What’s A Superman Movie Without Superman? Probably A Disaster Even The Man Of Steel Can’t Prevent

When it was announced that Zach Snyder — he of 300 and Watchmen — would be at the helm of the new Superman movie, I was on board.  The two films referenced above had their share of critics, but they were two films I found immensely entertaining.  On the latter especially did I think Snyder proved himself capable of putting a serious comic book movie (tights, powers, and all) on the big screen.

However, word that’s leaking out about the upcoming Superman project makes me believe that Warner Brothers still doesn’t get it when it comes to putting one of their flagship characters on the big screen, and more than ever, it means that the movie battle between Marvel Comics and DC Comics will continue to be won by Marvel.

Anne Hathaway + any movie = worth watching

The news that bothers me isn’t the rumored casting of Anne Hathaway as Lois Lane — not at all.  I absolutely love Anne Hathaway — I’d pay good money to watch her read the contents off the side of a milk carton — and I think she’s got the mixture of sex appeal, spunk, and sass to make her the perfect Lois Lane.  The two previous attempts at getting this character right on the big screen were misfires; Margot Kidder had the right personality for the first four films, but — as bad as this might sound — she just wasn’t attractive enough onscreen to make me think she could sweep the Man of Steel off his feet, and while Kate Bosworth is definitely beautiful, she looked too young for the role and had the charisma of a grilled cheese sandwich in Superman Returns.  Hathaway would take the best of what both other actresses brought to their roles to be the definitive big-screen Lois (though for my money, it’ll take a hell of a performance to top Teri Hatcher’s smoldering portrayal of Lois on the small screen in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman).

My issue is the supposed plot details that are being leaked, namely that we’re going to have a rehashing of Superman’s origin and a film that largely focuses on Clark Kent, with precious little Superman in it — or at least it seems that way from what’s being said.  According to the above linked report,  the film will focus on the Man of Steel’s alter ego as a young journalist as he helps people while not using his superpowers.  Supposedly, the audience will then watch as Clark Kent travels the world only to return to his Smallville home to learn his true origin.

To quote Bill Murray from the classic Scrooged:

Here’s a newsflash for the good people at Warner Brothers and Snyder as well:  We know the origin story of Superman.  All of us do, everywhere — men, women, and even children.  It might be the most famous origin of any fictional character in any medium.  And it was told tremendously in Richard Donner’s original movie, which everyone who’ll be interested in seeing this film will have already seen.  And you won’t do it any better than it was done there.

You're the Man of Steel -- Stop Crying!

And so far as the “finding himself and who he really is” nonsense — well, we’ve seen that too, again, mostly in the first movie (though similar themes were explored in the second movie as well).  A Superman who is unsure of himself and who can’t embrace his role as the protector of mankind?  This take has been tried before in the comics, usually to universal derision and scorn.  No one wants their Superman filled with angst, doubts, and a touch of self-loathing — while there’s plenty of characters that such an approach fit perfectly with, the Man of Steel is definitely not one of them.

What do audiences — both the die-hard comic-book fans and the casual viewers — want in their Superman movie then?  How about no more tired rehashing of the same things over and over again for a start — enough with Lex Luthor as the main villain already.  No more dumb bimbo sidekicks to the antagonist as comic relief.  No more ridiculous subplots involving children that might be the Man of Steel’s, or real estate scams as the bad guy’s motivation, or endless monologues from Marlon Brando as Jor-El.  No more Phantom Zone escapees.  It’s ground we’ve covered enough times already.

Instead, give us a bad guy who really can challenge the Man of Steel on a physical level as well as a mental one.  Brainiac would be a great start, coming to Earth to shrink Metropolis to add to his collection of cities.  Or Darkseid, in an attempt to enslave our planet under the rule of Apokolips.  Or maybe a classic interpretation of Bizarro, in the form of a weapon used by a smarter, less physical rogue like the Toyman.

Once we have a villain to build a story around, then give us action.  Plenty of it.  You have the most powerful being on the planet with an opponent who can match him toe-to-toe — let’s see them go at it.  While one would think that using this formula isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s worth noting that only one Superman movie has had anything resembling this approach in it (Superman II).  Add in some other thrilling action sequences that display the Man of Steel’s powers to their full effect (like the incredibly well-done Shuttle rescue sequence in the most recent movie, one of the only things about that film that actually worked) and presto — a winning formula.  Certainly, it’s a recipe for something better than the some of the bad-tasting films we’ve seen for a character that’s deserved far better.

Will Warner Brothers realize that before they end up with another big-budget debacle on their hands?  If early reports are any indication, you don’t need a Superman to tell you that the answer is apparently not.

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5 Responses to “What’s A Superman Movie Without Superman? Probably A Disaster Even The Man Of Steel Can’t Prevent”

  1. sprentiss47 Says:

    I like grilled cheese and Kate Bosworth

  2. bigjonempire Says:

    I can’t agree with you enough. I probably didn’t hate Superman Returns as much as you did (I thought the idea was good, they just didn’t pull it off) but the ridiculous super-kid story damaged it severely.

    I’d like to see them do a JLA movie. Forget about establishing the individual characters in their own films first. All the origin movies are stupid, anyway. As you mentioned about Superman, most of the people interested in these film already know that much. They just want to see a milestone comic on the big screen.

  3. thelasthonestman Says:

    While I thought SR was a disappointment, there were things I liked about it (my hatred is reserved for abominations like Catwoman :)). I thought Brandon Routh actually did a very good job in the title role, and I think Kevin Spacey was nearly a perfect fit as Luthor (he had a few too-over-the-top moments, but largely he was a plus and not a minus).

    My biggest gripes was Supes-as-a-deadbeat-dad/stalker-of-Lois, the entire kid subplot, and the reusing of a real estate scam-themed Luthor objective that felt like a rehash of the original Superman movie. And of course, not enough action.

    I’m 100% with you on wanting to see a big-budget JLA movie. You probably had heard about the one in production that got shelved — the buzz around it makes me glad it got canned, as it sounded like an attempt to cash in quickly on the concept that was going to be a complete fail so far as the characters went.

    I’m with you as well on not needing the solo movies to set it up; unlike the Marvel Avengers movie — where a mainstream audience may not have been familiar enough with Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor to sell the concept — a JLA movie featuring Batman and Superman has enough big name recognition there to put people in the seats — and the first X-Men movie proved you don’t need a lot of set-up on characters to have a movie that works.

    The biggest problem they’ll have is trying to carry over Batman to a JLA film after Chris Nolan’s incredible interpretation of him — his real world imagining doesn’t lend itself to a JLA movie, and it could be very jarring to sell Bale’s Dark Knight and a different Batman altogether (which is what the aborted JLA movie would have done) to an audience. And without Batman, I don’t think a JLA movie sells.

  4. bigjonempire Says:

    You’re right about the Nolan Batman being a bad choice for a JLA movie. But personally I can deal with two different versions of Batman. If you think about it there are a dozen interpretations out there now – from Batman Beyond to Grant Morrison and the Batman Inc thing, to Nolan’s version. It might be weird to the uninitiated but for the people that really want a JLA movie it would be business as usual.

    Just for the record, I can’t wait to see the Avengers movie, though I fear it won’t live up to the hype. How could it?

  5. thelasthonestman Says:

    That’s an excellent point about the different versions all working. In some ways, that’s been evident in the numerous different adaptations on the animated front we’ve seen in the last few years — from the Bruce Timm B:TAS version (my favorite) to the delightfully campy Brave and the Bold Silver-Age-inspired Batman starring in the Cartoon Network series right now.

    And I can’t wait for the Avengers movie either!

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