Movies We Deserve: The Man of Steel
By David Short
Marvel has been dominant in taking their characters and adapting them to the big screen. Though DC has had tremendous success with Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, they haven’t been able to match the quality of their entertainment counterparts. I’m not ashamed to say that I prefer DC to Marvel, and I believe I have before, but I can honestly say that I can count all of DC’s movie adaptations, that I enjoyed, on one hand. Three of which are Batman titles. It’s disheartening to people like me who are deeply invested in their characters. We just want more of what we read monthly in movie form. I sat down and came up with an idea mostly because I get bored at work, but also because of the lack of success DC has in the movie war to this point. This may not be the Superman movie franchise that we will get, but it certainly is one that we deserve.
Superman is a character that is difficult to get people, whom are not previously invested in the character, to relate to or care about. He is nearly invulnerable and super powerful. Plus, he’s only hurt by kryptonite, magic or Doomsday. It’s not like you have to worry about his wellbeing unless somebody stumbles upon a little green rock or is friends with Harry Potter. The Man of Steel needs to be made more human (if you will) in order to affect the audience in any emotional way. I don’t mean we need to make him any less powerful, but don’t have his enemies test his strength. Make them attack him in ways that makes him question who and what he is, if he is needed or a menace, and make him question his morals. Those personal issues will make him somebody you want to root for. By all means I still want Clark to be a charming, slightly cocky, bumbling, oaf—a la Christopher Reeve. And when it’s time for the big guy to kick some ass, then unleash the Hollywood wizardry to bring us the powerhouse Kal El is; however, this is only part of the equation. Multiple movies with the same tone from the same people will get stale. The emotional spectrum needs to evolve throughout the series.
Villain- General Lane
Inspired By- Superman: Secret Origin
We all should know the tale of how Superman came to be (and if you don’t it’s a 2 second Google to find out). This should not be another origin story! The super hero tale of finding their tights is getting old, and the equation for an origin can only be changed so much. Throw people into the deep end and let them catch up. Most people have brains—though some make me wonder at times—so let them use their noggin to fill in the unnecessary details. Open with some classic “getting the hang of being a super hero” scenes: pulling people to safety, stopping robberies and so forth. This is where our hero is. He is a mystery to most of the public still but gaining publicity. Set up what we expect to see from the character: humble, down to earth, truth justice, the American way etc. Put him in familiar situations: close with the Kents, working for the Daily Planet, and head over heels for Lois Lane. That’s how you introduce your main character. Give us a base that is comforting, and then move to tear it apart.
To test your hero you need your villains. There are many iconic Superman baddies, but there is only one we really want to see. Lex Luthor has to be the central opposition. Now, that isn’t to say that he is the one putting on a giant suit of armor and going blow to blow with Supes, but he needs to be the driving force behind anything that happens. Lex fits best as an established business man and an emerging politician. He needs the means to enact his schemes, and the power to get to people who can make it happen. That would be where the General comes in. He’s got the fire power, and an army, to throw at the Man of Steel. With Lex being the brilliant mind he is, it would be difficult for Lane to not agree to his plan.
There you have who your character is, what he believes, and who is trying to bring him down. The only thing left is how. How do they bring down a person that can withstand gunfire, tank shells, and any other form of pain they can muster? The obvious answer is you don’t… physically. However, it is not to say that you can’t utterly break your target mentally or emotionally. Once it is obvious that the barrages of people and weapons aren’t going to work Lex will have to go to the drawing board and come up with a new tactic. Of course this is 2012, and there is no better way to spread lies and gossip than through the media. This is why Luthor needs to be in a position to get in good with people in high places. Trash a person for doing something enough and you’re bound to gain followers in your way of thinking. Even though Superman will emerge from the fight victorious, he will be welcomed by people that just saw, what looks to be, a man tear through their nation’s army. Not only that, but he did so and came out unharmed. People fear nothing more than that which they do not understand, and they will usually turn on it quickly.
We end with a dilemma for the Big Blue Boy Scout. Does he stay and keep fighting for the people who are cursing his name, or does he leave to let them be better off without him? He was raised by near perfect parents. He’s going to do the right thing. He’s going to leave. Before he does so, he leaves a letter of resignation on Perry White’s desk and says goodbye to his parents. We tied up all loose ends except for Lois. He comes across her at her apartment glued to the TV, computer in her lap, mulling over her next big story: Superman Friend or Foe? With that he accepts his decision and leaves.
Easter Egg: Hey, Marvel has gotten me to sit through an inordinate amount of post-movie credits just to see what fifteen second clip they are going to give me to drool over next. Jump on the band wagon DC and give us something to contemplate. What better way to end a movie than to have the camera follow Superman as he breaks through the atmosphere, only to pull up in the dead of space confronted by another man? That man speaks two words, “Kal El?” Cut to black.
Inspired by- War of the Supermen
Open here with Zod’s past. This is where I’m going to mess with your head. We have Zod who is a rising figure of the Kryptonian army, and Zor El who is one of Krypton’s finest minds and leaders. Zor El knows of their planets impending doom, and Zod believes him. They agree to take those of the army that will pledge loyal to Zod to rebel against the council members that refuse to acknowledge the truth. When found out Zor El puts the entire blame on Zod to save himself. Betrayed, Zod is now on the run for his life. Zod isn’t really one to run though, so he goes to his former friend’s house in hopes to find evidence to clear his name (or at least take Zor El down with him). Rather than find anything he was looking for, he stumbles across a tiny space ship for one and learns its purpose. Losing track of time and his surroundings, he is found by Lara (Superman’s mother/Zor El’s wife) and she calls for the equivalent of Kryptonian police. They come and take him away. He is tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in the Phantom Zone. A few years pass by and the Zone is broken open, by say a comet or what have you. Zod and his lackeys emerge with but one thought: revenge!
Clark now knows two things: 1) Somebody else can breathe in space and 2) They know his real name. Rejected by the planet that raised him, hurt and scorned, there would be no reason for him not to at least indulge his curiosity. Zod knows in order to get to hurt his victim he needs to get him in his good graces. As he has learned first-hand, there is no worse feeling of being beaten than when it is completely unexpected. For the first part of their relationship we will see the Kryptonians getting to know one another– Clark with questions, Zod with answers (even if they are mostly lies) kind of deal. We get to see Superman in a way that we have rarely seen here. He is free to embrace what he is, and even encouraged to be the god-like being he has the ability to be. It’s liberating, albeit a stark contrast to what he is used to.
To keep us in the loop with the other main characters on Earth, we need to follow what they are doing without Superman. Lois took the fame from her article that we got a glimpse of and is making her rounds on the media circuit. Turns out it was a ringing endorsement of Superman, and badgering those who bought into the media’s spin. Lex is researching possible ties between Superman and alien activity. He is keeping the General busy by having him find more powerful weapons, supposing he were to return. With these look ins we see just how much Superman was loved by some, and hated by others. More importantly, we see the obsessive psychosis Lex has developed over his foe.
Clark may believe his family is dead, but we all know our favorite cousin in comics is out there. Among Zod’s loyal followers there are displaced Kryptonians. They may not wholly agree with him, but they don’t see many options after their planet was sent scattered across the universe. This is how you introduce Kara into Clark’s life, and how we begin to undermine the budding relationship between him and Zod. Kara will tell the version of the truth that she knows, and we have our hero in another predicament. Would you believe your family or the person that gave you a place where you belong? Hesitant to assume anything about anyone, Kal keeps in touch with Zod, but watches more closely for signs of things that Kara has told him. Zod, having been betrayed once before, is also hyper observant. Noticing a distance growing between the two he forms a plan to test his allegiance. Presented in a way that offers revenge for Clark, Zod allows him the opportunity to lead his army into a war with Earth. He lets on he was going to take the planet anyway but sees this as a chance to allow Kal El to prove himself worthy of being in his army. Superman, being the beacon of all that is good, can’t willingly attack and kill innocent people, but to keep a good face he accepts. It’s a total bluff, but he needed time to tell Kara and form a plan. They agree that the best way to do it is convince Zod that humans are weak, and they only need a few men to do the job.
They take their leave with a hand full of helpers to Earth. Once a safe distance from their leader, they attack the group and make haste to warn people as best as possible. Not knowing the best place to start with such a task, they stop off at the Kent’s place for advice. The ever vigilant Lex Luthor sat back salivating over the possibility of Superman’s return was able to track his whereabouts. After a discussion with his parents (one in which they reveal just how hard the pretty girl from Metropolis fought for Superman), Clark and Kara set off for the Capital to alert the nation’s leaders. Met with no hospitality they see their effort is in vain, and decide to leave and regroup. They retreat to the Fortress of Solitude, and Clark lets Kara in on the history behind it.
Meanwhile, we have two bad guys plotting now. Zod is informed of the happenings, and decides there is no better time or place to attack Clark than now on Earth. The more people get hurt the better. Lex is in a small town in Kansas tracking down spots where meteors hit many years ago. To his dismay, he finds no evidence to prove that Superman has any connection to the event, but does stumble across some unique green rocks at the site. He has one last thing to check before he leaves though.
Zod arrives with a bang. Unleashing his men on the planet and trying to bring the stowaways out of hiding, he spares no one or thing. Clark, though hurt by these people, can’t sit idly by and do nothing, so he and Kara oblige mister Zod. One by one they fight their way to the head honcho. This is one of the few times that we see the power of Superman. There aren’t many that can match him in speed, strength, and pure ability to fight, but Zod is basically a mirror image of the Man of Steel. One is powered by rage and revenge– with a better sense of strategy and war—and the other driven by the will do what is needed to protect those that can’t protect themselves. Here we get the battle we have been waiting to see on the big screen with visual effects worthy of an A-list name like Superman. Zod will push Superman, but through will alone find a way to victory. After Kara and Clark figure out what they can do with Zod, and find a way to return him to the Phantom Zone via the Fortress.
All seems to be well as our hero stands victorious over his enemy, and this time in a good light in the media. He truly saved the day this time and is being portrayed as one should. He reconnects with Lois and apologizes for leaving without a goodbye, lovey-dovey stuff. Kara decides to stay and assimilate into everyday life to stay close to her baby cousin, and that is where we end the penultimate chapter of our series.
Easter Egg: I know I nailed the first one, and I promise not to disappoint you here either. From the credits open to a wide shot of Kent Farm. Someone knocks on the door. Martha dries her hands and steps away from making dinner. She opens the door to Lex Luther. She invites him in, seeing as how he is a senator and she is curious as to why he would be in Kansas in the first place. He enters. She offers him a drink, and goes to retrieve one. As everyone does when in a new person’s house, he begins to look at the knickknacks sitting around. He comes across a picture of the Kents with their son Clark. You see the light bulb click in his eyes. Jonathan walks in and greets his guest. Lex tells him he is on the campaign trail, hitting the small towns up to gauge his popularity as he is contemplating running for president. When asked if he found what he was looking for Lex responds with a chilling, “yes.” Just take your money now right?
Villain: Lex Luthor
Inspiration: Smallville, among countless other stories in which Lex and Supes face off, JMS’s Superman run
To this point we know Superman is righteous, we know he is powerful, and we can deduce that he feels emotion like every other human being. He is coming off his first true victory and riding high. Zod and his men have been returned to the Phantom Zone, the army isn’t attacking him, and he has family and friends to share it with. It’s natural in moments of triumph to want to share them with those who are closest to you. He wants to go be with his parents but between the media frenzy and helping with the clean-up he is a bit distracted (as any person would be).
At the farm we have a maniac, obsessed with an alien, in the same room as his nemesis’ parents. It’s obvious what is going through Lex’s head, but he plays coy to get as much information as he can out of his gracious hosts. Any parent worth their weight in salt would jump at the opportunity to gush about their child to somebody of importance (really anybody, but you know Mom would break out the albums of bare-assed baby pictures to a Senator quicker than our nation’s officials could start a filibuster). As he’s gathering information the Kents have the news reports on in the background. After he feels confident that he has learned all he can about Clark, and gets to the point where he can’t take any more praise for Superman from the TV, he decides to take matters into his own hands. There is no better way to get to someone so willing to sacrifice themselves, than through those who can’t protect themselves. The Kents, not knowing just who they were dealing with or what they were getting into, have divulged enough information to put them in a damning situation. With the upper hand Lex holds them hostage and forces them to call for their son.
No son will ever forget the sound of their mother’s voice. Our hero’s skill set is used against him as he hears his mother call for help, and like any other child he rushes to her aide. Lois realizes immediately that something is wrong, and gets Kara to take her and follow her cousin. Clark arrives to his childhood home and enters to a gun in the face of his mother and father. Unlike usual, where Superman would flash across the room to grab the gun, Clark is frozen in place. We have seen him hurt, we have seen him beaten, and we have seen him joyful. But we haven’t seen one key emotion that, in some cases, defines people’s lives: fear. This is the first time that he gives up a distinct advantage because he simply can’t react. Lex goes on a rant about how he is not helping people by saving them in their times of need, rather he’s just making people weak and reliant upon him. What would happen if somebody gave up trying to escape a bad situation because they believe somebody in spandex and a cape will swoop down to save them, but they never get rescued? Are people like Superman then responsible for that life, because they have made people think like that? How will humans grow stronger and evolve if they constantly have somebody save all the ones that aren’t up to the standard needed to be great? All are questions that we have seen Superman ponder in the books throughout the years. All are questions that prove to Lex that he is a hero, and doing the world a favor by ridding it of Superman. The latter is what makes Lex such a dangerous villain. In his mind, he is the hero.
Kara and Lois land near Lex’s car. Kara is wrought with pain and incapacitated due to the neon green rocks in his car. Lois tries to figure out what is happening, but is no help. Clark remains mesmerized by the situation. Lois sneaks in hearing Lex ranting, and in doing so sees pictures of Clark and the Kents and puts two and two together. She attempts to stealth up to Lex, but knocks something unintentionally and causes Lex to fire out of reflex. The bullet finds its way to Jonathan, killing him where he sits. Clark still partly unable to forgive himself, partly out of utter shock falls to his knees. As Lois and Martha futilely attempt to tend to Jonathan Lex makes his escape. He sees Kara still writhing in pain in the drive way, and makes his escape clean after he realizes she cannot be bothered by him at the moment. He heads to Luthor Corp, his safe haven, and makes sure to call General Lane on the way to acquire some extra security. Lois is trying to make Superman do something but he is in frozen in shock. After hearing Lois call him by his actual name he snaps to, and picks his father up in his arms, and we see the Man of Steel cry (it may not be manly, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a huge character moment, and I promise I’ll make up for the lack of machismo soon).
Memories of Clark’s childhood rush back to him– moments of Jonathan teaching and molding him to the man he is today. Most importantly Clark gets a memory of a time he and a kid got in a fight. Clark beat the kid pretty badly and is being lectured by his father. He instills the principle that no matter what is done to Clark, he has to overcome it and not let it get to him. He tells Clark that he has the ability to be better than normal people. He can inflict all the pain in the world or even kill those who hurt him, but it makes him just as human as you and I. If he were able to rise above his emotions, if he were able to become something that no human could ever accomplish, he could begin to change the world. People are far less likely to look up to something with just as many flaws as them, but when they look at something that they perceive to be perfect they will strive to achieve it. They may never get to that point, but it is a rallying cry. It is a symbol. That is what he has to be.
Kara recovers from her first encounter with Kryptonite, and moves to the ailing family inside. This brings Clark back to the present, and we get our moment where Superman bad guys should pee their pants. He looks up at his cousin, his eyes glowing bright red, and informs her that she will stay and make sure the rest of his family is safe. He bursts out of the door in pursuit of the killer. In route he runs into General Lane’s men but doesn’t give their attack a second glance. He drops in on Lex through the roof, and is brought to his knees. Lex has already placed the fragments he found into a display on his desk. Lex is starting to slip mentally, and welcomes his intruder with laughter. Lex goes on another monologue about how shocked he was that Superman seemed like a real person back at the farm. He asks what it is like to finally have a person he actually cares about weighing on his conscience.
We back to Lois as she realizes that something needs to be done, because unfortunately no amount of crying is going to bring Jonathan back. She calls Perry White and tells them what happened, and contacts all the news stations she can to give them the situation. Word is out that Lex killed a small town man, and is now on the run from Superman. When Lex sees that he is being portrayed unlike the image in his head, he begins to snap. Unable to take the same tactics he used against Clark he turns violent and beats him with anything he can find. Clark, weakened by the Kryptonite, is unable to do much to resist him. After working himself into a frenzy Lex tries to regain himself, and in his calm he mentions that if he would have known the result of shooting his family, he would have killed them all just to prod his victim. Clark is able to fight through the debilitating effects of the rocks, and finds his way to Luthor. He, out of sight from the outside, grabs him by the throat and throws him through the glass that lines the high rise’s top floor. As Lex plummets toward the ground Clark realizes that he had disobeyed his now dead father. Clark forces himself out of the window, and just in time his powers kick in to keep Lex from hitting the pavement below.
Our hero has come full circle. He has been through the wringer, and come out a better person on the other side. He has been tested physically, mentally and emotionally. He has overcome all of them. It hasn’t been without cost, but what happened can only drive him further. As we close, our characters hold a funeral for Jonathan. Afterwards we see Clark, Martha, and Lois standing around the tombstone. Clark looking down remembering his father, and Martha saying, “He would be proud of you, saving him.” Clark just responds with a smile, and a hug. In this moment he hears a cry for help, and turns instinctively to the sound and recoils out of respect. Lois smacks him, and both urge him to go. Off come the glasses, the shirt gets ripped open to reveal the House of El symbol, and cue John Williams.
Superman is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, and I just want something with his name on it to be done right. If DC can get this right, then they may just be able to turn its success into a boost in comic sales. We are still in the early days of The New 52, and it wouldn’t be hard for people who came out of the movie with Superman fever to look into a fix at their local store, or the ever accessible digital front, as they wait for the next film in the series. You may scoff at the notion, but let me assure you that the Marvel films have rekindled my curiosity in their books. I haven’t been into Spider-man since the animated series, but you better believe after I saw The Amazing Spider-man I bought the latest two issues of the comic series before I left the theater.
I trust that producer Chris Nolan has the big guy’s best interest at heart, but the involvement of Zach Snyder is a personal turn off. It’s like hearing Michael Bay is involved with a beloved memory from my childhood (I nearly cried when I heard about the new Teenage Alien Mutant Ninja Turtles and I’m a grown man). Though Snyder’s take on Watchmen was decent, I can’t help but look at the stiff fighting scenes and over use of slow motion that he has made his name for and not get worried. Not to say that he will bring this style to The Man of Steel, but if he were it would most definitely take me out of the moment. Of course this is just a personal objection, but it is one that I can’t overlook. One thing is certain, we all want the best for Superman. What is far less certain is what the outcome will be, but as we count down to it’s release, we can just hope for the best, and wait.
Agree? Disagree? Have your own ideas? Let me know in the comments section below!