Thursday, May 13, 2010

What I DON’T Want In A Superman Movie

Every year, we get ebbs and flows of information about what’s happening with producing a Superman movie, who rumored to be in the cast, and whatnot—just today I say that Billy Zane is rumored to be playing Lex Luthor.

For some reason, it tends to be different iterations of the same stuff. It’s like there’s an equation that the people who work on these things accept as the only way to translate the Man of Steel to the silver screen. Almost all of them are things of which I’m tired and just don’t want to see any more. To wit:



• Superman’s origin: We know it already. We get it. IT’S THE MOST FAMOUS ORIGIN STORY ON THE PLANET—except for maybe The Nativity. We DON’T. Need to SEE IT. AGAIN. At best, it should be covered quickly in a credits sequence, a la Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk (which I liked, actually). Say what you will about that movie, but that was one thing it got right.



• Krypton: …And Kryptonians and Kryptonite. Like the origin story, this is all played out. Look there’s more to be done with the character than to have him constantly looking backwards to the past. Just about everything that seems to get proposed with this character on film has to do with Krypton. There are other, non-Kryptonian villains who can give him a run for his money, and there are other ways to physically challenge him. Brainiac (the non-Kryptonian version)? The Parasite? Doomsday? Intergang? Hell, even the Toyman and Mister Mxyzptlk would different—maybe even cool if given the right coat of paint. Which leads me to…




• Villains who are versions of Superman himself: I guess this includes my rant above about Kryptonians, but it’s certainly not limited to it. In Superman: The Movie, the hero struggled with Luthor. Fine, fine—it was the first major production featuring the character, so they can be forgiven for recounting his origin and including his most famous enemy (even a watered-down version of him). They got so much more right than wrong. But in Superman II, The Man of Tomorrow fought three Kryptonians with similar powers; in Superman III, he split into good and evil counterparts, who then fought each other; in Superman IV, he fought Nuclear Man—a guy with a cape and roughly analogous powers. Sensing a pattern? Three out of the last five movies, folks. Again, there are other villains. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be powerful, but do they have to be just like Superman?



• Lex Luthor: Even more prevalent than Superman-like villains, he has been in four of the last five Superman movies, plus every TV show based on the character. There are other villains, guys—a lot of them! Luthor should be the special one, the one man Superman can’t totally beat. He’s the one you use sparingly. Oh, and when you do use him, lose the obsession with real-estate, okay?



• Christ allegory: Yes, yes, I get the similarity—Jor-El sends his only son from the heavens to Earth, where he is raised in humble surroundings, and grows up to be a beacon for Truth and Justice and an example to humanity. But you know what? Jesus didn’t have a secret-identity, super-strength, or frigging heat-vision. I don’t want a peaceful, aloof, and remote Superman. I want a man of the people who has a crush on a girl he works with, and who is sometimes called upon to lift and punch big, heavy things. And giant robots. And monsters.



• A Superman who can do anything he wants as soon at it occurs to him: A hero without limits, without struggle, is not a hero at all. This is a simple, basic rule to follow, and since Superman is supposed to be the greatest hero of them all, he shouldn’t be exempt. He shouldn’t be able to lift anything he wants, or fly as fast as he wants. He shouldn’t be creating new powers to fit the situation, a la Superman IV’s wall-rebuilding vision or Superman II’s inexplicable cellophane S-insignia-orang (or whatever the hell that was). He shouldn’t be able to just ignore power-sapping Kryptonite when it’s story-convenient, as Superman Returns. And as much as I love Superman: The Movie, he shouldn’t be able to open the can of worms that turning back time to get what you want has to be. If you go back and look at those great old Fleischer Superman cartoon shorts, you can see Superman struggle when he lifts something heavy or rips open a steel door. Superman is still mortal, and subject to nature, even when he’s much more able to defy it than the rest of us.

I’m sure there are more, but those are my biggies. I still hold out hope that new DC film mogul Christopher Nolan, who took Batman so seriously and give him a... a heft he’s never had on film before, will look inside the character more than others who have stewarded him. Were there things I wish he hadn't done with Batman? Sure. Were there things I wish he had done? Of course. But one can't argue with the overall. And maybe like Superman himself, I’m an optimist.

15 comments:

Lew Smith said...

You forgot to mention the amnesia kiss.

Cully Hamner said...

When I mention making up powers just because one can, I'm not going to cite EVERY power. I'm making a point, not a list.

Kate said...

If Nolan is taking over the franchise, you can bet your shiny red boots that all of Superman's villains will be his mirror counterparts. That's the whole rebooted Batman series so far--all the villains embody some aspect of Batman (vigilantism, using fear, duality, operating outside the system) gone too far. In fact, that's been the superhero movie MO for several films now. Spider-Man 3, both Iron Man movies, The Incredible Hulk, etc. The easiest way to make an equal for a guy with superpowers is to copy him but make the other one evil somehow.

Brandon said...

I appreciate the nod to the Fleischer cartoons. I think those did more right than any of the live action movies (and a lot of the comics) ever have, along with The Animated Series.

I think the problem with the Superman films is the incompatibility of engaging Superman narratives with the rules of blockbuster narratives. Superman is an icon, yes, but that does not translate into an automatically good film adaptation. The origin story is retold because it's innocuous and it's easy. It highlights all the themes of Superman's character in the most neatly-wrapped, easy to pitch way.

The problems come when producers think the only way to make Superman interesting is giving him a villain with comparable powers like you pointed out. The issue with that is the interesting, engaging Superman narratives are never about who he is fighting. Yeah, the Death of Superman sold a lot of comic books, but it was shallow at best and meaningless at worst. This isn't the way to handle Superman in ANY medium, but blockbuster film is particularly keen on these safe narrative arcs.

I hope there is a live-action Superman film that works some day. I'm just not going to bet on it given the people making it not understanding what makes Superman Superman and not just a guy with super powers that fights villains.

Jim McClain said...

I think if they insist on including Luthor, John Byrne's Bizarro origin from Man of Steel #5 would fit the bill. It gives Superman a physical match, and Luthor still gets to be behind the whole thing. I'm really not sure you can say "Bizarro" aloud and keep a straight face, but you don't have to name the character except for in the credits, as a nod to comic book fans.

Bodhipuff said...

What I don't want is ANOTHER Superman Movie! PERIOD. (I want a Wonder Woman movie, but I think hell may freeze over before I'll see that.)

*pouts*

mattcrap said...

here here!

Mark said...

Well done! I agree whole-heartedly, Cully! (and Brandon)

When you say you're not creating a list of mistakes, I get it. But, I STILL wanna mention changing the rotation of the Earth from the first movie. Forget what the actual devastating effects would be on gravity, etc; it's bad writing through & through. Every action the writer has the protagonist make informs the viewer about what KIND of person they're seeing. Dumb, selfish, & impulsive. For a great example of the opposite kind of writing, see The Fugitive. John Kimble risks EVERYTHING just to help a complete stranger in need. Who's the REAL Superman? That's powerful writing,

Cully Hamner said...

Jim: So... you're saying that they should include both Luthor and a Superman anagram in Bizarro in the next movie? Did you actually read this blog?

Cully Hamner said...

Brandon: Well said.

Kate: I agree with you in spirit, if not in detail.

Mark: But I DID mention it.

tighelander said...

The last one was so bad that I forgot it had been made. It could however be of some use if the next movie uses Moore's "For the Man That Has Everything" storyline. It could continue with the wife and Superkid elements as being part of a Mongul induced dream.

Jim McClain said...

Mr. Hamner, I prefaced my comment with, "if they insist on including Luthor..." which I believe you were indicating when you said that Billy Zane was rumored to play the character, so the answer is "yes, I read your blog." And while I do appreciate your point that Superman allegories have been done and done, I respectfully submit that the failed clone experiment would seem the most acceptable way to a mainstream audience to produce a physical match for Superman that involves Luthor, since the producers seem hellbent on including the character.

Unfortunately, most of Superman's foes are a bit on the ridiculous side to mass audiences. The simple truth is that with an unfettered Superman as an opponent, the Toyman, Prankster, Puzzler, et al. are easily defeated, and one can't even say "Brainiac" out loud without sounding silly.

I'm sorry if you don't agree with my view, but I don't think my comment merited your sarcasm. Perhaps I didn't explain my thinking as well as I should have. I hope this comment clarifies it. I both like and respect your work. Have a good day.

Cully Hamner said...

Jim, apologies for my sarcasm-- I'm a knee-jerk sarcastic guy-- but since the *entire point* of my post was that I don't want them to insist on things they've done before like Luthor and Superman anagrams like Bizarro, my reaction isn't toally unwarranted, is it? It's like you've ignored my entire blog post. If I posted a piece on, say, execution being immoral, for example-- and I'm not taking a stand either way, mind you, it's just for the sake of argument-- and you responded "Well, if they *insist* upon execution, I think firing squads are the way to go," then you're ignoring the point that I'm making, and talking about something else. The *whole point* is to stop using Luthor, et al. If you think I'm wrong, then please tell me about that, but you're simply ignoring the debate and talking about what you want.

"Unfortunately, most of Superman's foes are a bit on the ridiculous side to mass audiences."

"Which is why I said "...maybe even cool if given the right coat of paint." You know, like they did recently with silly villains like the Joker, Two-Face, and Doc Ock?

"The simple truth is that with an unfettered Superman as an opponent, the Toyman, Prankster, Puzzler, et al. are easily defeated, and one can't even say "Brainiac" out loud without sounding silly."

Says you. "Easily defeated?" You know what can solve that? Creativity. You can say the same thing about EVERY comic book villain. A bad guy is only as "easily defeated" as a writer is inept. The Joker was only "silly" until people like Denny O'Neil, Steve Englehart, Alan Moore, and Frank Miller got hold of him.

And apropos of nothing, seriously: I'm glad and honored that you like my work. No lie. Let's not confuse this with a debate about comics, though, shall we?

Craig Zablo said...

When Cully's right, he's right. About Superman -- he's right.

怡潔 said...

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