Why Is It Hard To Make a “Superman” Movie?

supersuit

What happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)Getty Images

Just finished reading an interesting article at Forbes called DC Films Still Doesn’t Know What To Do With Superman. Apparently, the relatively recent successes of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and now Joker haven’t rubbed off on the Man of Steel.

In fact, Dani Di Placido, who wrote the Forbes story said:

But the future of Superman is murky, the studio reportedly unsure how to make the character “relevant to modern audiences.”

Like my previous commentaries on Captain America and particularly my two on Superman, HERE and HERE, he appeals to audiences across time because his values are timeless. How does “timeless” ever become irrelevant?

Unfortunately, DC Films didn’t know what to do with Superman to begin with, and by that, I mean 2013’s Man of Steel. No, he couldn’t be portrayed like Christopher Reeve did in 1978’s Superman. Reeve played both Clark and Supes with tongue firmly in cheek, and for that time, it worked. Yet through all of the winking at himself and his role, he still communicated a tremendous amount of compassion for everyone, no matter who they were.

There have been many “Supermen” over the decades and they’ve all carved their way into the legend. What the studio asked Henry Cavill to do was to bring a 20th century superhero, THE superhero, into the 21st century and make him “relevant.”

Actually, I loved all of the farm scenes in Man of Steel, and if I didn’t already have a Dad, I’d want Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent to be him. He and Diane Lane who played Clark’s Mom Martha were incredibly down to earth and honest. Watching them raise young Clark, it was easy to realize the kid was going to grow up to be a hero.

But then the movie moved off track. I don’t mean the Phantom Zone and “kneel to Zod” stuff. Yes, Clark’s an alien, the ultimate “illegal alien,” and the movie spared no effort to emphasize that. Of course, he’s an alien and that’s always part of his origin, but the most successful large and small screen Supermen were those who became one of us. They cared about humanity because they were trying so hard to be human.

The television series Smallville, which ran from 2001 to 2011, depicted a teenage Clark who is just discovering his origins and his powers. All kids in high school want to fit in anyway, and the last son of Krypton had it doubly tough. But that was his charm, and for the most part, actor Tom Welling who played Clark, did a terrific job.

Of course ten years is a long time and more than a few episodes and story arcs drifted into total silliness, including fans fighting online about which “relationship” Clark should have been in. But through that, Welling played Clark like the hero he was going to grow up to be.

Why is this so hard to get? Audience expectations may have changed over the years, but the need for a hero never will.

But it gets worse:

Michael B. Jordan has pitched a fresh take on Superman, and the master of franchise reboots, J.J. Abrams, has had multiple discussions with the studio regarding the character, his solar-powered abilities no doubt providing exciting new opportunities for lens flares. But with no script or director attached, insiders believe that a new Superman film is unlikely to appear before 2023.

Not J.J. Abrams. What he did to…well anyway. Wrong rant.

By the way, I’m not alone. On the twitter feed for Forbes, tons of fans are saying the same thing. Here’s one image of a comic book page that tells it all.

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Screen capture from twitter

A modern Lois Lane’s view of Clark Kent. I think it works.

A few points against a modern Superman:

He’s too strong. During the silver age of comics, he could move a planet out of orbit. When DC did their first reboot in 1985, they scaled his powers back. Oh, he was still the strongest hero on Earth, but he had limits. His body was effectively invulnerable, but he still needed air to breathe, so he had to take it with him when he went into space. It made for some interesting stories.

He’s too goody-goody. So is Captain America, and Chris Evans made some terrific movies playing Steve Rogers.

He has no sense of humor. Sure, Cavill played him as very serious, but almost every actor who portrayed him, from Steve Reeves to Christopher Reeve, always managed to wink at the camera. I mean, you’re dressed in a bright red, yellow, and blue suit with a cape. If you can’t laugh at that, there’s something wrong.

The problem is now that DC has defined the modern Superman, they can’t go back, not unless they do a reboot. But if they reboot, they’ll have to change their whole universe and they aren’t going to throw away all those other movies and all that money.

Well, I guess they’ll have to reboot Batman because Ben Afflick didn’t work out.

Anyone who thinks Superman isn’t relatable in the 21st century hasn’t read comic books lately.

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Screen capture from twitter.

Since when did the big guy standing up for everybody else, right down to one suicidal teenager need to be more relevant?

The reason people go to see a Superman movie, on the surface, is that we get to see Superman do super things. but what keeps us going back isn’t the guy in suit, it’s who he is underneath. I know when I was a kid, Clark Kent was the disguise and his real name was Superman (or Kal-El if you will). But as time passed, it was always the guy underneath who more or less looked like everyone else, and who was trying to be, not the best alien he could be, but the best person.

That in spite of the fact that, given how powerful he is, he could pretty much do anything he wanted. What makes Clark a hero is that he doesn’t abuse being Superman. He’s good not because of his abilities, but because of how he chooses to use them.

If you can tell that story, then Superman is still relevant, and he always will be.

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