Superman has been around since 1938. He is easily the most recognizable pop culture icon no matter where you go in the world. His symbol has appeared on everything from clothing, lunch boxes, and hats to jewelery and body art. He has been the subject of countless radio serials, television series, cartoons and live-action films. He's an icon. A symbol of strength and self-sacrifice. He's faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and can leap tall building in a single bound. Yet the poor bastard hasn't had a decent movie made about him in over 30 years!!
Superman and Superman II are great movies, and in spite of their lackluster special effects, they still hold up after all these years. With the success of the first two films, it was impossible to think that the studio wouldn't make a few more. Unfortunately those few more turned out to be Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. After these monumental disappointments it should have come as no surprise that it was a good long while before we were given any more, but that was not for lack of trying. If you are unfamiliar with the storied history of the fifth Superman movie I recommend you jump over to Wikipedia if you need a good cry. It's enough to make you rip your hair out. Some people don't know how close we came to getting a Superman movie where he wore an all black suit, didn't fly and fought a giant spider during the film's climax. I shit you not!
In the end, Warner Bros. decided to go with a more traditional Superman film, and turned to X-Men director Bryan Singer to helm the fifth movie, Superman Returns. I had very high hopes for this movie. I wasn't blown away by the set photos or the early trailers, but I was intrigued. It was a new Superman movie. How could I not be a little curious? My thoughts about this movie could fill three more columns with enough left over for a fourth. I hated it. I was disappointed. I felt let down. It was everything a Superman movie shouldn't be. I left the theater resigned to the fact that I'd never see a great Superman movie again, and as the years went by I began to accept it a little more each time. Then it was announced that Zack Snyder was going to direct a reboot of sorts with Man of Steel. I ignored it. Then I heard Henry Cavill was going to star in the lead role. This was more difficult to ignore but I fought off the urge to care. Then I saw how amazing he looked in the costume and I did the one thing I swore I'd never do: I became excited over the prospect of a new Superman movie.
I have to admit I'm anxious to see a trailer for Man of Steel. I want to see more set photos and I'm pretty sure I want to see this movie, but let's be honest, the Superman Returns wound is still a little raw. If there is one positive thing I can say about Singer's snooze-fest it's that it created a nice blueprint for what not do in a Superman movie. Which begs the question: What will it take to make a great Superman movie? I'm glad you asked...
1. Do Not Retell Superman's Origin - Every minute of screen time is valuable real estate. Writers and directors have to make those minutes count. There are certain characters in pop culture that are so well known, so engrained in our psyche, that we know things about them without even being "fans." I am willing to bet that over 80% of the population could tell you, with a fair bit of accuracy, how Superman arrived on Earth and what happened to Krypton. It's been done to death. Much like seeing Batman's parents killed and a young Master Wayne kneeling in a pool of blood and pearls, it's a waste of time. If you want to show us Krypton, fine. You want to focus on Jor-El and Laura? I'm OK with that. But show us something we've never seen before. Give us something new.
2. Introduce New Villains Equal to Superman's Strength - This is probably the most important one of all. Is anyone else sick and tired of Lex Luthor and his friggin' real estate scams? Superman could rip Luthor to pieces before he even knew he was in a fight. We all know this. In an attempt to "level the playing field," Lex just so happens to always have a spare piece of Kryptonite at the ready so he and his goons can get a few licks in. But here's the thing: I don't want to see Superman punched in the face by a regular guy! I want an epic battle. I want buildings crumbling, bystanders fleeing, and a little hellfire and brimstone. I need something equal to Superman's power. I've tried to steer clear of any plot summaries, but it looks like Snyder's film will star General Zod. This was great news. Throw in Ursa, Non and a few dozen Phantom Zone criminals and shit will get real. What do you say we introduce a little "action" into this action movie?
3. Make Superman Charming, Not an Emo-Douche - This was only a problem in Superman Returns, but it was a huge problem. You're Superman. You have amazing powers. People love you. It wouldn't hurt to put on a smile every once in a while for Christ's sake! Clark Kent should be the affable dork. Sweet, well-mannered, and likable in his own way. Superman should be charming. Confident but not obnoxious. We're supposed to like him. We're supposed to want to be him. He needs to be cool. I don't want a Superman that flies around and spies on Lois Lane and her family through the walls of her home. I still get shivers when I think about the sheer creep factor of that scene. Superman is the light when compared to, let's say, Batman's dark. He is the "Big Blue Boy Scout" after all. A Superman movie should be fun.
4. Be Original - Up to this point, every Superman film has been an homage to Donner's classic. And I get it. If it ain't broke don't fix it, right? Wrong. I hate to keep making comparisons to Batman, but think about what Christopher Nolan was able to accomplish with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Tim Burton's Batman was a phenomenon, yet Nolan stepped up and gave us a Batman film we'd never seen before. He pretended, justifiably, that the films before it never existed and he wasn't obligated to follow in any footsteps. Man of Steel should take the same approach. We don't need a significant amount of time on Kent Farm seeing Ma and Pa hand down life-lessons to their adopted son. We don't need to see Superman in the Fortress of Solitude talking to a holographic-version of his old man where he learns why he's special and why he was sent to Earth. We don't need to see Clark and Lois meet for the first time or once again see the night she spent with Superman. It's all been done before. And it was done exceptionally well. This movie should drop us right into the action. We know the characters. We know the powers. We know the history. Now give us something we don't know.
Both comic book and screen writers have struggled for years with making Superman engaging and relevant. But it's not impossible. The elements are there for a top-notch summer blockbuster. From what I've seen, Man of Steel looks like it could be the Superman movie I've been waiting almost 30 years for. My expectations are high. I don't think my heart could take another disappointment. I trust Zack Snyder. I trust Henry Cavill. But do I trust Warner Bros.? Not so much. But so long as they avoid the same pitfalls that made Superman Returns a flop I think this movie could be great. And I need it to be great. Superman fans deserve it.