With The Dark Knight Rises' opening weekend heading for the history books and a pair of teaser trailers attached to it for the next DC Entertainment movie, it's hard to resist the temptation to think about the potential that Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan have to revolutionize the Superman franchise with the forthcoming release of Man of Steel, due in theaters next June.
Far be it from us to resist temptation, and so we've put together a list of some of the things we'd like to see in the film, which stars Henry Cavill as Superman and a star-studded cast of supporting characters including Amy Adams, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe.
We've already seen Kryptonite in the movies. A lot. As strong as the Christopher Reeve films were, they kept circling the same concepts over and over againa dn by the time we got to Superman III, most fans were already pretty sick of Lex Luthor and Kryptonite. Yet there it was again, rendering Superman impotent and uncool in 2006's Superman Returns. There were a lot of things wrong with that movie, but the visual of Superman crawling around incapacitated for what seemed like long stretches of the film really hurt the credibility of the sequel, and forced a reboot--if for no other reason than to distance Man of Steel from the Routh version of the character.
The ore, remnants of Superman's destroyed planet, is toxic to the Man of Steel and well-known to non-comics fans as his "only weakness," which certainly explains why Hollywood is so quick to embrace the glowing, green stuff. Still, it should be noted that Kryptonite was only introduced into the Superman mythology in 1943, five years after Superman first appeared, and that it's probably a wise move to imitate in the films. Imagine if Superman, Zod and company were essentially gods in this movie, only to find in the closing moments or at the start of the eventual sequel that someone had found a way to slow them down. Dramatically, it plays better, and it gives us a (hopefully good) Superman film that doesn't fall back on the crutch of Kryptonite.
It seems likely that the film is headed in the right direction here, given that the villains are Kryptonian, and any use of the mineral to weaken or kill Superman would put them in danger as well. Still, the most memorable story told with the Phantom Zone criminals (aside, arguably, from Superman II) was arguably the 1990s version, where Superman had to compromise his moral code and kill them, using Kryptonite, as he was unable to overcome three Kryptonians on his own.
That ending, should they choose to go with it, would have disastrous implications for the series:
- Starting with a movie where Superman compromises his moral code and kills is problematic, and you need look no further than Batman Begins to figure out why. Establishing Batman's moral code in that film not only differentiated him from the Burton version, who was pretty cavalier about doing things that would result in the deaths of the bad guys, but also created a strength of will and character in Bruce Wayne that made him stand out among the rest of the League of Shadows, who were nearly as skilled as he.
- The whole concept relied on Superman coming to grips with his limitations, which is fine and certainly makes for compelling pop psychology when your hero is a godlike alien who is rarely challenged physically. You know when that doesn't work as well? When you're making a first impression on a new audience. Superman doesn't need to be dark and brooding (although it appears as though he might be), but he does need to be impressive, something that Kryptonite robs him of almost by definition, and something that resigning himself to an "I can't do it" mentality would underscore in a very bad way.
Superman has always been a challenging character to portray realistically when it comes to battle scenes; if he's not fighting against another powerhouse, he has to be "Nerfed" in order to make the thing look interesting and competitive, but if he's fighting someone on his own level, the kind of property damage and brutality that's necessary to make it realistic has always been challenging.
That is, until now.
As we've seen in The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, there's really no reason anymore that these fantastical combat scenes can't appear realistic. Not only is there CG, eliminating the awkward, stunted feel of the wire work that permeated Superman II, but even practical effects have become far more believable since the '80s. Giving Superman a rematch against the only really "super" villains he ever fought (let's face it, Superman IV was an abortion and whoever that dude with the mullet was just doesn't count) is a perfect opportunity for Snyder to redress one of the few wrongs of the Richard Donner movies, and he's the perfect director to do it, since his action filmmaking and fight choreography is more impressive than just about any director this side of Guy Ritchie.
Outclassed physically by the other Kryptonian villains, it might not be bad to see something like a Superman vs. The Elite moment, where he shows the world exactly how powerful he is, how hard it is for him to constantly be holding back, but that he does it for the same reason he does everything else: to protect those around him.
It appears from the ads as though the film will feature a Jonathan Kent who's already dead by the time the movie starts, but we could be wrong. In any case, they've clearly positioned him to be an important part of the film, going so far as to cast a major Hollywood star in a role that's traditionally been a bit of a throwaway, at least as far as feature films are concerned.
What we want is for them to do it right.
In a perfect world, it would be nice to see a post-Crisis on Infinite Earths iteration of the Kents, where both parents are alive and helping Superman come to grips with his humanity. Since that is no longer the prevailing mythology in the comic books, and since it appears as though it won't be the case in Man of Steel, what we hope for is flashback sequences that do this effectively, and a thoughtful, interesting examination of the character's death and what it means to his adoptive son.
Clark's emotional journey
Superman, in most contemporary interpretations of the story, was not exactly a born leader. He's filled with conflict and self-doubt early on, and has to fight to overcome that, to determine his identity as a strange visitor from another planet and reconcile that with the simple Kansas farm boy he always considered himself.
When the chips are down, though, what makes Superman...well, Superman...is that he always knows the right thing to do. We want to see THAT Superman come out onscreen--someone who's prepared to take over leading the Justice League if the idea of a DC Cinematic Universe turns out not to be a total pipe dream.
Look at a book like Kingdom Come for an example of how to do this well. Superman is boring if he's never challenged, he's always totally confident and always does the right thing without a moment's hesitation. It makes him into the big, blue boys scout that so many people think he is, and are a bit derisive of. Still...
...he's worse than boring if he doesn't have an inhuman strength of will.
It isn't enough to be able to change the course of mighty rivers if he's wishy washy with that power, and David S. Goyer, who's writing the script, has had one of the great Superman misfires of the last twenty years in the form of the whole "citizen of the world" flap.
When you look at stories like "What's So Funny 'Bout Truth, Justice and the American Way?" or All-Star Superman (or Kingdom Come), the common denominator is that Superman does what's right--period. He's an unstoppable force for good, and he'll fight until he drops (literally, in the case of both All-Star Superman and Doomsday!. That's what Cavill needs to bring to the table. We need Superman to be legitimately inspirational; to be a guy who makes even cynical viewers stand up and cheer at the screen, while he does the impossible and weathers the physical storm that accompanies that sort of thing. If they can get that right, they've got the movie.