Good morning, class. Today we’re going to talk about a subject that is quite controversial. Many times I’ve mentioned this subject on Twitter and suffered a barrage of abuse. No, we’re not talking about gay marriage or the mass migration of human beings from Syria. No, we’re not talking about gun laws or ethics in video games journalism. No, the subject that seems to boil the blood of some of my Twitter followers is Superman, the man who can leap buildings in a single bound and who no one seems to be able to make a movie about.
There are one and a half good Superman movies. There are four and a half atrocious ones. Why is that? How is it that a beloved character with 70 plus years of stories behind him only features in one complete great movie? Glad you asked.If we’re going to solve the question, “How to Superman?” it has to start with the question: Who is Superman? And in a world full of other superheroes, perhaps it’s best to answer this question by defining what Superman isn’t.
He’s not Batman. Batman movies are super popular and the modern ones have a five out of seven success rate. Now the Keaton Batmen haven’t aged well and there are issues with The Dark Knight Rises, but these issues do not compare with how bad Superman Returns and Man of Steel are. Because Batman is supposed to be a moody, dark character, it is perfectly fine to make a moody, dark movie that sometimes takes itself too seriously. The character matches the tone of the movie. The problem is that because Batman is so popular, people keep making Superman movies in the Batman mood. So who is Superman? Well, he’s a Boy Scout. He’s the archetype of the good guy. He does the right thing and he doesn’t waver in his belief that everyone is capable of good and that everyone deserves a second chance. He is cheesy, un-ironic, and a bit lame. He’s the hero who gets a cat out of a tree and is happy to let people know that his mum made his costume. His alter ego is not suave and urbane. Clark Kent is a clumsy nerd who’s actually pretty annoying and the perfect cover.
I imagine a table of producers sit around thinking, “No one wants to see a boy scout up there. The last decade proved that people want fights and darkness and grimness. People should feel bad watching a Superman movie because he’s so angst-y. No one wants to see a good guy with no flaws.” Except they totally do. Consider another super hero who is an archetype of a good guy and also pretty lame as a civilian: Captain America. That is how you make a Superman movie. You don’t shy away from the cheesiness and the earnestness. You lean into it. You don’t make a Superman movie where he is petty and mean and violent. You make him the Boy Scout. You look back at the Richard Donner movie and rather than copying it directly (I’m looking at you Superman Returns), you take the mood and run with it. Make Clark Kent nerdy and annoying. Make Superman the best possible person.And then when a bad guy pushes him to the limit and he has to be cruel or violent or kick someone into the sun, it will mean something. It won’t just be a jerk character continuing to be a jerk, it will be this Boy Scout pushed so far he has to react
Also, sort out Lois Lane. She’s a character, too, not just someone who needs to stand around pointing out how awesome Superman is. In fact, forget everything I just wrote. Make a Lois Lane movie. Superman’s played out. Lois Lane is the future.