Man of Steel is out, it’s a hit, and the sequel is on the fast-track. For everything I liked about the movie, I felt it was a bit of a letdown. I’ve heard from multiple people, including our own Steve Weintraub, that Man of Steel is the Superman movie they’ve always wanted to see. When it comes to the action, I can agree with that assessment. But when it comes to the character—the man in the suit—I felt he was absent from almost the entire movie. I can respect director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer‘s attempt to find a new perspective on the character and slightly reinventing the origin story to do so. Origin stories are tough because it’s about working towards the character people know and love. You can kind of see that Superman at the end of Man of Steel, although I don’t know how he got there.
In any case, it looks like they’ve arrived, and I’m interested in where the sequel will take the Man of Tomorrow. After the jump, I’ve listed five things I’d like to see in Man of Steel 2. [Warning: spoilers ahead.]
The Blue Boy Scout
I like the corny side of superheroes. In an attempt to “ground” superheroes, the light, fun aspects get left behind in an attempt for brooding, inner conflict. This works some of the time, most notably with Batman. It’s easy to find the drama in a character forged in the death of his parents. Superman is the inverse. Even though Krypton dies, it lives on in Superman (whereas Bruce Wayne basically died the night his parents were murdered, and was reborn as Batman).
Snyder and Goyer found a good way to find a strong conflict in Man of Steel by placing Superman in between the beliefs of Jor-El and Jonathan Kent. But since that’s reconciled at the end of the movie (he’s going to come out to the world), where does the character go from there? He seems to be at peace, found his purpose in life, and there seems to be a confidence in his powers and his relationship to humanity. That confidence should lead to the ability to tackle challenges both great and small. He can rescue a cat in a tree just as easily as he can rescue a falling spaceship, and he should do both.
That’s what makes Superman an inspiration. Fights make for great spectacle, but if you’re going to cast Superman as a savior, he needs to do more saving outside of a smackdown. We should be motivated to help each other, and Superman’s good for that too. He’s a great defender, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as being a great leader. If he’s going to help humanity “accomplish wonders”, then it should be both locally and globally, and not confined to hitting bad guys.
Lex Luthor’s Fear and Ego
Lex Luthor is almost required for the sequel. Even though he’s not necessarily Superman’s toughest foe, he’s the most notable, and the two have an interesting relationship assuming it’s played correctly. The boring Luthor is the one who’s simply jealous of Superman, and gets annoyed when Superman spoils eeeeevil plans. The more interesting Luthor is the one who has a legitimate qualm with Superman: thank goodness he’s on our side…for now. It’s too much power for one man to have, and we have no defense if Superman ever becomes our enemy.
It’s a reaction coming from a place of fear, and of course, there’s Luthor’s massive ego, which is a result of his daunting intellect. He sees himself as humanity’s savior, and he’s actually human as opposed to an outsider. Remember, the best villains are the ones who think they’re the heroes. That’s why Zod was interesting in Man of Steel. You could see where he was coming from even if his beliefs were clearly wrong. The tougher step is trying to get the audience to not only acknowledge the villain’s beliefs, but to seriously consider them.
The People’s Superman
One of my big problems with Man of Steel is that it never delivers on the goal it sets up: how will humanity react to Superman? Will they embrace him like Jor-El believes, or will they reject him like Jonathan Kent believes? We never find out. We see them run from the destruction, and we see the military’s paranoia, but there’s almost no interaction between Superman and the common citizen. When a group of random people finally do see Superman, it’s him snapping Zod’s neck and then screaming at the heavens. If you saw this and didn’t know anything that had come before, you would be absolutely terrified of Superman.
I have to imagine that the question will continue to hang heavy over Man of Steel 2. As @BrianLynch pointed out on Twitter last night, “MAN OF STEEL 2 should begin with Lex Luthor paying to rebuild everything Superman destroyed.” It not only sets up a good conflict, but it also emphasizes that Superman has a long way to go in earning humanity’s trust. How he goes about earning that trust remains to be seen. Lois Lane can only write so many glowing front page stories.
The Clark Kent Costume
I like that Man of Steel comes to the conclusion that the real costume Kal-El has to wear isn’t the Superman suit, but the Clark Kent look that symbolizes his acceptance of his place in the world. It’s not just a barrier designed to mislead those who would reject him. However, it can provide a barrier to the audience’s acceptance of the character. Because Man of Steel is so intent on creating a “realistic” perception of Superman, it will run up against the problem of Superman looking like Clark Kent but without glasses, and no one acknowledging this flimsy disguise.
The film “solved” the problem for now by having Lois aware that Clark is actually Superman, and there’s no reason why anyone else would know it. But if Superman is going to have a closer relationship to humanity, then he has to be ready for his close-up. In the comic Superman: Birthright, writer Mark Waid attempted to solve the problem by saying that Clark Kent wasn’t just an outfit, but a crucial performance. He couldn’t just be the bumbling, endearing Christopher Reeve act; Kal-El needed to be forgettable and sink into the background. He had to be the nice guy whose name you couldn’t remember. Even then, it’s difficult to mask the physique and facial features, and the audience will have to be good sports and suspend their disbelief. But if they’re willing to believe that the Daily Planet will hire a guy who has no journalism background, references, or a portfolio, the Clark Kent costume shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Welcome to the Planets
Circling back to Luthor, the big problem he presents is that he doesn’t inherently have the superpowers required to top or even match the fight scenes from Man of Steel. In some of the comics he has a power-suit, but his destruction is usually from autonomous machines he creates or environmental plans he devises. They can still make for exciting set pieces, but Man of Steel has set the tone in two important ways. First, Superman needs things he can punch and those things will punch back. Second, he’s an alien, so can you keep him earthbound? He’s been welcomed to the planet, but does that mean leaving behind everything else? Does a rejection of Zod and Krypton mean a rejection of everything beyond Earth?
Superman can go anywhere he wants, and if the filmmakers want to up the stakes, then Luthor might be too small fry or he’ll have to join with a much bigger foe like Brainiac. That team-up could definitely be a formidable threat, but it’s important to always keep the focus on Superman’s growth as a character. I have no doubt that Snyder can handle the action scenes, but I believe the heart of the sequel should be furthering Superman’s relationship with humanity and doing so through kindness, nobility, and honor.
Because Snyder and Goyer have forged a fresh new direction for Superman, they’re going to have to start finding the path by walking it. That’s exciting and daunting. I’m sure some of you are looking over my list and thinking I’m being too traditional, and to an extent that’s true. I believe there are core values to Superman and the further you stray from them, the less identifiable the character. Think back to Daredevil (and no, I’m not comparing the overall quality to the clearly superior Man of Steel). In Mark Steven Johnson‘s adaptation, the character behaves like The Punisher. It’s clearly not Daredevil from the comics even though he has the suit, the weapons, the abilities, and the foes. Superman has gone through countless behaviors through the decades, but we know what makes him special. The best, most iconic characters have defining attributes. That’s why a site like Superdickery (http://superdickery.com/) is so entertaining—it presents a Superman completely contrary to a general consensus of the character’s behavior.
But again, Man of Steel has taken the Last Son of Krypton in a bold new direction, and when it came to the beats of the film’s origin story, I was intrigued. It’s a difficult balance between being overly familiar and respectfully traditional, and I don’t envy Snyder and Goyer for what they have to accomplish. But I’m eager to see what it will be even if it doesn’t match up with my expectations. Sometimes the best things are the ones you didn’t know you wanted.
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