Sometimes, twitter will surprise you in a good way and not in a ‘oh so some people don’t understand/willfully misunderstand that blackface is bad’ way.
Apparently DC is struggling to make Superman ‘relevant’ to modern audiences and to my delight, my timeline was flooded with people who all had takes along the lines of ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
Because I agree.
NO REALLY- DC FILMS HOW ARE YOU SO BAD AT THIS?!
In what kind of backwards ass world do you look at a hero whose story revolves around an immigrant, a refugee, who is sent to live with adoptive parents, who works as an investigative journalist and whose main villain is a hyper rich CEO.
I mean, remember in the first Superman movie where Lex Luthor was an evil real estate mogul?
Hurts doesn’t it?
Superman is so painfully relevant to the here and now it’s ridiculous. The fact it needs explaining is pretty troubling in a way. This isn’t difficult- even leaving out the dozens of people who came up with a great outline for a classic Superman story that works perfectly for being both contemporary and inspiring. There’s comics from every decade all the way back to the thirties and, I cannot emphasize this enough three different TV shows which manage to make Superman both relevant and inspiring.
To my mind, you need a few key ingredients.
Lois Lane and Jon Kent
One thing every Superman story needs is Lois Lane, a natural cynic whose bravery is mismatched to her comparatively frail body- she compares and contrasts Clark Kent and Superman perfectly. You always need her there. I’m not just saying that because she’s my girl and I love her and I clearly have a thing for superhero girlfriends- you need Lois Lane in a Superman story. You just do. Always.
Dan Jurgens, the writer behind Death of Superman, also recently wrote the storyline introducing Jon Kent- the son of Superman and Lois Lane. He’s the perfect way to humanise him, even if you leave out the refugee and journalist aspects of his story.
Watch the CW’s versions of Clark Kent and Kara Danvers
I actually feel a little bad for dunking on this unnamed source from DC films- or I would if CW’s Supergirl show wasn’t doing a really definitive modern version of not only Superman, but also Supergirl. Or the comics hadn’t given him a family and making him a loving father was only adding to his long established role as a symbol of hope and optimism.
Neil Gaiman’s take stands out– though it was echoed by others- he shouldn’t be ‘relevant’, he should be inspiring. I would argue you could be both, but Superman is currently already both and has been both on at least three different TV shows from the last thirty years. Jesus Christ, this isn’t difficult, just-
MAKE HIM A DECENT PERSON YOU ABSOLUTE SLICE
A couple of years ago I went to a screening of Superman at the Prince Charles cinema in London (please go if you have the chance, it’s an AMAZING venue- also they do audience participation screenings of The Room). Watching this, it occurred to me that a) Christopher Reeve was fucking incredible at both roles and b) they made the fact he’s a decent person trying his best in a cynical world the main focus of the whole thing. Both aspects were the best move they could’ve made frankly and its why, despite being pretty flabby and bizarre in places, it’s overall probably one of the best superhero movies ever made.
(Also Margot Kidder was the perfect Lois Lane. Between her and Carrie Fisher, in the last couple of years we lost two women who had to survive some of the worst sexism and misogyny seventies Hollywood had to offer. We as a society and the entertainment industry need to make sure that this never happens to anyone else).
One woman’s opinion obviously, but making Clark Kent sweet, funny, kind, but brave and unwilling to take nonsense from bullies and the powerful is a good start. Pursuing stories of corruption and greed and exposing wrong doers. Getting him to drink his respect women juice. MAKE HIM A DAD.
Oh I’m sorry, did I describe this version of Superman?!
Of course this all boils down to the particularly Snyder inspired version of Superman in Man of Steel. My relationship with that movie and with its sequel is complicated, but in summation- both movies are very frustrating to me.
Clark Kent is NOT DOCTOR MANHATTAN ZACK
I like Snyder as a director. He’s got a very distinct visual style and a very distinct vision- but it doesn’t work with Superman. I think he knew that going in, which is why Man of Steel was a… mixed bag to say the least and BvS was um… how to say this charitably?
Kind of a mess.
Watchmen has a lot to answer for- the comic and the movie adaptation, not the TV show. Which is really great.
That’s not to say I hated Man of Steel or its sequel- Henry Cavill is a perfect Superman and an even better Clark Kent. He was such a good choice and I really hope he gets another shot. He’s said recently that he wants to have another go and he deserves it. I want to see him get to have a proper go as a good version of Superman.
One who isn’t just original flavour Doctor Manhattan. AHEM.
Therein lies the problem- Snyder was a good choice for Batman, but that’s entirely the wrong approach for Superman. Hell, if Snyder had wanted to just adapt Dark Knight Returns, he should have been able to do just that. Have it be a stand alone adaptation, not part of a wider shared universe. Starting something with ‘everything is dour and sad’ is… not a great idea? It can work, but I am not sure it was ever a good idea to do it with SUPERMAN.
On my world, it means ‘hope’
He’s a beacon of hope, he’s the beacon of hope. The whole thing about the ‘S’ meaning ‘hope’ is becoming a cliche at this point- so just lean into it? I mean, I don’t go to a Superman movie demanding ‘realism’. I’m watching a movie about a guy who can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes. Who has X-ray vision and freeze breath. It makes sense with Batman, I guess, but Superman is not Batman.
Of course, it seems to us- film and comic book nerds- that this is a no brainer, so why is this so hard to grasp for people who are being paid to make a Superman movie?
Well. I have a theory.
Obviously, this is purely speculation on my part, but if I were to hazard a guess- I’m thinking higher ups at DC’s film department can’t see past the high numbers for the Nolan Batman films over a decade ago and the recent success of Joker. Plus, despite Suicide Squad being fun but a kind of, uh, basic mall goth movie in the way Queen of the Damned was (no judgement from me, I was that basic back in 2002) did make money, though clearly not enough since its being rebooted with James Gunn directing.
DC is getting better
But it seems they really cannot get past this one size fits all, perhaps because they feel they have to be different to Marvel or perhaps because they really think they can ride out this current need for like… superheroes to be decent people?
Even when Wonder Woman made critical and box office bank because, despite the tragedy in that story, Diana doesn’t turn dark, she reaffirms that humanity- for all its flaws- is good at heart and deserves to be saved.
Shazam was pitch dark in some spots (the unworthy touching the door, the boardroom scene, Billy finally meeting his birth mother)- but its core message was about finding a supportive and loving family who have your back no matter how terrible things get.
It sucks that movie didn’t do as well as it deserved* because it is, in my humble opinion, the best movie of the DCEU so far. It’s a masterpiece. That should have been a learning moment for DC films- the ending especially. Luckily, it made enough of a critical success so we’re getting a sequel! Phew!
Aquaman is a colourful, OTT rainbow spectacle, as it should be. Who wants to see a gritty version of AQUAMAN?!
It also made BANK, which helps.
Let’s hope someone gets their act together before Henry Cavill gives up and chucks in the cape
That’d be a real shame. He deserves a movie where he plays a good version of Superman.
DC films call me- or like, someone on my twitter TL because this is really really obvious. If you cannot see why Superman is not only relevant, but vital, in 2019 and beyond then… well. It explains basically everything.
*If they had released it as a Christmas movie which it is then that might have helped.
I’m a thirty something British nerd-mum and wannabe author, fueled by tea, poor decision making and a need to be distracted. Cursed to watch favourite characters die and ships sink.