(Author’s Note: I’ve only just started watching Supergirl. Will be minimal references to it in this piece)
Superman is my favourite superhero. Not a lot of people understand that. When I talk about Superman people tend to think of Henry Cavill’s turn as Superman, maybe they think of Justice League Animated, rarely they think of Christopher Reeve (blame my generation, millennials ruined Superman. What a title for a curmudgeonly click bait article). Anyway, it’s easy to see how Superman might not have aged well in the public consciousness. Stories come about when characters struggle and Superman, with his bizarre and lengthy list of powers suggest a limitless power. How could someone like that struggle?
Of course, there’s Kryptonite, the crystalline substance that damages Kryptonians. However, those who remember the days of Smallville are reminded of the fact that Kryptonite was used every other episode to weaken Clark. Others, like the colon cancer that is BvS, use Kryptonite sparingly but when they do, they use it stupidly (Where to start, the Kryptonite spear? The Kryptonite gas? The fact that both of these are used as ineffectually as possible before Superman is the idiot who uses it to try and kill Doomsday, as opposed to say Wonder Woman.) So, you’ve got a character who is either indestructible or completely helpless depending on the presence of a green rock. How do you make that compelling?
How do you make a compelling Superman story with a character who is all powerful and just a really swell dude(? I’ll tell you. There are people who have pitched decent starts to a decent Superman movie in the modern era. Now I agree with the core conceit that the film can’t be about a bigger and badder threat than Superman. Turning the film into a grudge between two deities that destroys a city in a way reminiscent of 9/11 isn’t the best way to make a Superman movie, Zack Snyder. No, a better way to make Superman struggle is to show that he can’t save everyone. Superman puts the world on his shoulders and to get any mileage out of a character arc you have to make sure that Superman struggles to save the world and maintain himself. Hold him to an impossible standard and watch him struggle with that. How? Well, there are a couple of solutions.
So, Superman stands for Truth, Justice and the American Way right? Now I have a villain that could legitimately challenge Superman on an ideological level here. In the comics, there was an arc wherein Lex Luthor ran for President. What’s the significance of this? Imagine this film, Superman has been around for a while. People know who he is. What he stands for. One day Lex Luthor, a man synonymous with wealth, announces his candidacy for President. His platform is dealing with illegal aliens in the country. Maybe he wants to put them on some sort of registry. While Luthor is running for office he is met with constant criticism from Superman. Superman hates that Luthor is a bold faced liar, selling the people of America a pipe dream fuelled by xenophobia. Gee, wouldn’t that be a political allegory and a half? The depth of Nolan’s Dark Knight around a figure who is the embodiment of American ideals.
While this is happening, Superman is stopping crimes. Crimes that seem to lead back to LexCorp. He tries to confront Luthor about it when Luthor reveals his close friendship with Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen. Luthor knows Superman’s allies secret identities. Superman can’t use his powers to solve this problem. You can still have action scenes with Superman’s crime fighting. The fact that Luthor is blatantly breaking the law is a gross miscarriage of justice. Have someone older play Luthor, maybe Bryan Cranston, or Tom Hanks. He plays Luthor as a populist politician, by way of a sleazy car salesman. However, behind the veneer of brashness is a smart tactician who is disrupting the whole political process. How would it end? No idea, but the climax would approach as Inauguration Day loomed. Maybe a final battle on Capitol Hill, Lex in his traditional battle mech (maybe that’s what his criminal enterprises were about). Maybe it ends with Superman giving a speech about the dangers of unchecked power without integrity. The whole film could be a micro-discourse on power.
Maybe a political thriller starring The Man of Steel is a little dry for your taste. Maybe you’d prefer something different. I present a far less concrete idea in the form of Brainiac. For this hypothetical battle, you’d have to tweak Brainiac a bit. Say Brainiac rather than being a hyper-intelligent alien is instead a computer virus, kind of. Imagine that Brainiac was once alien but was banished to the equivalent of a Kryptonian flash drive. Imagine that after years in space, that device falls to Earth. Earth scientists try to crack the Kryptonian tech, but in doing so, let Brainiac loose. Brainiac then begins infecting computers, taking over the Internet. Suddenly, humanity’s greatest invention is turned into a hive mind for Brainiac. It doesn’t take long for Brainiac to figure out Superman’s secret identity. Perhaps Brainiac employs some useless muscle from Supes’ Rogue’s gallery, such as Metallo or even Doomsday. Brainiac attacks Superman as both Superman and Clark Kent. The film could be a stark reminder about the dangers of AI, a thesis on the duality of Superman. Why does Superman need Clark Kent? Why does Clark Kent need Superman? Maybe it could examine the idea of Clark Kenting? Doesn’t that sound interesting?
So, those are a few ideas about how to do a Superman movie in the current day. Let me know if you’d watch these movies. Do you have your own ideas? Let me know down below or on my social medias.
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