As a lot of you guys know, I am a diehard Superman fan. I love the character, the mythology, the history, the social and political origins of the world's greatest superhero. And being too young to have seen the original Richard Donner films in a theater, it's always been a dream of mine to see a great, iconic Superman film on the big screen (it's also been a dream of mine to help create a Superman film, but that's a whole other story ...).
When Superman Returns was originally announced, I was ecstatic - especially in the wake of the superb Batman Begins. But very quickly, my excitement turned to caution. The casting seemed off. Rumors about the plotline made me worry that Bryan Singer and co. didn't have a great handle on how to make a definitive Superman movie for a new era. Superman Returns was just a mess, and I don't know if I've ever been more disappointed with a blockbuster film before. If someone had been watching my face as the movie began, they would have seen a pretty extreme transition from giddy happiness as the opening credits played over the remixed John Williams score, to sheer horror as we were introduced to a version of Lex Luthor who was a sleazy, bumbling joke. Within minutes, it was clear that Superman Returns would NOT be the Superman film that we had all been waiting for. There was Lex Luthor as used-car-salesman. Superman as a mopey, effeminate deadbeat dad. Lois Lane was bland. Jimmy Olsen and Perry White were non-factors. The look of the film was gray and boring. The costume was weak and goofy-looking, and the "S-shield" was way too small. The action was mostly nonexistent. Superman didn't throw a punch the entire movie, and he was made to look weak and ineffectual - both physically and emotionally. He was saddled with a super-son that nobody wanted to see. So much was wrong about Superman Returns, and as the months passed following it's release, it became increasingly clear that WB was eventually going to have to go back to the drawing board and re-reboot it's biggest superhero franchise.
Now, after years of speculation, there is movement. DC Entertainment is ramping up at Warners. There is a significant push to get DC Comics characters set up as movies, TV shows, and games. And amidst all that, you have to figure that priority #1 was always to, finally, kickstart a new Superman franchise and to get it right.
First, it was announced that the man behind Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (not to mention a little movie called Inception), Chrisotpher Nolan, would be overseeing production on a new Superman movie. Then, the big news ... Zack Snyder would direct.
Let's repeat that ... Zack Snyder is directing Superman. We knew he was on the short list of candidates, but I honestly wasn't sure if he'd get the nod. I'm glad he did. In fact, I'm pretty freaking excited about this news - Zack Snyder does big, he does epic, he does colorful. He does action as good as or better than anyone working today. He isn't afraid to make his movies crazy, over-the-top, and stylized. He makes movies that get your blood pumping, that kick some ass, that embrace far-out ideas and larger-than-life characters. He is, I think, exactly the man for the job of making the most insane, action-packed, epic Superman movie possible.
Zack will make the most out of whatever he has to work with - I'm confident of that. But now, the main priority has got to be getting a great script. Supposedly David Goyer worked with Christopher and Jonathan Nolan on a draft. It's still too early to know what to think or expect though. I think the script was perhaps the weakest aspect of the recent Batman films - not saying the scripts *were* weak, simply that if there was any one flaw with Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, it was probably to be found in some of the structural issues inherent in each of their screenplays. These superhero movies tend to be overstuffed and filled with plot points and characters that are unnecessary to the story. With Superman, the writing team should find a way to build a strong supporting cast and establish an awesome villain, but first and foremost, they need to make Superman into THE MAN. Between Superman Returns and Smallville, I think we are all sick and tired of an emo, self-doubting Man of Steel. It's time to finally see a Superman who is inspiring, confident, and a natural leader - a symbol of hope.
The next important thing will be the casting. I know everything in Hollywood trends towards young. But I hope that Snyder and co. truly think outside of the box when it comes to casting Clark Kent / Superman. A typical young-Hollywood pretty-boy won't do. We need someone with a commanding presence, who looks like an adult. We also need a Lois Lane who is brimming with wit and personality. She has to be spunky and able to kick some ass when called upon. We have to understand why Superman is in love with her. Lex Luthor should be in the picture, but not the primary villain, at least not yet. He should be a badass. A genius mind who is a titan of science and industry. A man who is, in public, a figure who commands respect, but in private a sinister force for evil. No land-grab schemes. No cartoonish plots. This Luthor is out for power and control and ultimate knowledge. Jimmy Olsen should be in the picture. He should be the unlikely hero - the regular guy who is somehow always surrounded by weirdness and adventure. He always believes in Superman no matter what, and he is, at the end of the day, Superman's pal. Perry White is the gruff boss of the Daily Planet, but also a father figure to Clark. When the chips are down, Perry is an old-school reminder that you stick to your guns and fight the good fight. And you also need Jonathan and Martha Kent. They are the reason that, despite being an alien, Clark Kent is more human and grounded than most ordinary people. They taught him right from wrong, and are still there to remind him of what's right.
Zack Snyder and co. have 75 years' worth of stories to mine. They have the ability to craft an epic adventure - to make a franchise worthy of the Big Red S. They need a dynamite script and an equally stellar cast. Some other suggestions:
1.) Make it BIG: Superman is a character that can work well with smaller, more personal stories - but only because those stories serve as a contrast to the usually-epic scope of his adventures. A new Superman story needs to start out with a BANG. Skip the origin, skip the will-they-or-won't-they Lois and Clark romance. Just get right to the good stuff - huge villains, a big, far-reaching story, and a plot filled with intrigue, spectacle, twists, turns, and lots of action. We've yet to see a Superman movie on a truly super-scale. So yeah, no more cheesy Lex land-grab schemes. I want intergalactic warfare, epic battles, giant villains, and mind-blowing sci-fi concepts that would make Jack Kirby smile. On another note, I don't want this movie to rehash what we've seen before. The idea of Zod as the villain, for example, doesn't 100% intrigue me. Just because he was cool in Superman II doesn't mean we need to see him again.
2.) Make it COLORFUL: Superman returns never *felt* like Superman. Superman has always been the comic book character who has the craziest adventures, the most insane, out-there stories, and the biggest, most over-the-top villains. So Zack - go wild. Dazzle us with awesome visuals and comic book color. Make that super-suit the brightest blue, red, and yellow you can find. Introduce all the insane concepts from the comics that WB will allow - Bizarro, Boom Tubes, fifth-dimensional imps (okay maybe we can skip them ...), DNAliens, signal watches, and alien invaders from the fiery planet Apokolips. Leave the dark and gritty and brooding stuff for Batman. Make a Superman that pops off of the screen.
3.) Make it INSPIRING: In spite of what I just said, I still want a Superman that takes time to save a little kid from a random street thug, or who stops to give advice to a woman who seems depressed, or who answers letters from people who write to him with their problems. I want a Superman who is a hero to the world, who fights the neverending battle. Most of all, I want a moment, or moments, in the movie where I want to stand up and cheer and say "hell yeah, kick his ass Superman!" Superman Returns never gave us that moment, and that's a shame.
4.) Set it in the DC UNIVERSE: As much as Christopher Nolan seems resistant to the idea of an interconnected DC movie universe (in the vein of what Marvel is doing), I think the time has come for DC and Warners to plant the seeds for a bigger vision of the world of DC Comics in the movies. Not only does this open up a floodgate of possibilities for tie-in comics, games, TV shows, and other films, it just makes the next Superman movie that much richer and more epic. Have other heroes appear. Make sure to include DC Comics staples like STAR Labs, Cadmus, and Lexcorp. Maybe throw in Wayne Enterprises and Kord Industries. But give the fanboys something to latch onto, and have some fun with this - show us that this is not just another retread of the old Donner movies, but a brand new vision of the DC Universe on the big screen.
5.) Make sure it KICKS ASS: This is where Snyder is going to bring something to the table that other directors might not have been able to pull off. I mean, this is a SUPERMAN movie - give us at least one fight scene that makes us sit up and say "HOLY CRAP I've never seen THAT before." Show us a Superman who's battered, bruised, half-dead, but who keeps on fighting. Show us Lois in mortal danger, show us Jimmy coming to the rescue, show us Lex making a last-minute swerve to the dark side that leaves our jaws on the floor. But for the love of all that is holy, give us some kick-ass action.
And now, we wait. We'll see if this new Superman can finally deliver. I hope it does.