Movie Update: The Darker Side of Superman

Superman DeathSuperman is going to get just a little bit darker, according to Warner Brothers president Jeff Robinov, and will completely ignore the recent Brian Singer movie. Is that good or bad news? I think good.

As most of you know, I prefer something a little darker and edgier over lighter and goofier, which is the direction Singer took (while also attempting to add in drama and Jesus references). Comic book movies need to walk that fine line between being lighthearted and “appealing to the masses” and being serious, hard core movies. With The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan completely crossed that line to the serious side and proved it can work to massive box office returns.

Given the box office “failure” of the reboot Superman Returns and the stunning success of The Dark Knight – the first film to even inspire speculation that it could beat Titanic – it’s no surprise that Warner Brothers wants to take things to the dark side. In fact, according to Robinov, every DC Comics release over the next several years will take that approach, to “the extent that the characters allow it.”

Personally, I really enjoyed Superman Returns, though in hindsight my “A” rating was probably a bit generous. The movie was grand, had some decent action and did, in fact, treat Superman in a more serious light. Still, as Singer stated himself, he wanted this movie to be a continuation of the old Christopher Reeves movies, and thus a level of goofiness and lightheartedness remained. What hurt the movie was that Singer attempted to combine action, comedy, drama and allegory all into one, and that’s just not what people wanted. Furthermore, while there were some good action scenes, the movie was not the explosive action-fest one would expect from a 21st century Superman. Finally, while Spacey was really good, his Lex Luthor was a bit too much of a homage to Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor; the world has moved beyond dangerous but goofy villains with huge, “blow up the world” kind of plots.

So, assuming that Lex Luthor is once again the villain in this reboot of Superman, let’s look at what the new movie, currently titled The Man of Steel, needs to do to be successful:

  • More action. The Dark Knight proved that you can make a serious, thought-provoking movie that ends with non-stop action and violence for the final 45 minutes.
  • Better marketing. The marketing team was tied with the last one as the film lacked the money shots needed to really wow audiences into theaters. Better action should help this out.
  • A more serious Lex Luthor. I don’t need to see him coming up with some zany plot to destroy the world by making new real estate. Have him do serious things with serious consequences, and lose the goofiness. Luthor should be legitimately scary and threatening.
  • A real, good guy vs. bad guy ending. Don’t end the movie with Luthor winding up on a deserted tropical island (how did his helicopter have the fuel to go that far anyway?) and Superman saving the day by lifting a continent in the sky, causing him to almost-die for another 20 minutes. Have a battle of epic proportions that comes down to the closing credits, where Luthor ends up in jail and some other villain ends up dead.
  • Have a bad guy that can pose a physical threat to Superman. Done right, The Man of Steel doesn’t need a supervillain, but better be safe than sorry. Introduce a villain that is deliciously evil and can put up a fight against Supes.
  • Lose Superman’s kid. It’s unlikely we’ll see the son of Superman anytime soon. Seriously, Singer, what were you thinking?
  • Don’t dwell too much on the beginnings of Superman. We all know how he came to be on Earth, how he was raised, etc. Don’t spend 45 minutes on it, unless you get Christopher Nolan to do that film as well.
  • Give Superman a personality. He doesn’t have to be a depressed robot like Brandon Routh was.

All that being said, Warner Brothers will have to be careful to keep charisma in their pictures as they give a darker overtone to them. When done right, the results can be marvelous (The Dark Knight), but they’ll have to be careful not to attempt to duplicate its success by simply “making things serious.” If done wrong, you’ll get some rather dull films sapped of their comic energy, and that’s not going to win over audiences. Instead, as with any film, you need the right combination of director, writer, cast and screenplay; WB should be careful not to lose sight of this.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Movies
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