Ready for a darker, more tormented Superman?

Superman_lPoor Superman. His last movie was a disappointment, and now his DC Comics stablemate Batman is getting all the box office glory. But Warner Bros. has a plan, according to the Wall Street Journal, to reboot the Superman franchise, and its DC superhero properties in general. That plan, in a nutshell: Do what Marvel does. (After all, Marvel didn’t wait around too long to go back to the drawing board with a Hulk reboot.) The two prongs of the plan: First, make a bunch of related movies about individual DC heroes (including Green Arrow, Green Lantern, the Flash, and Wonder Woman), then tie them together with a group tale (the sidelined Justice League of America movie), à la Marvel’s Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers. Second, make the characters all psychologically darker (like Iron Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, Spider-Man, etc., but more importantly, like Warners’ own Batman, as Christian Bale has portrayed him, to great box office success).

Derivative as it is, this is not a bad plan, but can it work for Superman? The Man of Steel is not usually thought of as a brooding, tormented character, but there’s certainly room in his mythology for him to be portrayed that way. David Mamet wrote an essay about 20 years ago emphasizing Superman’s history of psychological damage. He’s an orphan who never knew his real parents or even his birthplace; he loves a woman he can’t really have, everyone he’s close to is consequently a target for his enemies; he’s an immigrant who remains a freak who’ll never be able to fully assimilate (and who finds refuge in the remotest place on Earth); and the only thing that can kill him is literal fragments of his past. Plus, his human disguise — as weak, awkward, clumsy, ineffectual professional bystander Clark Kent — suggests he doesn’t hold humanity in high regard.

Still, do moviegoers even want a dark Superman? We do like our superheroes bleak these days — not just Dark Knight and the Marvel characters, but also Hancock and the forthcoming Watchmen. And we’ve certainly seen Clark himself display plenty of teen angst on Smallville. But moviegoers have almost always gotten a Superman who’s a big blue Boy Scout. There’s certain to be outrage from some quarters if Superman is portrayed as something other than the untroubled, apple-pie defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But I wouldn’t worry; he’s a pretty strong guy. If he bounced back from Superman IV and Superman Returns, he’ll survive this, too.

addCredit(“Brandon Routh in Superman Returns: David James”)

Comments (276 total) Add your comment
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  • GeeMoney

    I wouldn’t watch a dark, brooding Superman… well, maybe I would if it was done right.
    Superman Returns might have been a better film if it wasn’t a complete rip off of the original Superman movie from 1978, and if they didn’t cast Kate Bosworth.
    And I don’t remember Iron Man being dark and brooding. RDJ actually made him kind of sarcastic and funny, as I recall……

  • Roon

    If Warner Bros. was smart, they’d get some of the team that worked on the DC “animated universe” (“Batman: The Animated Series,” “Superman” The Animated Series,” “Justice League,” etc.) to develop scripts for the live action features.
    Those shows were hardly straight kid-stuff, but had a grown-up appeal as well. More importantly, they perfectly captured the right tone for each character.
    Watch some reruns of “Justice League Unlimited” on Boomerang and tell me I’m wrong. It’s not hard to imagine taking some of those story lines and padding them into a feature.

  • GeeMoney

    Not to mention, Brandon Routh looks like a boy scout, too, not all dark and mysterious…. I don’t think I can see him as the brooding type (I don’t think he has the acting range)………????

  • John

    This is such a stupid idea. Try making a great Superman movie first. Get a better Superman and Lois. A villain that Superman could actually have a fight with. Brainiac. Doomsday. Darkseid. No Luthor. No kid.

  • Fletch

    Fact of the matter is that television writers are just plain better than movie writers these days. Will that ever switch back? Who knows! But, honestly, there isn’t a Superman movie they can do right that will beat what they’ve done on “Smallville”.

  • dan

    WB is proving, once again, that they have absolutely no idea how to handle their superhero properties (they got lucky with Chris Nolan). The Dark Knight was successful because it was dark… it was successful because the filmmakers found the tone that best suited a Batman story. For WB to watch Dark Knight and conculde that “people want dark superhero movies” would be like if they watched Titanic and conclude “people want to see movies about sinking boats”…. totally misses the point.
    A Superman movie needs to find the tone that’s right for that character… not usurp Batman’s tone. It won’t work anyway. Oh well, those of us who have been waiting for another tolerable Superman flick since Superman 2 will just have to wait longer I guess.

  • dan

    Doh…. typo fix… that should have read “The Dark Knight wasN’T successful because it was dark….”

  • dan

    Doh…. typo fix… that should have read “The Dark Knight wasN’T successful because it was dark….”

  • rob

    Agree with the sentiment here… going “dark” like Batman is a bad idea. And I personally would like to see Superman go the opposite of TDK in terms of “realism”. I don’t want another movie where puny human Luthor is villain. I want aliens and someone who can go toe to toe. WB got lucky with TDK and looks like they don’t know what else to do.
    But wait, WB is part of Time Warner, which owns Entertainment Weekly…ugh, go WB!

  • joules

    That last Superman movie was about as exciting as a wax museum. If anyone wants to make a new Superman movie, please make a NEW movie, not just a clumsy rehash of the Christopher Reeve version. And please cast someone who can act – not the mannequin from the last movie. If a “dark” Superman is more interesting, then go for it. Smallville certainly gets pretty dark. The teenage Clark was all about teen angst for the first few seasons, but you could definitely describe him as a brooding, tormented character for the past few seasons. I think Superman has meant different things to different generations, depending on the state of the wolrld at the time. Today’s audiences expect Superman to be more than a handsome Man of Steel with a heart of gold. Now I’m curious: where can we read David Mamet’s essay?

  • Jim

    I guess I’m in the minority, but I absolutely loved Superman Returns. Sure it had some problems including Kate Bosworth and the kid, but the effects were fantastic. I also like all the little homages to the first movie.
    I agree that going darker is not the answer. It doesn’t need to get psycholgical, it needs to get bigger. This is the most powerful superhero ever. He needs to battle something more than a real estate scam. He needs big villains. And don’t go to Smallville for advice. I watch the show, and it was good in the beginning, but it’s kind of sucked the past couple seasons.

  • D18Matt

    Just like it happened in the comics .. “The Dark Knight” and “Watchmen” movies will usher in a new wave of darker, brooding takes on old characters. They’re even developing a Venom solo movie — the Venom solo comic and other failed attempts to shoehorn the slobbering, brain-eating dark side of Spider-Man in as an antihero in the comics was one of the targets of the inevitable backlash against the dark-and-gritty movement in comics.
    Here’s hoping the Superman reboot doesn’t wear a mullet and black spandex.

  • D18Matt

    Also, SUPERMAN RETURNS was a fantastic looking movie, and Brandon Routh did a fine job playing the character. It was the plot that stunk. The kid, Lois’s other man, Superman “off planet” for half a decade, Lex Luthor’s kryptonie island … that somehow doesn’t hurt Superman when he’s under it flying it into space. Ugh.
    Pretty though. And really, a perfect example of why dark and gritty Superman doesn’t work.

  • Liddy

    Actually, that’s not a bad idea. But please get a great casting director this time around. No whats-his-name soap actor and no Kate Bosworth. And no kid. I think some angst might work well with that franchise, I’m interested to read Mamet’s essay.

  • Fletch

    I have to disagree with several of you here, and I’m sorry about that. I think “Smallville” has only gotten better. Once they got out of highschool, it became less like a teen-drama.
    And Lex, how can you hate Lex? The interaction between Lex and Clark is THE key element of the show. I don’t know how it’s going to go without Lex, but I’ve enjoyed the show since the beginning.
    If “Sex and the City”, “The X-files”, and “Friends” can get to the big screen, why not just transfer the “Smallville” cast into the new Superman movie? Even if they stray from the show’s details and get back to the premise of the original story, I think it would still work.

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