EDITORIAL: How To Do A Superman Movie Right - Part 1 of 4

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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Member Since 11/25/2013
Filed Under "Superman" 1/6/2014 Source: BoxOfficeMojo
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feedonatreefrog - 1/6/2014, 11:05 PM
How to Do a Superman Movie Right: Man of Steel

(just my opinion)
Jollem - 1/6/2014, 11:10 PM
^ 'nuff said
feedonatreefrog - 1/7/2014, 12:41 AM
Jor El = Obi Wan
Yoda = Pa Kent
JosephKing - 1/7/2014, 4:35 AM
Very interesting article, good to see someone supporting an opinion on logical arguments. It's a rare thing nowadays, specially about Superman.

But I'll disagree.

First of all, just a point about the box office: Gravity is not a good benchmark to Man of Steel. Two TOTALLY different projects. Man of Steel is the biggest non-sequel of the year (for a franchise-drive project) and that's great. Those $668 million worldwide are already huge, much more than that is too much wishful thinking. Just to compare, Thor 2 has the Avengers boost and has made $630 million worldwide.

Anyway, now about what matters, although I see your point here, I have to say that it sounds a little simplistic.
Regarding Clark, I don't think that the concept of becoming Superman should come from him or, at least, I don't see why is it necessarily a better thing. Going back to the Journey of the Hero, it's the very basic call of the hero. In Man of Steel, Clark KNOWS that he wants to help people, he's actually already doing it before finding the scoutship. Jonathan Kent, by the way, NEVER taught him to hide forever. No, Jonathan taught him to hide WHILE HE'S NOT READY to "stand proud in front of the human race". Jonathan always told Clark that ONE DAY he would have to come out and he should use his powers to inspire and protect people (well, he never says it literally, but that's clearly the idea when he says "good character or bad, you're going to change the world" and stuff like that). So Clark always knew that he had the RESPONSIBILITY to be this icon, this hero. And it's not like if Jonathan or Jor-El were imposing him something, he could just say "Nice, but you know what? [frick] it, I'll use my powers to rule mankind!", but he didn't, because he always agreed with the notion that he should use his powers for good. He never came out before because he was affraid of the consequences it would have to the world, but he couldn't help himself, he felt the urge to use his powers to help people, it was just natural to him.
So when Jor-El shows up, all that "you should be a symbol of hope" talk is just opening Clark's eyes, it's the call of the hero, he's giving a logic and a purpose to the feelings that Clark already had. It doesn't invalidate Clark's decision or motivations. If it was the case, so heroes like Green Lantern would be essentially flawed as characters, because the idea of being GL didn't came from Hal Jordan (you have tons of examples like this in literature out of the comic book world).
You also should notice that Man of Steel's world is not the cartoony, black and white world of the comics or the old movies. So it's not like if an alien flying around in blue tights would simply inspire people. He would freak out people, that's for sure. So Clark has a stronger conflict there: how to become a symbol of hope? You see, it's not like if it was obvious to think: "You know what? I can fly and I have heat vision, I'll just inspire humanity one of these days", it's a lot deeper than that. It's the very notion that people won't easily accept him and that "inspire people" is a random and foggy concept, hard to pull off and with solid chances to go wrong.
When Zod shows up, he embodies Clark's struggles, he offers him the choice between Krypton and Earth. And one of the brilliant moves of the script in my opinion: Clark hesitates. He knows what he has to do, but he takes a moment to think "does humanity deserves this? Can I trust them?". So when he's fighting with Zod and choses Earth over Krypton, we understand the ammount of faith he puts on mankind, because he KNOWS that the humans can do a lot wrong, but he BELIEVES that, in the end, they'll do the right thing. And he never says it in the movie, there's no dialogue like "I believe in human race". THAT, my friend, is "show, not tell".
QuestiontheAnswer - 1/7/2014, 4:45 AM
$680 mil is enough for a Superman movie. Superman is widely known but isn't that popular compared to other characters because people have become bored with the Superman character. I was actually surprised to see it made more than $600mil. The truth is that no standalone Superman movie no matter how brilliant will ever make as much as expected.
kong - 1/7/2014, 4:54 AM
Well too late for half the stuff you said. Man of Steel came out. Deal with it.

In Man of Steel Clark had already "Became Superman" before Zod told him to. He rescued his classmates even though the majority of them didn't like him and he saved the people on the oil rig. Yes Johnathan Kent told him to keep it a secret, but that was to add more depth to Clark's character. Clark was troubled because his father who raised him told him the exact opposite of his father who sent him to earth. And it make perfect sense. Johnathan also only told him to hide them for now so that one day he can show the world. Jor-El came and told him it was that one day.

Also Jor-El never told him to be Superman, he told him to stop Zod. People say "That wasn't Superman in MOS!!! Superman would move it to a open area with little people and he wouldn't break Zod's neck". He wasn't Superman. He was Kal-El/Clark Kent trying to do the best for his adopted world by ruining the chance of him being even more connected to hi home world.
Platinum - 1/7/2014, 5:36 AM
I think general audiences are far too in love with themselves to ever accept Superheroes as they're meant to be seen. They want heroes to be dragged down to their level when they're suppose to represent the best of us. Bleh, rampant cynicism.

Good job though, so far so good.

Jollem - 1/7/2014, 5:51 AM
zack made the best superman movie and one of the best cbms of all time
MightyZeus - 1/7/2014, 7:35 AM
Man of Steel was perfect with capturing the character of Superman/Clark Kent and it's mythos around the character as well as adding some new updated points to the character and it's world.

It was a great Superman film for Superman fans.
SauronsBANE - 1/7/2014, 7:49 AM
"Clark becomes Superman because Jor-El tells him to." Bingo! Clark never actually makes this choice for himself...or even ANY choice, for that matter. Huge problem, IMO. Clark's motivations aren't developed or even hinted at. He just...does things. Inexplicably.

"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."
Again, 100% spot on. Pa Kent consistently tells Clark to let his schoolmates die and never, under any circumstance, use his powers until "the world is ready", whatever that means. It's comical because Pa Kent is supposed to be Clark's moral compass, and in MoS he's so morally ambiguous that he even suggests that little kids should've died! It's ambiguity for the sake of ambiguity. And when Clark finally does reveal himself to the world, it's not because the world is ready. It's because he HAS to. Rendering Pa Kent's speeches and interference absolutely pointless.
SauronsBANE - 1/7/2014, 7:52 AM
Seriously great article, TwistedKingdom! I'm so glad you included the "show, don't tell" mantra that ALL movies should adhere to, because MoS is one of the biggest offenders of this simple rule.

I love how so many people proclaim this movie to be "perfect" and infallible...how could that possibly be true if half the target audience absolutely hated it? Did 50% of fans just "not get it"? Are they idiots? How else is this explainable? Maybe the film is divisive because it's flawed on so many levels. On the surface, it looks and feels incredible. Do some digging, and the warts inevitably show themselves.
Tstubbs - 1/7/2014, 7:59 AM
Its not that he got told to be Superman. He was already helping saving people throughout his life. He was doing all of this in secret. He did the same thing in birthright and when people found out what he could do they became afraid of him. In birthright he used that tablet and figured out a way to use his powers as Superman and be able to separate that from Clark. He also learned from that tablet that the "s" shield meant something important to the people of Krypton. Because of the tablet he was able to learn about and embrace his Kryptonian heritage. In MOS a hologram of his father told him and showed him. Still electronic still a message sent with him in his spaceship. This isn't that big of a change from the comics to the big screen. I don't see how adding another 20-30 minutes watching him and his mom making a costume would of made it better than it already was. By the way, Kal-el's father also showed up in the Man of Steel comic book series as a hologram. My opinion the movie did an amazing job at telling his story and showing why he would become Superman. He was already saving people and the costume was just a way for him to do it more in the public eye and be able to help more people. Clark mentions it in birthright that because of how people reacted he would sit on the sidelines and just watch when he knew he could be of service. We saw that in MOS with Jonathan's death. The amount of comic references in MOS is staggering. It's why I think it is ultimately the best CBM out there.
Lhornbk - 1/7/2014, 9:13 AM
MoS did show why he became Superman. He ultimately chose to put on the suit and turn himself in to protect the world. After discovering Zod's plan, he does what is needed to stop him. It's pretty simple.
AverageDrafter - 1/7/2014, 9:20 AM
First I think people pointing to the BO numbers might want to keep in mind that adjusted, Man of Steel did better than the supposed "flop" of Superman Returns, but not so significant as to justify the perception of one as a massive success and the other as a total failure.

And suggesting that a Thor sequel... THOR ffs, should have anywhere near what a Superman movie should have is kind of insane, and just goes to show you how well Marvel's b-list characters are performing in comparison to one of DC's trinity and arguably their most important character.

I agree with the criticism of Donner's Superman, but hell - it was made in the 70s. We've had 35 years of both cinematic exploration (particularly in CBMs) and constant comic book reinventions of the character since then. Seriously, that was PRE-CRISIS by seven years.

Goyer/Snyder/Nolan even pointed to some of these reinventions (All Star, Birthright, Secret Origins, Man of Steel) as inspiration for this film, but all I can see is them lifting some lines without having any comprehension (or worse, outright disdain) for the works there were lifting from.

It boils down to the script - its terrible. More than "Show Don't Tell" which is a perfectly valid point, the damn thing has so much garbage in it with no purpose, so much dead weight, that even the most ardent MoS fan will concede to pretty massive flaws in the story on multiple levels.

Superman deserves better, and he's not going to get it from Goyer, an overstuffed sequel, or a studio that has no faith in telling one of the most enduring and iconic stories in western culture, much less comic books.

The film is a rushed mess - a knee jerk reaction to The Avengers, focused on only the action and practically nothing else. Again, Superman really deserves better than this.
KalKent853 - 1/7/2014, 12:31 PM
I recently came across this on YouTube where a guy has come up with an incredibly well thought out plot that would make almost all fans happy for the MOS sequel. Seriously guys I was blown away, if WB have a plot half as good as this I will be seeing it at least 10 times in the cinema...


ALmazing - 1/7/2014, 4:17 PM
Pretty good article sir.

TwistedKingdom - 1/7/2014, 8:12 PM

I tend to look at box office differently than most. I won't go into it now. If you're interested I have an editorial on it. But in a nutshell, considering how big MoS opened, it should've made a lot more.

You bring up a lot I want to address. I broke up the editorial for that very reason - there's so much I want to address. But staying on this article's topic…

There isn't a single mention of Clark WANTING to become a symbol of hope to humanity prior to meeting Jor El. And even then it's Jor El who suggests it.

Writers are encouraged to make strong choices for their characters. Some of the most important questions they must ask before starting a story are "What does this character want and why does he want it". Giving a character strong motivations and beliefs strengthens him/her.

"Because I want" and "Because I believe" are stronger than "My father believed…".

Peter Parker decides to become Spider-Man. Bruce Wayne decides to become Batman. Becoming Iron Man is Tony Starks decision.

Making Superman Clark's decision strengthens his character. It makes him decisive. Proactive instead of reactive. He then drives the story instead of wandering from scene to scene. And, as I mentioned in the article, the audience would finally get the chance to see Superman from inception to fruition.
TwistedKingdom - 1/7/2014, 8:15 PM

"Superman: Birthright" is one of my favorite Superman stories next to Action Comics #775 where he faces the Elite. The tablet in "Birthright" and Jor El in MoS are both electronic but the similarities end there.

The tablet is closer to a history book or a chronicle or Kryptonian scroll. The hologram in MoS is Jor El's actual consciousness left to influence his son. An A.I., if you will. It's more specific and personal in nature. It interacts with those it comes in contact with. The tablet is closer to a Kryptonian Kindle.

And while MoS hints at "Birthright", it doesn't utilize one of the book's unique strengths. The movie doesn't explain why Clark believes he can make a difference as a symbol for hope to mankind like the comic does. Yes, people fear him in "Birthright" but it in the book that doesn't prevent Clark from deciding to go public.
JosephKing - 1/8/2014, 3:58 AM

I can't agree with your premises, dude.

First of all, you're looking it too much through the "symbol of hope" perspective. As I've said, Clark shouldn't be concerned about that, because it's ludicrous to think that just because he has all these powers, he should become a symbol of hope. Inspiring humanity is not easy, the existence of a super powered alien would cause more fear than hope, so he's being cautious. He's not thinking specifically in becoming a symbol of hope, BUT he's thinking about helping people, using his powers for good, because THAT'S what drives him. He's more about being a good person and helping humanity than becoming an actual super-hero. But he always knew that one day he would have to make that choice, Jonathan states it very clearly. So when Jor-El shows up and tells him what his purpose was, Clark embraces it because it's just the embodiment of his beliefs, everything that moved him (and you know that because you know he always felt the urge to help people, it is stablished in the movie before AND after he dons the suit). He HAD a choice, it's not like if Jonathan or Jor-El were imposing him something. He could accept it or not, the fact that someone made him an offer doesn't make him weaker. Superman is essentially defined by his upbringing, so you can't say he's a weak character just because he was listening to his fathers.

And again, I think you're really misguided in saying that Clark is a weak character just because the concept of Superman didn't come from him. That's actually a lot simplistic, I must say. As I've said before, Green Lantern wasn't Hal Jordan's idea, but he's a strong character. Being the Ring-bearer wasn't Frodo's idea, but he's a strong character. Anyway, you have tons of examples in every narrative art, because it is the very concept of the call of the hero that you'll find in Joseph Campbell and that whole monomyth talk (there's even the part of the refusal of the call). Jor-El showing up and giving a solid purpose to Clark's journey is pretty much the classic call of the hero, so basically what you're doing is making up some strange theory that goes against every actual theorical knowledge about storytelling to impose a perspective of a "right way" to write Superman. And I'm sorry if it sounds harsh, it's not my intention to offend you by any means. The point is that there's a lot more in stake to analyze a character than just being "proactive or reactive". Clark's struggles are not defined by the idea of Superman, but by fitting in the world, finding his origins and finding a way to use his powers for good without collapsing society. In short, It's about the burden of being too powerful. Reducing it to "but Superman wasn't his idea" is too simplistic, at least to me.
KoonEl - 1/8/2014, 9:04 AM
I say if you want to see the reasons why Clark becomes Superman, then watch Smallville. 10 seasons of why he becomes Superman. Sure there is the prophecy mumbo jumbo, and Jor-el and Jonathan telling him there's a bigger purpose, but there is no doubt that Clark made choice after choice in that run. Was is drawn out? Of course. Could it have tied up 3 seasons earlier, and then become the early adventures of Superman? Of course. But the character development was there. The initial doubt was there. But Clark always kept coming back to be the hero that we knew he was meant to be. Choice vs destiny? I think that for Clark it is both in every medium. Smallville showed us that the best. I'm not trying to claim that Smallville was the best interpretation of the character that has ever been done or is possible, but it definitely gave us everything that the author here is asking for and more.
aresww3 - 1/10/2014, 1:49 PM
I think you´re absoutely right, but I will say that Superman the movie is slightly better at establishing Supermans motive. The death of his father where he feels helpless to save him, which leads to his search to find out why he´s here. Between both fathers messages Clark knows what he needs to do. However you´re right, in the original superman they should have added one extra scene to really delve into this, however I can forgive Superman 1 because it was the first superhero movie. MOS however is a joke. The fact it doesn´t have that moment is utterly without justification. It knows the formula for great superhero movies. They simply just ignored it because Superman is a far more complex character in his motivation. It was a load of crap.
daddybear - 1/10/2014, 1:57 PM
@mistermoustache, god, you should make an editorial (no d*ck riding though). I see you have some strong points which go in favor of MOS, but i'd like to know if you were actually satisfied with it ? Because so far i've only see you answer to people's messages.
Prime - 1/10/2014, 4:08 PM
Well, take the fact that it had to compete with a kids movie. Even Batman himself would have had trouble. Plus Superman hasn't been popular in some time, due to WB impotence. We haven't really had any exposure to Superman in my long time. Not for kids either. [frick]ing assholes.
Prime - 1/10/2014, 4:10 PM
@ Omega LOL give the rights back to Marvel.
BIGBMH - 1/11/2014, 5:38 PM
Great work here! I feel like we're on exactly the same page with this. I wrote an editorial series kind of like this a few years ago and I touched on similar themes as this article in my Man of Steel review. I'm going to check out part two of your series now. Excited to see what else you have to say.

Here are the links to some of my Superman articles. If you've got some time, please check them out and tell me what you think!

The Editorials

MOS Review

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