Thursday I Won’t Care About You #8: Don’t Tug On Superman’s Cape

With the announcement that Zack Snyder (of 300 and Watchmen fame) will be directing Warner’s new Superman film, a cry has been sounding out all around the internets: Please don’t let it suck. Fans everywhere have been throwing out suggestions as to how to make the movie a success – well, less of a success and seemingly just better than Superman Returns – but that’s understandable.

That movie was a piece of crap and no one wants to see its mistakes repeated.

But before I talk about what I’d like to see in a Superman movie (and these are my realistic wishes, I know we’ll never get the movie where Superman battles Titano and Jimmy Olsen gets into kooky hijinks) there’s something I’d like to say to Zack Snyder – a hypothetical future Zack Snyder:

It’s not your fault.

I’ve noticed that with movies, and especially comic book movies, when things go wrong and the movie tanks or is critically derided it’s the director that takes all the heat. Sometimes this is understandable, especially with bigger budget and high profile productions which often have big names in the directors chair, but it disgusts me how often screen writers can escape scrutiny. Hell, it disgusts me how the executives which approved the shitty scripts can escape scrutiny. And sometimes actors need to get the crap flung their way too – I’m looking at you Nicholas Cage.

I know you’re a Ghost Rider fan, but did you really want to be Johnny Blaze that badly? I love Batman more than anything else in the world but if Chris Nolan lost his mind and asked me if I wanted to replace Christian Bale in Batman 3, I’d tell him to get the hell out of my house and seek psychiatric help.

But I digress.

I say all this because word has been floating around on the internet that Snyder was chosen for the role over reported frontrunner Darren Aronofsky (who Warner really really really wanted because he could’ve gotten them Natalie Portman as Lois Lane) because “the script’s a mess” and they needed someone who wasn’t going to try to rework it to perfection. Given the failure that Superman Returns was and the disaster of trying to get a Superman film in production during the 90s (I won’t get into here but Wikipedia does a pretty good job of summing up the clusterfuck that was Tim Burton’s Superman) you’d think time would be the one thing they’d would want to invest in Superman…except they can’t.

Much like Fox and Sony who have had to rush production of Marvel Comics properties (Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man) for fear of the rights reverting back to Marvel, if they don’t have a Superman film in productions by 2011 they face lawsuits by the heirs of Siegel and Shuster (something which completely boggles my mind – I love that we still can’t get a Bill Finger credit on anything Batman related by the Siegels & Shusters have managed to grab Time-Warner by the sack and twist.)

Now all that doesn’t mean you should start shouting doom from the rooftops. Even a script that’s a mess is still a script and there’s plenty of time to punch it up to par (Hell, Iron Man went into filming with barely any script at all and look how well that turned out) but I definitely think it’s important that we, as fans, acknowledge the things working against this movie. I don’t know about all of you but I’m tired of getting my hopes up only to have them knocked down into the dirt.

One of my earliest memories is sitting in my den watching a news report about The Death of Superman storyline. This report was either about his actual comic death or his return, I have no idea which, but it’s signifgant to note that I couldn’t have been more than three years old at the time.

I remember watching this news report and hearing the anchorwoman talk about Superman being dead and I remember having one clear and distinct thought: Superman cannot die. And then I stopped paying attention and went back to playing with whatever I was playing with.

We were still years away from Superman: The Animated Series at this point, and I’m pretty sure I had never seen a comic book. Maybe some Superfriends reruns really affected me (even though I have no clear memory of watching that show until about 1st or 2nd grade) but even then, as a child at the stage where I was still soiling myself regularly, the one inexorable truth I knew was that Superman could not die.

He’s above that.

That’s what Superman means to me and try as I might I can’t help but have a vested interest in this movie not sucking on ice.

From what I’ve been reading online, most people seem to want a a villain that isn’t Lex Luthor that Superman can have an actual fight with and some action sequences. These are things Superman Returns sorely lacked, and almost seemed to flaunt in our faces, and when you couple that with it’s unnecessary shared continuity with the Donner film’s (honestly, what the hell is the point of holding Superman 1 & 2 as sacred cows and ignoring 3 and 4? Those movies were made 30 years ago, let them all go) it’s not surprised that movie is so poorly regarded…but I don’t think that’s why the movie was a failure.

If Zack Snyder wants his movie to be a success he has to do one thing and one thing only: He needs to show us why Superman matters. To put it more cheesily, he needs to *ahem* make us believe a man can fly. And it’s not hard, all he’s got to do is show us.

Out of all the terrible things that have been committed to screen with this era of comic book adaptations, the one moment that will forever stand out to me as the most agregious is one most of you probably forgot because you were so happy the movie was over. At the end of the first Fantastic Four film, after the team lays the smackdown on Doom, Ben decides to not use the machine which he had used earlier to de-Thingify himself and to remain in his monstrous state. Every time I think about this moment I almost have an annuerism.

Yeah, you re-Thingified yourself so you could help your friends take down the bad guy, that’s great and all, but what reason is their for you to stay a horrible orange rock monster? Do you expect to be fighting some more metal-skinned, electricity flinging demagoges?

The problem with this moment (and similar moments in other superhero films) is that they fail to address the nessecity of the hero outside whatever threat they’re facing in the film. I will gouge my eyes out if I have to watch another Superman movie where all he does is put out fires and stop planes from crashing.

Despite the ridiculous of the first Superman film’s plot (Lex Luthor buying up a ton of real estate and then diverting a nuclear missle to sink California so that his property became the new West Coast (and insanely valuable) I think it’s important that we see in the universe this film is taking place in, that these kind of things happen and sometimes Superman needs to deal with them.

Or maybe Intergang is running amok with their weapons from Apokalips. Or maybe some crazy StarLabs experiment has gone wrong and Superman’s got to stop it.

Obviously these wouldn’t and won’t be the focus of the film, but we need a little more than the firefighter and bank robbery stopper we got in Superman Returns. If that’s all Superman concerns himself with, given all the other teribble shit that goes on in the world (genocide, for instance) than the world doesn’t really need a Superman. If you’re going to give us an alien who flies around with his underwear on the outside, don’t be afraid to give us mad scientists and other super-powered villains (and I would really, really, really, really, REALLY like Titano to show up >_>)

And maybe give us a glance at the effect Superman would have on the world outside the context of stopping bad things. Give us some man on the street moments with people in Metropolis. What do you think it’s like to live in the one city in the world where you know you can almost never be a victim of a crime or accident? But…and there’s always a but…you can’t be too heavy-handed.

There was something in this Slashfilm posting about the upcoming film which utterly confused me.

There are two interesting things of note in this quote. First off, Nolan believes that Goyer has finally figured out a way to “address Superman in a modern context.” One of the big problems with Superman, is that his attitude/design is almost too corny for the post-9/11 era. Secondly, Nolan basically says that you can’t move far away from the essence of who Superman was when he was created.

It’s the bolded bit that gets me, obviously.

I think now, more than ever, the world is looking for a character like Superman to embrace. We might be more cynical, paranoid and xenophobic (we’re probably less xenophobic) but at the end of the day we’re really no further from the very same conditions that birthed Superman in the first place. We want to feel safe, we want to know there’s someone looking out for us, we want to know the bad guys will be put in their place. We want to be inspired to do good.

Superman is all that and somehow he manages to be more. He’s not just a character, he’s a meme that embodies the things we long for. He’s the American dream, he’s the Christ-figure, hell, you could even say he’s Santa Claus. The things that he represents are eternally enduring, but sadly the character’s film life has not been.

The problem with the development of a Superman film from, I want to say, the utter debacle that was the Tim Burton Superman, to all the scripts that made the rounds (check out the Wikipedia page, some of them are absurdly terrible) to Superman Returns, is that each an every person who put their hands on that project wanted to make their version of Superman, and that’s simply not how it works. Us comic fans can be a fickle, entitled bunch, and often times when a new comic movie is announced I really think most us truly do expect the movie to cater to our personal demands and wishes, despite the impossibility of that, but when it comes to a character as iconic as Superman, it’s not about what you owe the fans, it’s about what you owe him.

I’m reminded of the end of Final Crisis.

That’s who and what Superman is and what he would do for us (if he was, y’know, real.) If this movie is anything less than a tribute to everything that the Man of Steel is and will continue to be, than it will be a failure.

So, Zack Snyder, do me a solid and knock this one out of the park, will ya?