Late last week a few stories broke about DC not being entirely sure how to use Superman in their films. It’s a revelation that will shock very few, considering they’ve not touched the man of steel since Batman V Superman and Justice League where he was mishandled and used in odd ways. I think DC have been making some good moves lately, but their handling of Superman has shown they don’t understand what they have with the character.
The character that started the Superhero film genre in the 70’s couldn’t catch a break in the 2010’s and has nothing planned for the 2020’s. Henry Cavill looks the part, and even acts the part superbly, but DC seem hesitant to go forward with anything involving the Kryptonian.
The age-old problem people immediately put forward with Superman is that he’s impervious to everything except a green rock, which is true, he is overpowered. That does not make it hard for him to be compelling though. One of the most interesting aspects of the character for me is not that he’s a godlike figure, but that he struggles to fit in anywhere.
He knows he doesn’t fit in with the people around him, but he’s grown up as one of them and lives among them. He loves a human woman, he has human friends, a normal job, and in all three of those situations he feels uncomfortable. If DC need a little bit of inspiration, they should watch Kill Bill 2, where Bill talks about superman.
“When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent”
Man, of Steel did not take this angle, it made superman a reluctant hero who then had to step up into the role. To me, being Superman was always the easy part for the character. Saving people from falling buildings, punching villains, all that jazz is the easy part. The hard part is maintaining his Clark Kent persona. Diving into that side of him is a tough choice though, because it’s the part that doesn’t involve him being a superhero.
From that angle, the challenge with Superman isn’t making him compelling or relevant to audiences but making that fit into a modern superhero film. The action set pieces need agency and stakes, and there is only really two ways to do that with superman. Green rocks or kidnapping the ones he cares about. Of course, we have seen both ideas executed before.
Batman V Superman had the ingredients of a good superman story, the problem with that film stem from the over eagerness of the studio to cram in everyone and catch up to Marvel. They had an interesting Lex Luthor, but he was only a bit part character because they had to get to Batman, and cover Wonder Woman, and bring in doomsday to eventually kill superman. All in one film. It was too much and went beyond ambition into the realms of stupidity. Also, Batman might well kill people, but he’s not got much previous with just annihilating people with rockets and machine guns.
In Lex Luthor, we have an influential billionaire who people can easily find things to hate about. His power is his influence, and to me the dynamic between him and superman could potentially rival the Batman/Joker situation. The Superman film I want to see is Superman struggling with being a human whilst finding stopping super-villains a piece of cake. Then he should deal with facing a real human problem like having his reputation dragged and false stories leaked about him, an enemy he can’t punch or throw around to defeat.
Give Superman a problem that Clark Kent must deal with, then you force him into a position he’s uncomfortable in, and that makes for great drama. DC trying to fit Superman into the universe they have with Wonder Woman and Aquaman probably won’t work this way, as they need him to be even more powerful than those two, who at this point are gods. Maybe they should take a leaf out of the Joker book and make a standalone Superman story that isn’t connected to the rest of the DC Films.
I hope they don’t just bench the character and focus on everything else. I am not even the biggest Superman fan, but the character demands respect, as without his films in the 70s, we wouldn’t have any of these superhero films.
A nerdy one to start the week, probably in reaction to my Sunday which was spent watching NFL and the Premier League. ‘Til Tomorrow!