EDITORIAL: How To Do A Superman Movie Right - Part 1 of 4
Analyzing Warner Bros.' struggle with the Man of Tomorrow and how they can finally get him right.
Why is Warner Bros. having so much trouble giving audiences a Superman movie everyone can enjoy? Prior to "Superman Returns", filmmakers like Tim Burton, J.J. Abrams and Kevin Smith took a crack at the Man of Steel.
During that time ideas like a Krypton that didn't explode, an "S" shield that morphed into daggers and a Lex Luthor/Brainiac hybrid were entertained. Director Wolfgang Peterson was even set to helm his own "Superman vs Batman" film.
Warner's latest attempt is this year's "Man of Steel", which is arguably one of the most polarizing films ever. Ironic, considering the central character. And while the film's $668 million worldwide has some excited, shouldn't a Superman film have brought in a lot more?
By comparison, as of January 5th, Box Office Mojo shows "Gravity", the outstanding film that follows two astronauts adrift in orbit, recently outgrossed "Man of Steel" globally with $670 million and counting.
Sometimes it feels as if the studio doesn't have faith in the character fans have come to know and love.
It's as if Warner doesn't believe in Superman, his message or the world he inhabits.
And that's unfortunate because these are things that help set him apart from every other superhero and their mythology.
This editorial will look back at the past franchises - "Superman: The Movie" & "Superman II", "Superman Returns" and "Man of Steel". It'll shed some light on what a Superman film should have and should be.
It came out longer than expected so it's broken up into four smaller parts. Here's part one.
A Superman origin story needs to answer one simple question - Why does Clark decide to become Superman? Oddly enough, none of the films so far have adequately answered this.
The moments before Clark puts on the suit are crucial. It's in these scenes where the audience experiences the events that shape him and his inevitable decision. Where we learn why a man with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men chooses to use them for good.
You might say "Superman: The Movie" does that. Or "Man of Steel" does that. Yes. But if you watch them again, closely, you should notice something...
Clark becomes Superman because Jor-El tells him to.
It isn't Clark's decision at all. In the events leading to his meeting Jor-El, neither film spends any time establishing Clark's desire to become the world's greatest hero. Let's recap the journey from both films before his encounter with Jor-El.
In "Man of Steel" we see Clark rescue the workers on the oil rig, followed by the flashback to grade school. Then there's the flashback to the school bus. Jonathan tells him to keep his powers secret and reveals Clark is not of this world.
Later we see Clark in the bar where he overhears the soldiers talking about the site in Canada. Then we find Clark at the site for the scout ship where he meets Lois and, finally, makes off with the ship.
Nothing here shows Clark has any interest to use his powers to become a shining beacon of hope to mankind. It's never even addressed. Actually, the film, up to this point, suggests the opposite.
He's been raised to hide that part of himself. So why change now? To help people? He's been doing that, in secret, since he was at least 14. He's 33 in the film so that's nineteen years of his life.
And what about "Superman: The Movie"? After Martha and Jonathan find Clark's ship we next see him as a teenager. He shows off his powers, racing a locomotive. This prompts a speech from Jonathan - "You are here for a reason".
Jonathan dies, we see his funeral, then Clark leaves home and constructs the Fortress of Solitude. Again, no indication Clark has this extraordinary idea on how to use his abilities for the betterment of all mankind.
What we do get from "Superman" and "Man of Steel" are heartfelt speeches from his Kryptonian father. Brando's Jor-El says, "They are a great people Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way".
Crowe's Jor-El claims, "You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall". But these are their beliefs. What about Clark's?
Becoming Superman needs to be his choice. The idea has to come from him and the audience should be right there with him. So when he first dons the suit it feels right. It feels earned. One chapter of his life ends, another begins.
A major part of Clark's decision is this - he truly loves this world. So, show us why. A Superman movie is the perfect way for audiences to see the earth as only he can. A great moment in Mark Waid's "Superman: Birthright" is when Clark writes to Martha about a beautiful spectrum of colors.
He says he'd give these colors names if he wasn't the only one who could see them. Show the audience the world the way Clark sees it and they'll understand him better. The same goes for his love for humanity. Going back to "Birthright", Clark is traveling the world, meeting people, experiencing different cultures. Show the audience this.
Clark has an unwavering faith in humanity. He knows they have the capacity for good because he's seen it. He was raised by good people. He's seen our courage. Our ambition. He chooses to see the best in humanity because he knows it's there. And he chooses to show those who have lost faith in others that good still exists.
This would not only answer the question "What's the big deal about Superman" but it also, believe it or not, establishes character development. It would provide insight to an iconic figure in a way the previous films haven't been able to.
The golden run in film is "Show. Don't Tell".
Show the audience why Superman cares so much about the earth and its people. Show us what drives him, don't tell us in a bunch of speeches from Jor-El. So when the big fight comes in the third act between Superman and Brainiac or Darkseid or Zod, we'll understand why he's fighting and what he's fighting for.
Ideally, Clark would have a moment like this.
Be sure to check out part two of this editorial, coming later, focusing on the importance of the Kent family. In the meantime, let's hear your thoughts. Sound off below.
Thanks for reading, guys!
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