A Perfect Superman Movie Will Never Happen | Fanboys Anonymous

A Perfect Superman Movie Will Never Happen

Posted by Joseph Silver Thursday, November 21, 2013
I'm used to the vitriol fans have over certain film decisions, regardless of its source. If you don't stay true to the heart of an idea and try to preserve as much of the content as possible, fans can and will turn on you with an unmatched fervor.

New Superman Emblem Man of Steel Logo

Man of Steel is no different, and certainly in this case it has a crowd of very angry detractors. There is certainly some cause for alarm, both for those that are nostalgic for the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve Superman franchise of old, and for those that stand fervently by the vision of the comic character on which both franchises are based. The new film is far darker, moodier, and more depressing; there are vast quantities of what has been dubbed "disaster porn"; and the "Clark Kent-as-reporter" aspect is downright nonexistent for about 98% of the movie. The Donner/Reeve version of the superhero is often referred to as the quintessential film Superman, and even the bland and boring Superman Returns often comes up as a superior film.

Now, if I may be indulged for just a short while, I don't believe that these accusations are entirely deserved, and I certainly don't hold the older films to a higher standard. They all have their merits (the first two Donner/Reeve films and Superman Returns, at least; the others in the old franchise were utter dreck) and Man of Steel is not perfect. I will readily admit that. But my fundamental issues with the complaints are as follows…

(SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for those that have not watched the most recent Man of Steel film.)

1. None of the films have ever done the source material justice:

Promotional photo from Superman movie
The all-time favorite.
Let's look at the beloved Superman and Superman II. The late Christopher Reeve gives us a bumbling, self conscious Clark Kent that moves differently and stutters. The Clark Kent disguise has always been extraordinarily weak, but he's using his acting to show us why the disguise works in the film. His Superman works, even by modern standards, in accord with the books. Lois Lane is worldly, gutsy, and fearless. And of course there’s the "no killing" thing.

But Lex Luthor is less a genius with a grudge than he is a land baron with delusions of grandeur. His cronies are hopelessly inept, his machinations are laughable, and you never see him as Superman's equal in any of the films. You never have any reason to understand why Luthor is Superman's arch-nemesis; you're simply meant to accept it, because that's something people just know. Superman Returns pretty much revisits every single one of these flaws.

And let's not forget the spinning of the world in reverse, the kiss of amnesia, the unexplained expanding "S," the dome that makes Kryptonians powerless, and numerous other bits of film BS that spit directly in the face of what the books have placed firmly in stone about the character. None of the movies have ever been perfect in that regard. And worse…

2. None of the films SHOULD do the source material complete justice: 

Read the complete Superman comic book series on Comixology and the DC Comics app for Android and iOS devices
Superman before most of you were born.
Superman has been around since the late '30s, and was constantly changing early on in regards to his limits and weaknesses. Ultimately kryptonite, magic, and the like have stuck, but this underlies one of the biggest problems with writing the character; one that has come up again and again over the years: it's next to impossible to write good Superman stories without resorting to ridiculous extremes.

Superman is, for all intents and purposes, perfect as characters go. He's nearly indestructible, has the quintessential grab bag of powers, is the ultimate good guy, and can seemingly be everywhere nearly at once. How would you write that? How would that translate to film and still be relatable?

Now, of course you could bring to film the more powerful villains (Doomsday, Parasite, Mongul, Darkseid, etc.), but you run the risk of having fights far worse than what people complained so much about in Man of Steel, and you'd have to write credible ways of introducing these characters. None of this addresses the massive changes in the character's continuity over the decades.

Honestly, you would stand a much better chance adapting from the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm animated shows than from the comics.

3. The character is very difficult to adapt for a modern audience: 

Old Superman costumes Man of Steel modern suit
Superman throughout the years in comic, film, and animated form.
Captain America worked for Marvel's film adaptation for a lot of reasons: the connection to WWII, the triumph of the underdog (Steve Rogers starts out as a small spindly guy that just doesn't know when to quit), effectively playing the idea of the man out of time, etc. I mention him because, like Superman, Cap represents the best virtues of the universe he lives in. He's not just a patriot or just a symbol; he represents a time when the line between good and evil was direct and immediate. He is undoubtedly a symbol of good. Superman fits this mold perfectly, and both characters were created right around the same time. Both had early adventures that plunged them into war facing typical enemies of the era. Both have become American icons designed to instill and encourage the best in people.

But that is where the parallels really start to fray. Cap is only barely superhuman, and Superman is the ultimate, benevolent superhuman. Not only is that a terribly difficult kind of character to write in film, but for years it's been a serious challenge to keep Superman relatable and relevant in comics. The result has been numerous changes, reboots, deaths, and general re-imaginings. I know I've covered this to some degree in the previous point, but I can't bring this point home near enough. DC has over the years done a lot of different thing to try to engage their audience with their comic demi god, with a lot of mixed and sometimes frustrating results.

This is by no means an indication that it's impossible, but to say that it requires a delicate balance to keep from venturing into nostalgic camp or utter ridicule (e.g. the last two Superman films of the first franchise) is a massive understatement.

4. Some of the comic tropes need to be outright abandoned: 

Read old and new Superman comics on Comixology


Of all of the complaints I heard about relating to Man of Steel, the one I felt the least amount of sympathy for was the secret identity; that so many people would be aware of Superman's dual life (people in Smallville, Lois Lane, etc) was an issue for many. Where do I start…?

In the modern age where technology literally gives us access to just about any information, the idea that people couldn't put two and two together just by googling would make no sense. Now, sure, you can play that down in the films—and no doubt the people of Smallville could be enlisted to misdirect people trying to find out about Clark and his family—but let's just all admit that secret identities in general would be nearly impossible to keep completely secret. Some people should by all rights know, and of course…

5. Lois Lane should never have been fooled. Ever:

Read Superman #27 on Comixology and the DC Comics app
The 'brilliant' Pulitzer prize winning bombshell and her obsession.
How is it even remotely possible that the one person who spends inordinate time around both identities and is an investigative journalist couldn't put together that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person; that Clark is never around when Superman is, looks like him without glasses, and has an identical build? A woman who spends that much time around two men that similar would notice these things, even without being an investigative reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper.

This is actually the one change Man of Steel made that I approved of wholeheartedly, because that trope never made sense. It has been accepted because it's just been a part the story forever.

Overall, there won't ever be a truly accurate translation of the book to film. In my view that is a good thing.

Now I will certainly agree with the die-hard faithful about two major points in the film:

1. Superman should have cared far more about the casual destruction and loss of life than the movie displayed.

Shirtless Henry Cavill fire scene Man of Steel sexy
Pre costume film Supes selflessly helping.
Right from the fight in Smallville with Zod's henchmen, this bugged me. Don't get me wrong: the scale of destruction in all the fight scenes is one of the things they got right. If people that powerful were going all out in a fight and at least one person simply didn't care about the area they were laying waste to, it would look something like what it did.

But this is Superman we're talking about—in his hometown after he went on his journey to discover himself and saved lives wherever he went. He didn't go to any lengths to divert the fight somewhere else. At best, he went to minor lengths to the save lives—The very heart of what makes Superman who he is, and reflects the wandering Clark we saw earlier. This would have better distinguished the ideologies of both parties (Kryptonians and Superman) and would have made it more obvious to the audience and the military who you were supposed to rooting for. Faora mentions Superman's unwillingness to go all out, but you don't see much evidence of it, especially in the fight in Metropolis.

I get that this is Superman: Year One, but he's already established a track record in this movie of looking out for the unfortunate and saving people from disasters before this scene. Consistency would have been nice.

This says nothing of the choices he made in Metropolis, which brings me to the big one…

2. Superman killing Zod made no sense. 

HD General Zod image Man of Steel Michael Shannon death
The visage of Krypton gone to ideological extremes.
Given the scene and what they were trying to relate—the idea that Superman had an impossible choice to make, but in the end, through great suffering, chose to save Earth over Krypton—I get what they were trying to do. But think carefully about what we already know about the characters in the film at this point.

Zod has, in effect, lost his home and his sense of purpose. He's lashing out at anyone and everyone, and has vowed to make Earth suffer in the wake of his tragedy; but Zod for all of his military prowess is still new to Earth. Superman, on the other hand, is home; he's been here his whole life and has been using his powers since he was a kid. While flight was still relatively new, any number of other powers—super speed, super strength, or covering Zod's eye beams with his invulnerable hands—would have been sufficient to keep Zod from killing the people in that scene. This could have led to other resolutions to the fight. Zod's death, though heavily symbolic, was not necessary.

Would different tactics still have resulted in Zod's death? I'm not sure, but I do understand the frustration over how that scene played out.

So, overall none of the films have been perfect. Superman and Superman II have a wave of nostalgia to carry them, but both were flawed. The remaining films in that franchise were a joke. Superman Returns (or Brian Singer's love letter to Superman II) was a dull and lifeless reprise, bereft of anything original and barely a challenge for Superman to face—and Luthor was still a glorified land baron.

Man of Steel did a lot things right. It gave us a Krypton that felt like a planet, as opposed to a series of shiny, tall pointed crystals with people talking in them. It gives the viewer a sense of scale for the problems of Superman's homeworld, and more of a stake in those problems than any other film has managed. The Kents and Smallville worked, and despite my aforementioned misgivings, I liked Costner's take on Pa Kent. His reticence to let young Clark expose his true nature to people was not born from apathy or indifference; it was out of love for his son, to keep him safe by keeping his powers secret. I got it. His death smacked of the whole Peter Parker/Uncle Ben dynamic, but it didn't take me out of the moment. I was fine with things right up until Zod and crew jumped back into the picture and the fighting started, where my previously mentioned concerns come into play.

Can it be argued that the latter half of the film went too far? Certainly, though once again, the scale of the disaster resulting from a fight between two or more people with that much power would be devastating wherever they ended up. It was dark, and made many wrong turns. (I’m personally curious as to what will happen to the military and other humans that got trapped in the Phantom Zone.)

One thing that would have gone a long way to address these issues would've been to have Superman lament over how badly things went; to openly and publicly mourn that loss of human life, and to vow that he would never let it happen again; to actually take responsibility for things in some way, and to actually adopt Metropolis as his home.

But it didn't happen that way.

The Dark Knight franchise, for all it's moody and depressing tone, actually had a protagonist that went through great lengths to not kill right from the beginning; any deaths that did happen were either accidental or not directly through Batman's actions. Ironic that they got it right there and so very wrong here.

So, definitely not the best film ever made, and a far darker Superman than many wanted; but still not the worst Superman that ever was. Remember, he did fight the ├╝ber-lame Nuclear Man in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Superman IV poster Quest for Peace movie
Yes, this actually happened.
Nostalgia can only take you so far.

Those are just my observations. This was definitely a film that supercharged the comic and film  fanbase for good or ill. Darker films are getting a lot of attention in this cynical day and age, but what kind of hope does a film with such a truly optimistic, godlike character really have? Is the darker turn in the end worth it?

What say you, fans?
THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY A GUEST WRITER

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