ComingSoon.net has posted some interesting news about the development of the next Superman movie. Comic book writer Mark Millar (Wanted) has been spouting off recently about approaching Warner Brothers with a cinematic re-invention of the world’s most famous superhero. It seemed odd, given that only a couple months ago Bryan Singer confirmed he was developing a sequel to Superman Returns. Nevertheless, Millar apparently has a big-time director and producer in his corner, and he’s talking somewhat confidently about a 2011 release date. Hey, Bryan, when you read this, could you drop me a line so we can get it all straightened out? Thanks.
Millar’s take is apparently a reinvention of the character, so we can assume he wouldn’t be picking up Singer’s continuity, and even though Superman Returns was pretty awful, that seems like a shame. Do we really want to live in a world where conceived franchises are abandoned part-way through and restarted from scratch? I guess The Incredible Hulk may have started the trend (if a trend it is), but at least Ang Lee’s first Hulk movie told a complete story. Superman Returns felt very much like the first act of a multi-part story, and that’s partially why it didn’t hang together very well.
So, what did and didn’t work in Superman Returns, and could that continuity be saved?
1. Kickin’ It Old School. Despite a couple cringeworthy installments, the Christopher Reeves movies are fondly remembered, and Singer deserves props for resisting the urge to re-invent the world established by Richard Donner. Nobody wanted to see Superman sporting black leather, or the Daily Planet transformed into a multi-media website, or Lois Lane re-imagined as a scrappy Sudanese refugee. Speaking for a couple generations who grew up on those old movies, we’ll take our icons intact, thank you. On that front, Singer delivered. In fact, the most thrilling part of Superman Returns was the nostalgic opening credit sequence (faint praise, maybe, but true).
2. Brandon Routh. This poor guy took a lot of flack for not being Christopher Reeves reincarnated, but Routh did a bang-up job as Clark Kent. He was less memorable as Supes, but that was a direct result of the problematic script (see below). I’d like to see Routh get another shot at the character.
3. Lonely at the Top Syndrome. Call me a sucker, but I love all that junk about mankind crying out for a savior, and the lonely figure hovering forlornly over a world that is not his own. Singer explored the “last son of Krypton” angle in a melancholy way the earlier movies only hinted at. Not only did it lend a little complexity to the character, it made Superman sympathetic without giving him a weakness (a neat trick).
1. Reversing the Crush. An entire post could be devoted to this subject, with all sorts of caveats tacked on, but I’m going to boil it down to the essence. The traditional arrangement has Lois pining for the Man of Steel, and him unable to reciprocate. Reversing this arrangement was a huge error, emasculating a hero defined by his masculinity. Having him mope around like some emo-afflicted schoolboy only worsened things.
2. Inaction Comics. It’s a common complaint, but there simply wasn’t enough POW! in this flick. We all kept waiting for Superman to get his smack on, and instead he wandered around like an overqualified tour guide setting up various plotlines. The most exciting sequence occurred early on (saving the space shuttle), and after that we got nothin’.
3. Killing Me Softly. Why do Superman movies tend toward such mundane villains? Here we have the most powerful hero in all of comicdom, and his nemeses are always embroiled in real-estate chicanery, bank fraud, and political skullduggery. With the exception of the pretty-good Superman II and the execrable Superman IV, cinematic Superman has never faced anyone who could give him a run for his money.
4. The Kid. Perhaps the most compelling reason to continue Singer’s franchise is to find out what the hell they were thinking when they introduced Superbaby. There had to be a reason, and the only good one I can think of involves a bloody little corpse.
So there you have it. The bad doesn’t outweigh the good by all that much, and a smart writer could easily rectify all the problems in a sequel that continued Singer’s franchise.
My vote? Back off, Millar. Singer may have stumbled with the first installment, but the guy has shown he can bring good stuff to the table. Wait it out and let’s see where he’s going.