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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  • I say skip the use of Lex Luthor and use another villian, like Doomsday or Darkseid. That should get you the action sequences and the physical threat you wanted to see. Probably not much of story though…

  • Hi Lance,

    I could do without Lex Luthor as the villain, but Doomsday or Darkseid might be a little too braun over brain. And for fans, I think if you do Doomsday, you really have to do the Death of Superman, which is not going to happen. My personal preferences would be Braniac, or secondly a remake of General Zod (but I would prefer this as a sequel).

  • Ryan Harju

    I think they should use the actors from Smallville. I don’t know about you but I think it would actually work to their advantage since the show is in it’s final season.(rumored). So it would be like a end of it all movie, where Clark Kent finally becomes Superman. But who knows. I guess I like the show too much to want them to be the characters in the Superman movies as well.

  • The one problem I have with the actors from Smallville is that by using them, you would then have to use the Smallville chronology, which is so out of whack with the typical Superman timeline that I think it would be problematic (Lois Lane knowing Clark Kent while he’s still in Smallville, Lex and Clark being best friends, the fact that Clark doesn’t wear glasses).

    Also, Smallville isn’t dark enough.

  • avoidz

    Braniac is such a lame dorky comic book name for a villain, it completely negates the “darker” theme they want to go for.

    Brandon Routh did a good job as Clark and Supes under the circumstances. I’d like to see him return.

    Lex Luthor needs to be buried once and for all as a movie adversary (not the Smallville version; Rosenbaum is great, even though he retired from the role).

    It’ll be interesting to see what WB comes up with next.

  • avoidz

    * I meant “Brainiac” 🙂

  • Hi Avoidz, I think they could get away with Braniac. You could get away with him on many levels, like just having him be an extremely intelligent and maniacal villain. He never actually has to be referred to by name, either. He does have an alter ego, if I remember correctly.

  • Jesse Tan

    Please do not take out Brian Singer. He already clearly stated that Superman Return is just the 1st phase AND I don’t remember Christopher Nolan hit it big with his 1st Batman movie. It is his 2nd Batman movie that give him the god status. Batman Begin only make 205 mil compare to Superman return at 200mil. As for Lex Luthor, I agree totally he should not be goofy anymore. Lex Luthor is the best villain ever created aside from Joker. Have lex Luthor team-up with other villain.

  • Hi Jesse, I like Bryan Singer and I like Superman Returns, but strangely, I do think the movie needs a fresh start… and that most likely means no more Singer. Yes, The Dark Knight was much better than Batman Begins, but Batman Begins was still a huge step above Superman Returns.