The Superman Problem

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!

ChAzJS

 

The State of DC

Yesterday I saw a poster released for the upcoming “Birds of Prey” movie and was reminded that the film is a thing, and that DC’s Joker film isn’t the only project they have in the pipeline. On top of Birds of Prey, they have Wonder Woman 1984 and a reboot of sorts to the Suicide Squad franchise, with a Batman reboot somewhere as well. 

They have previously dropped Man of Steel, where they gave us an awesome Superman in Henry Cavill. The fact there was no real structure around his film to build a wider universe on didn’t put off the executives from wanting to have their own Cinematic Universe based on it, and the leaderless DCEU was born. Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League followed to varying degrees of success, before Shazam and Aquaman sort of steadied the ship by being very okay.

Crucially, they botched Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad was a colourful mess. Fun to look at but no real substance to it, DC had fumbled the ball. This was all happening in a time when Marvel was building towards Infinity war and in the same year as Justice League, released Guardians 2, Spiderman Homecoming and Thor Ragnarok.

If done right in with the state of pop culture today, Justice League should be the biggest film in the world. It should be earning billions. It earned $657 million. That’s on a hefty budget for both production and marketing, meaning they earned very little on their biggest film. for context, all three of the marvel films earned around $200 million more than that, on smaller budgets.

This sent Warner Bros and DC into a panic of green lighting and then cancelling and delaying and re organising and just generally in a tizzy trying to figure out what went wrong. Well I could write forever on what went wrong, and I probably will one day, but I am wondering if they’re finally organised, or if they are still spinning out of control.

They have Joker releasing in a few weeks’ time, and it appears it is going to be a critical darling and a huge success in terms of quality, Box office will probably be decent if not spectacular. I have written about that film enough; I am excited and hopefully is a sign of DC allowing the film makers they hire to take their properties and make something they want with them rather than the designed by committee feel Justice League had.

Following that we have Birds of Prey coming out next February, starring Margot Robbie reprising her role as Harley Quinn. She was one of the better parts of Suicide Squad, and I am glad they kept a talent like her, but I have no idea what this film is. Harley Quinn without the joker took years in the comics, and here we have her already out on her own, with Jared Leto’s Joker nowhere to be seen from what I can tell. I am guessing a trailer isn’t far off, so perhaps by the next time I write I will have some idea what this film’s going to be. The lead is talented, and Ewan McGregor is in it as the antagonist, so the tools are there for a solid movie, I just have no idea what to expect.

Next June is the most hopeful I am for DC, as Wonder Woman 1984 hits theatres. The first film was good. Gal Gadot has been the shining light for DC and it seems like they’re positioning her at the centre of their universe, if there is still a universe. The poster for this film is a piece of art, and if the film can build on the success of the first, we could be on for a great film.

Beyond that, we have a Batman reboot. The reign of Batfleck is over, and to be honest I was disappointed Ben Affleck never got to show what he could do with the character in a solo film. He has immense talent for directing and acting, and I can’t help but feel it was a wasted opportunity not utilising those while they had him there. Robert Pattinson has taken on the mantle, and Matt Reeves is directing. Reeves directed the two most recent Planet of the Apes films, which were both fun and serious action films. That style and tone could translate well to a Batman flick, so here’s hoping for a return to form for the character.

After that there is a myriad of films slated, James Gunn is making a Suicide Squad movie, which sounds incredible quite frankly. What he did with Guardians of the Galaxy means I will watch anything he touches now. Shazam and Aquaman are both set for sequels, The Flash movie has been in development for years, The Rock was announced as playing Black Adam years ago but so far there’s been no sign of that, and then we have a potential Batgirl film. Oh, and a horror film called The Trench, based on the trench Aquaman dives down in his solo film.

All these individual films sound fun, what’s missing is any obvious connecting tissue. I am assuming that the plan is still to build a Universe that can eventually lead to another Justice League film. Right now, there is no team up movie to connect everything together in the pipeline, and maybe that is intentional. Perhaps they want to focus on the current slate and get each individual character’s film right before trying to bring them together. It was rushed before, that much is obvious, and in their haste to catch up to Marvel they tripped and fell on their faces.

I genuinely hope that all these upcoming films shock me and are brilliant, my fear is that so far, they haven’t made a single film that’s been there for me. They do have a chance now though, especially with Marvel having essentially capped off their MCU for the time being and will be focusing on new characters and ones we haven’t quite got the same connection to like Dr Strange. They’ve lost Iron Man and Cap, the heads of the MCU, and Spiderman is unlikely to be returning.

DC have all their toys, they have time, and they could step up and be the next big franchise. Here’s hoping they can get it right this time.

ChAzJS