I’ve waited patiently for the opportunity to write about this topic, knowing the day would come where something would be newsworthy enough to mention. There have been little snippets about what’s next for Superman, but all those snippets have been uniform in their message: nobody knows. Bryan Singer, who directed Superman Returns, had this to say a little over the month ago:
““I don’t know, I don’t know. There are still issues…I just…I just don’t know. I don’t necessarily…I don’t know. It’s one of those things where…It’s so weird talking about stuff unless I’m about to ramp up and shoot it.”
That’s a far cry from what he was saying in March of 2008:
“The first one was a romantic film and a nostalgic film. I’ll be the first person to own up to that without making any apologies for it. I knew it was going to be that from the outset. And now that the characters are established, there’s really an opportunity to up the threat levels…Clearly there’ll be a body count [laughs]. From frame one, it will be unrelenting terror! All those teenage girls who found the movie and mooned over James Marsden or Brandon? Well, I’m going to wake them up!”
And then, in these past few days, Brandon Routh, who donned the cape for the most recent outing, revealed that his contract to play the hero has expired, and he is no longer officially attached. He was the one constant I had.
Those of you who aren’t me might not be aware that the Superman issue has been the source of intense debate. How good was Superman Returns? Should there be a sequel or a reboot? Should Routh play the Man of Steel? Was the first film financially successful?
As to that last one, Bryan Singer says it best: “The movie made 400 million dollars! I don’t know what constitutes as under-performing these days.” Because the movie did do well. But evidently Warner Bros. hoped it would do better.
I certainly have opinions on all of these questions, but I won’t try to write them all here. Singer clearly has a lot of respect for the character, he notes that Superman is a harder character to create than, say, X-Men, and that he needed to establish the universe first. He promised the second film would be a “Wrath of Kahn” to the first, meaning it will up the action. Most people correctly asses that the excitement was missing from that film.
My general regard for Superman Returns is this: It was a great film, it wasn’t the Superman film we needed. The cinematography is stunning, the characters are great (with the possible exception of Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane), and the story was epic. But it wasn’t epic in the action sense, it was a character-driven drama. I applaud Singer for trying something so different with the franchise and the medium, because he took it very seriously. Also recall this was still early on in the comic-book craze. What worked and what didn’t wasn’t entirely fleshed out yet.
But Returns was too strongly stuck in the past, in the Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve era. They used an antiquated Lex Luthor, regardless of how well Kevin Spacey played him. They took an old plot and recycled it, and even went so far as to reuse several lines from the original classic. It offered nothing new besides advanced effects (used magnificently). But we needed something fresh, something original, something big. Superman needed something to punch, and punch hard. I enjoyed the action, and there are some breathtaking moments, but he needed a stronger villain. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favorite comic book films to date, and it did make a lot of money. But it should top my list by a mile, seeing as how nutty I am for the character. It resonated well with critics and audiences alike; it’s the die-hards that had problems with it.
And then there’s the kid. If anything is putting a hamper on a sequel, it’s how you deal with Superman’s son. That’s territory never really explored before, and to me it seems strange to do it in film when there hasn’t even been an accurate transition from comics to screen for the characters involved. The movies have, by and large, stayed clear from the comic book roots. There is a strong science-fiction aspect to Superman that is unknown to a majority of viewers. It was prevalent in the original two, but most young people today have never seen those. I think Singer was planning to bring it in with his sequel, but the fact that Superman has a son who is being raised by a decent man who believes its his, and is in a longstanding relationship with Lois Lane, really put them in a corner.
My solution has been to reboot. Perhaps in the way The Incredible Hulk rebooted, with an abbreviated origin. Fans don’t want to see another origin, because they’ve seen it so many times before, but the layman knows very little about who Superman is. They know Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and Kryptonite. But how many know know Jor El? You could ask somebody who saw Superman Returns, and they would miss the ‘Jor El’ bit, or even who this ‘Kal El’ guy is.
But either way, I did want to see Routh in the role, because he played a fantastic Superman. Though Superman Returns had many flaws, Routh was a spectacular. He had the charm, the kindness, but also the hint of loneliness that Superman embodies. If given a different film, I would have loved to see what he could do with it. Hopefully, I still will.
Warner Bros. is sitting on their gold mine, letting the flagship for superheroes sit on the bench during the heyday of the comic book movie. They’re making something difficult that should be fairly easy. Give us Superman, have him be a beacon of hope, give him a villain who is NOT a beacon of hope (Darkseid or Brainiac, perhaps?), let them fight for Earth’s future. Done, can I get paid for that?