He had a kid, once. It was a few years ago, in Bryan Singer’s inert flick, and everyone involved has surely forgotten it by now. Or at least tried to.
But I found myself thinking about it over the weekend, thanks to some news about the upcoming Superman flick, and a need to shoehorn my take on that news – and other Superman-related thoughts – into a blog about that’s primarily about being a father…
It broke late Sunday: Amy Adams has been cast as Lois Lane in Zack Snyder’s upcoming Superman movie, tentatitively titled Superman: Man of Steel. Love the title. Don’t have any problem with Englishman Henry Cavill being cast in the title role. Very happy this Superman is an adult (though I wish we could’ve had this 5+ years ago with Jon Hamm as the Man of Tomorrow). And I’m definitely excited to see a “new” take on the myth, free from Richard Donner’s cinematically-definitive rendering from the 70s.
But I have some misgivings.
I’m not a big fan of Zack Snyder snagging the director’s chair. So far he seems to be an empty-headed stylist with a flair for action and a tendency to go to slo-mo. Granted, he looks to have the chops to pull off some exciting and flashy action set pieces for Man of Steel, something desperately needed after Bryan Singer’s somber, dull Superman Returns. I just worry that he won’t find the substance the character needs to really resonate. I’m not going to defend Superman as a worthwhile subject – everyone thinks the Big Blue Boy Scout is unrelatable because he’s so invincible, but I disagree. But that’s a longer discussion and, regardless, I hope Snyder can put something on screen aside from mere Michael Bay-esque explosions. (ETA: I actually added a few paragraphs defending Superman as a worthwhile subject down below. Couldn’t help myself!)
I’m also not a big fan of the Adams casting. Her role in The Fighter notwithstanding, I just don’t think she has the moxie to play Lois Lane. I may be guilty of typecasting – and I would be thrilled to be wrong – but she just seems too wide-eyed to play the intelligent, stubborn, steely reporter. I don’t have a list of replacements in mind, but I think Rachel McAdams or even Emily Blunt are actresses that have the right mix of smarts, toughness and maturity for the role. But at least Adams isn’t a twenty-something waif like Kate Bosworth.
Now, back to the parenting stuff. Superman-style!
One of my many problems with Superman Returns was Singer’s decision to have the new movie follow up on Donner’s first two flicks (one and a half, really, if you want to count Richard Lester’s boneheaded contributions). But it might have worked, especially since he kept the incredible theme song. More questionable was Singer’s decision to give Superman a super son. Giving the character a son isn’t without its possibilities, but none of them were explored in Returns. The scenes in the movie featuring the precocious little moppet tossing around pianos and escaping dunder-headed henchmen are terrible and unnecessary. Plus, the kid practically looked older than Brandon Routh.
But what if Superman had had a son that wasn’t super? Not only is the idea of the invincible, God-like Superman having a vulnerable, fully-human son rife with dramatic tension, Singer’s decision to use Donner’s flicks as his backstory allowed for the perfect loophole to make it happen. In Superman II, when Superman slept with Lois, he wasn’t even super himself! Deftly side-stepping any issues surrounding super-sperm, the plot of Superman II has Superman stepping into a molecular chamber that strips him of his powers, which he sacrifices so that he can live a human life with Lois. Their relationship was consummated when he was Clark Kent and only Clark Kent. Which means any resulting spawn would logically be just as 100% human as he was at the time of conception.
Upon his return in Singer’s movie, Superman learns about this son. Had the son been human, my idea for the sequel would have involved Superman’s kid getting killed, or at least targeted and endangered, by the villain, thus both giving Supes an intense moral dilemma (Is revenge acceptable? Can I put my son’s life above everyone else’s?) and unleashing an angry, aggressive Superman that the world has never seen! Not only does that idea allow for some hardcore action sequences, but it explores a side of the superhero that anyone who doesn’t read the comics hasn’t been privy too. And any red kryptonite sequences on the execrable “Smallville” don’t count. The closest the movies have come were the grief-stricken earth-rewind in the first movie, and the pseudo-red kryptonite-driven bender in Superman III. But that was almost a comedy.
I understand the issues with this direction: People are reticent to toy with the character too much. But I’m not talking about going all Tim Burton/Nicholas Cage here. People might not like an angry Man of Steel. And maybe it’s not such great timing for the widely hated United States (Thanks W!) to unleash an angry, vengeful icon on the rest of the world; gotta keep an eye on that the worldwide box office! Plus, some people might think an angry, tortured Supes is too “Batman” for their tastes; although, if we’re worrying about box office, aping Batman doesn’t seem such a bad idea.
I personally think that Superman need not be as bland as his detractors think. Yes, he’s often depicted as too powerful to endanger; yes, he’s often depicted as too “good” to be interesting. The powerless thing has been done – via Kryptonite, via the molecular chamber, etc. – but we haven’t often seen a morally compromised Superman. Maybe people don’t want to see that. Maybe people don’t like the idea of Superman going ballistic after his son is murdered. But make up your mind! Either he’s boring or he’s not. Why not test the character a bit – see how far he can be stretched before bouncing back. Don’t murder his son, just let Superman think he’s been murdered. Let Superman’s vengeance wreak such havoc that he’s no longer the hero everyone’s been used to. And then let him redeem himself.
Besides, if you’re looking for ways to make his story current and to make it resonate with a post-9/11 world, I just wrote it for you. Putting on screen a Superman who’s lost his way only to eventually find redemption might be just the kick in the pants America needs to get back on the right track (assuming our leadership takes its cues from the latest summer blockbusters, of course. It’s better than listening to Cheney!). Or we could always just have Superman annihilate the Tea Party. I’m open to both suggestions.
Unfortunately, of course, taking Superman in a new direction in general, and via a non-super son specifically, was all totally ignored in favor of the cutesy Superboy idea. Because that sells tickets. Except it didn’t (at least not in the U.S.) and Bryan Singer lost the franchise to Zack Snyder. Now we are face, once again, with yet another few years of anticipation that will likely end in disappointment. But here’s hoping Snyder, and his cast, can pull it off.
I’d love to have a great new Superman flick to share with my son! But I’ll gladly just force him to watch the first two with me. Over and over and over.