We now know who is going to be directing Superman. Zack Snyder, the visual mastermind behind 300 and Watchmen is going to bring the last son of Krypton to the big screen. So, is this super news or will this prove to be Superman’s cinematic Kryptonite?
BUT FIRST, A BIT OF BACKGROUND
To really show why Zack Snyder is a good thing, first we need to show what Superman’s history has been like. Let’s be honest about Big Blue’s history in Hollywood. Its been a rough road for him. Even since the first Superman movie his film exploits have been plagued with troubles. Richard Donner was fired before he could finish Superman II, which led to that film being a compromised mess. Richard Pryor helping to turn Superman III into a comedic, campy mess. Superman IV being…well, Superman IV. Then we move into the period where WB had no clue what to do with the character. Remember when Tim Burton was going to direct a Superman who wore all black, whose S shield turned into throwing knives, who couldn’t fly and had a Fortress of Solitude guarded by polar bears? Oh and Brainiac would get into a fight with the polar bears. He’d also have a gay robot sidekick. Just…watch this. Its horrifying how much WB just didn’t get it.
Also during this period we got such wonderful ideas as Superman having a super car and Superman getting killed and then having his soul impregnate Lois Lane, who would then give birth to the new Superman. I…ladies and gentlemen, I have no words. And the best ideas of the time came from J.J. Abrams, who proposed a Superman who came from a non-destroyed Krypton, who was destined to save the planet with kung-fu moves and fight a Lex Luthor who was a CIA agent/secret Kryptonian spy. Its like, come on guys! This is the best you can come up with!
And then came Bryan Singer.
The guy who made X-Men. The guy who resurrected the superhero genre after the disaster that was Batman and Robin. The guy who brought care and subtlety and nuance to superheroes. This guy wants to make a Superman movie? Heck yeah! And he wants to make it a sequel to the first two Superman movies? Double heck yeah! And he…wants to have Superman missing for five years because he ditched the planet to find out if Krypton was really destroyed? Heck…wait, what? And he wants Lois to be dating Cyclops and have a kid with him? Um…wait…this is…And he wants Lex to enact another wacky land scheme? No…no, Bryan, look, this is…And he wants Superman to get into zero fights and have the final confrontation be lifting a giant rock? Bryan, stop. This isn’t going to work. Its…And the kid turns out to be Superman’s kid from when he slept with Lois right before he left? Alright. I’m out. You done goofed Bryan.
Yes, the Superman movie we eventually got was…less than fantastic. The plot made no sense. It was dull, dour and depressing. It featured a Superman who felt it was a burden to be Superman. It had zero exciting action. It was just a depressing mess, especially for fans who waited excitedly for 20 years to get a new Superman movie. To come out of the theater after seeing…that…to know that what you just saw was what you were waiting 20 years for…that must have hurt. Singer promised to up the action levels and fix the film’s narrative problems in a sequel, but by 2008 it was looking less and less likely that he would get that chance.
So now let’s fast forward to now. We have a reboot being produced by Christopher Nolan and written by David Goyer. Those are the guys that made Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, in case you didn’t know. And last night we heard that Zack Snyder is in the director’s chair. With all the struggles that Superman has endured in his film adaptation career, does this news signal good things for the granddaddy of all superheroes?
WHY THIS COULD BE A GOOD THING
Action Comics. I want you to remember that title. That is the first comic book Superman ever appeared in. Note the key word in that title. Action. This is what all Superman films have been severely lacking. The best fight we’ve had is the Superman Vs. Phantom Zone criminals fight in Superman II. And…let’s just say it hasn’t held up all that well. With Zack Snyder taking control of this thing, action is going to be up front and awesome. Remember 300? Yeah you do. Thousands of guys getting chopped up, charging rhinos, arrows flying everywhere, that movie did as much with a Spartan army as you possibly could. Not only that, but it did it in a fantastically stylized manner. 300 just plain looked cool. The colors stood out. The characters were stylized. There was nothing muted about it. Compare that to Superman Returns. Everything seemed to be shot through a muddy filter that made all the colors look less…well, colorful. Superman’s cape looked damn near brown. With Snyder in charge we’re at least going to get a visual spectacle.
Another big plus is that Snyder loves staying as close to the source as possible. 300 is pretty much a shot for shot recreation of Frank Miller’s comic. In fact, not only did it keep everything from the comic in tact, it added things to the story. And let’s not forget his expert handling of Watchmen. Yes, the giant psychic squid wasn’t in there. And Tom Bombadil wasn’t in Lord of the Rings. Some things are, unfortunately, unavoidable. But look at all the stuff he did keep. It is a thousand times more faithful than I ever thought a live action Watchmen movie could be. In fact, like 300 before it, some scenes are lifted directly from the comic. And may I remind you that Watchmen, unlike 300, is a 12 issue miniseries. A miniseries that many thought unfilmable because there was so much content in it that would need to be translated into the film. Well, Snyder somehow managed to take most of it and put it up on the screen.
So what does all that mean for Superman? Well, I don’t think we’re gonna get Jason the Super Asthmatic Bastard Love Child this time. Harsh words, but true. The Superman character was completely misunderstood in the last movie. Superman wouldn’t just leave Earth. He wouldn’t do that to Lois. He wouldn’t just have sex with her and ditch her. That’s not the character I read. And in regards to the older movies Superman has evolved a lot since 1978. Clark Kent is much more than just a bumbling disguise now. Clark is the fleshed out human being who created the identity of Superman to give himself an outlet to use his powers in public. Lois is more than a damsel in distress, having been turned into a tough, confident woman who isn’t love struck with Superman. Lex has probably had the biggest change in the comics. He’s the most powerful man in Metropolis before Superman comes onto the scene. A man of business who pretty much created the city as it is today, he secretly hides his crimes behind the guise of a charitable businessman. I’d expect Snyder to stay faithful to the comics in terms of these modern takes on the characters. He knows that in order to successfully adapt something, you take what works already and make it work on the big screen.
So as just a taste of what I’m talking about, I present you with the opening credits of Watchmen. I love these credits. The song, the imagery, the style, its just got everything I want in a superhero movie. If Snyder brings this type of thing to a new Superman movie, then we’re in good hands here.
WHY THIS COULD BE A BAD THING
Honestly, for me, this part is harder to write. I’m excited that Snyder is on board this project. However, there are things that make me stop and pause for a moment. Speaking of stopping and pausing, the very thing that gives Snyder his advantages may also be the thing that hinders him. His signature style, the slow-mo-fast-mo-slow-mo thing has begun to grate on people. Now I personally don’t have anything against slow-mo. Its a neat device to be used to highlight a scene of intense action. But when it happens every… single… time… that… something… happens… it… begins… to… irritate… me.
What could be an even bigger source of trouble are some comments made by Snyder about Superman. Snyder has previously commented on how hard it would be to transition Superman to a modern setting. And I quote, “They asked me to direct a Superman movie, and I said no…He’s a tricky one nowadays, isn’t he? He’s the king daddy of all comic-book heroes, but I’m just not sure how you sell that kind of earnestness to a sophisticated audience anymore.” This is definitely worrisome. Here he is, right out in the open, saying that he doesn’t know how to make the character of Superman work in a modern setting. They guy who was just hired to bring Superman into a modern setting, saying that he doesn’t know how to bring Superman into a modern setting. Yikes. And of course these views reflect the views of the multitude of Superman haters out there. Oh, he’s too powerful. He’s too perfect. He’s too good. Is this really the type of person that we want to give the keys to the Superman kingdom to? To a guy who doesn’t even understand how to maintain that kingdom?
Then again, I could be looking at this all wrong. Maybe what we need right now is a guy who can see the cracks in the character. Older characters do need updating from time to time after all. Green Arrow became a liberal crusader, Aquaman got all badass with a flowing beard and a hook hand, Wonder Woman embraced her Greek mythology roots and Batman became the Dark Knight once again. And like I was talking about earlier, Superman did grow in the 80s. We just have yet to see a Superman movie reflect those changes and updates. Maybe this time Snyder can bring an outside perspective to things.
WHY NONE OF THIS REALLY MATTERS
Chris Nolan and David Goyer are in charge of the story here. Zack Snyder has just been brought in to provide the visuals. What really matters, the story, the characters, those are all in the minds of Goyer and Nolan. And remember, Nolan made Dark Knight, the most successful superhero movie ever. He obviously knows how to make these things work. DC and WB pretty much trust him completely. And honestly, we probably should too. Nolan has so far never given us a reason to doubt him. With him in charge of quality control, Goyer in charge of story and Snyder in charge of visual interpretation, I honestly don’t know how they can screw this thing up.