superman from Kingdom Come. Give this guy some greying temples and bring on the darker storyline! Joker killing Perry, Jimmy and Lois? Magog killing the Joker in return? The destruction of Kansys?! Okay…wiping Kansys off the map might be a bit dark but this could go somewhere! And it takes place in a future generation so they don’t even need to worry about continuity with previous Superman movies. If it bombs, it could just be written off as an alternate future that got prevented somehow (it is an Elseworlds-like tale). I dunno…part of me also thinks that having so many heroes in one movie will ultimately lead to DC getting a bunch of them wrong in a big way but maybe it’d be a good field test of characters like Shazam, Wonder Woman, Spectre, etc.

    Comment by Paul — October 28, 2010 @ 11:24 pm

  10. @Paul: One thing we can be sure of is that if they screw it up, then they can fix it. Look at all the rebooting going on in movies in general. I would not be surprised if they rebooted Star Wars or Indiana Jones.

    I want more heroes in each film. I hate worlds like the Batman Begins Nolan stuff because of no acknowledgments to other super-heroes. Don’t get me wrong, those films are beloved to me. But, if I had to be critical of the new Batman franchise, then I would say it lacked unity with the DC universe.

    I want Marvel and DC comics movie houses to embrace their own super-hero plurality within their movie story worlds. The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and the Watchmen movies pointed the way towards super-hero team films. The Avengers and possibly the Justice League (hopefully the Legion of Super-Heroes) movies could really launch the concept into Avatar and The Dark Knight box office territory.

    But, no matter what, the points made in this awesome article should be taken into account in any super-hero film not matter if it be a team movie or solo movie. I would only add that Hollywood and filmmakers in general should make super-hero movies more like issues of an on-going comic book series rather than limited three film franchises. Avoid reboots and remakes as much as possible. (I’m looking at you Spider-man!)

    Comment by John Rezas — October 29, 2010 @ 8:00 am

  11. I disagree with #5. Superman DOES need a brand new origin without the limitations Donner had back in 78. This would also separate the Donnerverse with the new franchise. Even if it’s not a full origin film, the origin should be part of the new film in order to separate itself from the previous Donnerverse films.

    Comment by Mandrake — October 29, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

  12. these are great suggestions. i agree with many of the people here that say bring in a new villian, but i understand why its Zod because there trying to re-ignite a franchise here and there not gonna start out with doomsday or darkseid. too people who say there is no drama behind supes are full of it. Superman in reality is a very tragic character he is forced into a postion of being our own personal walking living deity, he is prevented from living a peaceful life among us and the only way he can survive is to create a split personality there;s alot of inner termoil there that should be explored. the biggest thing in my mind is the casting and portrayal of Lois Lane. Margot Kidder like Chris Reeves will for ever be remembered for here turn at the character, but that is not todays lois lane. kate boseworth was horrid in the role. nolan needs to be looking into the lois of crisis on infinate earths and smallville explore her relationship with clark and have him struggle with the burden of keeping his secret from here the love triangle with two people. for that matter the same goes for clark make him more aggressive and get rid of the glasses.

    Comment by hello demitri — October 29, 2010 @ 7:06 pm

  13. Have brainiac kill superman and then next movie have supermans son kill brainiac.

    Comment by Pain — October 29, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

  14. There are two things I don’t like. First, I think that bringing back a character from previous films (like Zod or Luthor) is a horrible way to re-ignite a franchise. All they’d be doing is providing a means to compare and criticize the differences between what’s already accepted as “great” and whatever new version DC thinks will reignite the franchise. That’s not good. Perhaps they’ll bring back Nuclear Man and then we’ll all realize how good Superman IV actually was? Not likely. If they’re going to do a reboot, then they should start with completely new villains. No need to see another version of Zod or a third (movies, not TV) version of Lex Luthor. By all means, bring on Doomsday or Darkseid! Maybe they’ll draw in more than just the comic book faithful!

    Secondly, I disagree with demitri. Superman wasn’t forced into it being a hero and he certainly isn’t human kind’s personal walking living deity (even if people look up to him). The thing I liked about Superman is that he chose to be a protector for this planet of strangers. That’s where he draws his “humanity” from and there’s nothing tragic about that. Superman is selfless and does what he does because it’s ultimately the right thing to do. If anything, Superman is a good example of nurture versus nature. He was raised by a loving family and turned out to be a well rounded, caring individual with a human sensibility. Imagine if his ship crash landed in the Luthor’s backyard? Might’ve turned out completely different. I think that might’ve been more tragic.

    Comment by Paul — October 29, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

  15. […] And don’t even get us started on the latest Superman film!! […]

    Pingback by BANDIT » Blog Archive » Batman; Yet another reboot, refix, remake? — November 1, 2010 @ 4:10 am

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