Saturday, August 23, 2008

Warner Bros. to Re-Jigger Superman Movies?

Apparently with Jamie in the hospital and whatnot, I missed a story that spread on friday.

And I have to give mad props to Randy. He sent me an article on this topic, and I poo-poo'd the whole thing, believing that this was yet another rumor come to the surface. But, Leaguers, this looks pretty solid, as far as these things go. So give it up for Randy, who often sends stuff my way, and I all too often shrug it off.

So, it appears WB is probably scrapping any "continuity" established by "Superman Returns" and moving forward with an all-new Superman movie next year.

Here's the Wall Street Journal article

It'll help if you read the whole thing to get some context. It's short, and well be here when you get back.

Here are the paragraphs that have comic nerds all up in a lather:

Like the recent Batman sequel -- which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far -- Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as "The Dark Knight." Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.' DC properties. "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it," he says. That goes for the company's Superman franchise as well.

The studio is set to announce its plans for future DC movies in the next month. For now, though, it is focused on releasing four comic-book films in the next three years, including a third Batman film, a new film reintroducing Superman, and two movies focusing on other DC Comics characters. Movies featuring Green Lantern, Flash, Green Arrow, and Wonder Woman are all in active development.

I think its necessary here to take a step back and point out a few things:

-the writing was on the wall for Singer's ousting pretty much after opening night when I noted the cinema I went to had reduced the number of screens from 2 to 1 for "Superman Returns"
-WB has been publicly soliciting Superman scripts for what seems like 2 or 3 months. And privately before that. That's not Hollywood speak for "Singer's our guy!"
-reporters seem to take misinterpreting comics and comic movie information as a point of pride. I'd be pretty suspicious of anything said at all in this article.
-for example, I sincerely doubt WB intends for Superman to become evil, but I imagine they have plans for darker bad guys for the Man of Steel (ie: Doomsday)
-Mr. Robinov's beliefs regarding what he thinks will work as it stands today could change with the wind tomorrow. This capriciousness is the hallmark of the studio exec.
-I think what Robinov might have meant, rather than suggesting DC's heroes will be eeee-vil, is that we've made that 1986 change in comic movies. The studios, like the comic companies, are shedding the idea that comics are kid's stuff. They now know how dark they can go and still sell toys.

Basically, I follow enough information regarding super heroes and movies, and film development in general (thanks, RTF degree! Seriously, we studied this @#$%.) that I know an article like this means almost next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. Everything could change tomorrow. As I often say, "don't believe a word of it until you read the reports that they're actually rolling film."

If every report I read in the run up to Superman Returns were true, there would be four different Superman movies, two of which would star Ashton Kutcher, floating around. You learn to take this with a grain of salt.

So long, Superman Returns

"Superman Returns" didn't take off with fans. Mostly because it wasn't an action movie (Superman punches nobody), and because of the introduction of the out-of-continuity love child of Lois and Superman.

Comic fans have been up in arms about the kid since the movie came out, declaring Superman a "deadbeat dad", which sounds great in a comment section, but is entirely inaccurate if you actually watch the movie. The movie is, after all, all about Superman's legacy from father to son, and moving on beyond the world you embraced to embrace the future ahead of you through your child (no, seriously).

I loved the way they displayed Superman's powers, and believed the movie was absolutely gorgeous and rich, the way a Superman movie should be. The whole thing looked and felt like a fairy tale, in a way movies have forgotten how to look since the 1980's. And Brandon Routh was as perfect a guy in the role as I could have hoped for.

But I also don't know where they could go with Jason Lane. Many folks online were of the "they should kill him off" camp, which... seriously? Kill a child (even a fictional child)? That's kind of messed up. Not to mention woefully uncreative.

Maybe it was just a good end-capper on the Reeves movies, which always deserved better than Superman 3 and (certainly) 4.

I'm comfortable with a re-boot of the movie franchise at this point. But only under the right circumstances. It's promising that they're interested in taking their cues from "Dark Knight", so at least we don't need to worry about McG casting Ashton Kutcher as Superman and having him enegage in extreme sports or some such...

But I'd also point out, the "common wisdom" that marvel did the right thing by re-booting "The Hulk"? Ang Lee's 2003 "Hulk" grossed $132 million domestic. Ed Norton's 2008 "Incredible Hulk" grossed $134 million domestic. Add in 5 years of inflation, and a "re-boot" doesn't necessarily mean anything as far as success.

So we're going to have to wait and see what shakes out.

My Advice to WB

Re-do the origin.

Your gut is telling you "hey, that Death of Superman thing sold like CRAZY in 1992! People love that stuff!" Yes, Superman dying is "dark". But...

Don't do it.

A) They've announced, like, four different takes on "Death of Superman", and released it as an animated movie at least once. Everyone knows he doesn't die (really), so its sort of anti-climatic. You aren't going to do the "Reign of the Supermen", which was sort of the point of Death of Superman... so don't do it.
B) Also, "Death of Superman" was supposed to have impact because Superman was established in the DCU for years before he croaked. If that's part of your "all new Superman", you're essentially putting a guy out there, and then he gets killed. Which, you know, doesn't look real good. Its a lot different from the guy who always wins finally losing, which was also the point.
C) "The Death of Superman" was a narrative mess, and isn't much fun to read as a collection. It involves the 1990's sprawling cast of super-characters, Lex's brain living in a 20-something Lex Luthor cloned body, an interdimensional protoplassmic Supergirl, a giant frog Lois uses for transportation, Green Lanterns, and at least one incident of grave robbing.
D) I think when even the mighty Bruce Timm tried to do it, the movie wasn't that great.

Use modern technology. Don't feel beholden to the Donner movies, and re-tell the origin so the kids have an all-new Superman for their generation.

1) Part of the magic of Superman is that he carves out who he is. There is no pre-destination, prophesies or "chosen ones" in Superman. That fundamentally goes against the grain of Superman as a character. He's about CHOICE to be heroic. Pre-destination stories are about people bumbling into greatness and resisting their heroic calling. Which is great, but its not Superman. Part of the magic was not that Jor-El specifically shot a rocket at Jonathan and Martha Kent, knowing exactly how they'd raise a child... It was that Jor-El has to take a leap of faith and hope for the best. And the luck of the draw that ordinary, salt-of-the-earth folks would be able to instill in Superman the right moral compass. Once you add to that, you're taking away from the story.
2) Krypton has to be gone. That's the point. No evil armies of Krypton.
3) I only want Lex if he has access to huge robots, a power suit, or a wide array of lasers. That said, gimme Lex.
4) You know who is really scary? Far scarier than thoughtless, inarticulate Doomsday? Brainiac.
5) You're going to want to give Superman his evil, opposite number with an evil Kryptonian. We've all seen Zod. Save it for a sequel or something.
6) Superman has a supporting cast. They've been well defined over 70 years. Use them.

2008 is the new 1986

I do think Robinov's comments give a glimpse of what's going on and point to a comment I made when I saw Dark Knight the first time. (oh, hell... I can't find when or where I said it. It might have been in conversation with Steven and Lauren).

But I believe the success of Dark Knight in 2008 is going to be seen in much the same way as "Dark Knight Returns" was seen in the mid-80's, as well as "Watchmen". Non-comic readers will not ever know the cultural shift in comics that occurred thanks, in part, to those two works. Like some classic albums (maybe "Revolver", I dunno...) nothing was ever really the same after that within comics as those albums fundamentally changed pop music. In fact, it was that transition of DKR and Watchmen that I think led directly to comics' shift from kid's entertainment to an older audience for tights-wearing vigilantes.

With DKR and Watchmen, superheroes were, to some extent, seen for the fascists Wertham had always accused them of being. The image that had begun to chip away in the 70's of heroes with hands on fists saving the day with a wink was stomped into the dirt. In many ways, I grew up in a comics world where I had to go back to try and even find the kinds of comics my parents and guidance counselor assumed I was reading (I did make the mistake of handing my dad "The Killing Joke" summer of '89). To some extent, Marvel's "Civil War" event could have gone a lot further toward exploring Wertham's assertions, but instead chose to be a story about how Iron Man is a jerk and Cap makes sentimental decisions.

As rich as I think the Spidey movies have been, and as impressed as I was with Iron Man, Dark Knight was a different kind of movie. And what studios need to realize, that the comic companies took entirely too long to realize (and it almost destroyed the industry in the process) is that Dark Knight is lightning in a bottle. With his proclamation, its as if (but not quite) Robinov were to declare he's going to slate two gangster pictures a year on the assumption that they'll be as good as "Godfather I & II".

The fallout of Watchmen wasn't that every comic became an introspection of the super-soul and the industry itself matured over night. It was that comic writers felt that they should create flawed, tortured characters who occasionally had sex. The comics were being produced by often lesser writers, who saw the sturm und drang of Dark Knight Returns, but missed what it was that made the series work, all while being entirely true to the Batman's roots.

By the mid-90's I wasn't really reading superhero comics because many of the titles had devolved into a glossy, messy warground in which superheroes, in order to be "darker, grittier, more extreme" were becoming increasingly more lethal and a lot more likely to pull the trigger.

And that's part of the problem with declaring that you're going to make your superheroes themselves "darker". At some point, you're missing the fundamental core of the characters that make them the good guys and separates them from the bad guys, and now you're just talking two guys in tights beating the holy hell out of each other (which is part of why I flinched any time I heard mention of the proposed "Superman vs. Batman" movie. What's the point?).

Maybe this is a natural curve that the movies will have to go through.

A note regarding what happened with super-hero comics...

It's dishonest to try to pretend that all comics move in one colossal shift, as if its a coordinated affair. There are always lots of missteps. But a movement in any direction tends to leave a lot of splinters around that tenaciously hang on. Characters and concepts I have no use for (ex: Marvel's Cable) survive and prosper.

DC's limited series "Kingdom Come" was like a wake-up call to the DCU. Slowly but surely, much of the DCU gave up on "extreme" in favor of "iconic". "Kingdom Come" seemed to boil the heroes down to their essence and ask aloud what Superman, Batman and the rest of the JLA were doing about the state of the industry. And they answered loudly.

According to Valerie at Occasional Superheroine, who once worked as an Assistant Editor at DC, Didio was still learning the lessons of the 90's, and moved in exactly the wrong direction for a spell, when she attended a retreat sometime around 2003, I'd guess. (I like Val's blog, but I think she overestimates the change this particular retreat had on DC, as they were in the post "Kingdom Come" shift away from ridiculous 90's characters like the Dr. Fate spin-off, Fate.)

I don't know how that would work with comic movies, or if any of this would come to pass. But I do know that there's some history here, and movie audiences and movie creators probably aren't all that different from those of comics.


Steven said...

Indeed, you did make the comment that TDK had effectively pulled a game-changer on the industry in the same way that Miller did in the paper form lo these 20+ years ago with Dark Knight Returns.

"...which had been lent to Lauren and I remembered how interesting ( and terribly, terribly gruesome ) it is. DC really had it going on back in that era: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller all pushing the craft forward ( Ryan has some great thoughts on how The Dark Knight basically pulled a “Dark Knight Returns” on the superhero movie industry )."


But note the link back to your own observations!

You also pointed out the revolution TDK represents in this post.

J.S. said...

Superman is lame. What we really need is a Creeper movie.

tachyonshuggy said...

Mr. Mtzlplk.


Michael Corley said...

Excellent Excellent Excellent comments all.

I fully endorse a new origin story of Superman. I could not agree more that Superman Returns was a capstone, a ending to a story that never got its due, and actually got mud in the face with 3 and 4.

There is so much fun to be had with Superman. We all like him, we just need a fine writer, the kind of guy who can spin straw into gold, to get after the next script.

horus kemwer said...

I disagree about origins. Everytime a new superhero is adapted to screen, or an old one is "rebooted," they redo the origin. Uniformly, these origins distract from plot and character development, the two items more sorely needed (and most frequently absent) in superhero films. How refreshing was Ledger's joker in large part because no coherent origin was offered?

Independent of whether or not kids today know the origin of superman (and if they don't, they could find it pretty damn easily), do they really need to recall the full details of the origin in order to understand / enjoy any story whatsoever involving the character? No. Consider the number of great movies which start in medias res (do we need a Sam Spade origin to appreciate The Maltese Falcon? I think not!).

The League said...

I think that's a legitimate argument.

I don't know if I entirely agree, as superheroes are so very, very wrapped up in their origins, whereas the nightmare of a villain like the Joker is that by not knowing where he comes from, the viewer and protagonist have no idea of his motivation.

I am not against a story that starts with Superman in place, but I'm also not convinced that doesn't partially explain the dissatisfaction with Superman Returns and the recent version of The Hulk.

But, I think I understand the desire to avoid "origin" fatigue in a character who most people have at least some idea of where he came from. And can they outdo Donner's version? Or should they try?

Honestly, obviously I don't care. I don't feel I need to be caught up. And Morrison managed to re-tell the origin in, I think, four panels. So you might need nothing more than a reference.

As long as the story works, the story works.

Anonymous said...

We do not need another Superman origin movie. We had the Reeve movies, the Routh movie, a number of animated series, and several television shows (including one dedicated exclusively to the origin of Superman). I think we know the origin of Supes and there is no need to revisit it (especially a few years after yet another movie reboot).

The League said...

Just for clarification:

I would point out that "Superman Returns" doesn't contain the origin sequence of Superman, aside from the obvious Superman I references. Lois and Clark started with Kent's arrival at the Daily Planet, if memory serves.

The animated series visited the origin circa 1996, which doesn't include a whole generation of potential audience.

At this point, I would actually argue that Smallville is a pretty good reason to have at least something of an origin recap so those who know the show will know how the movie is the same or differs. (But that reveals my feelings regarding Smallville's shortcomings)

I agree that the Kryptonian origin is frequently revisited, and that a movie would do well to move on beyond Krypton for the major plot, especially in selecting an antagonist.

I just believe that if you're going to truly "reboot" the movie franchise, you have to pay service to The Man of Steel's origins, or you have an audience that doesn't understand Superman's motivations, character, etc...

If I could point to a model, perhaps the 1989 Batman model, where the origin is revealed, but it doesn't take up the first hour of the film. I think for the audience to feel the "wonder" of a character like Superman, starting him several years into the career is a mistake. You need the people in the street marveling at Superman as well as he performs his first public superheroics to set the tone for the character and his environment.

That's personal opinion. But I also know that for a mass audience, pushing the character too far into his career is going to take some of the wind out of re-introducing the franchise, and they might as well just keep on with the Singer/ Donner continuity.

Simon MacDonald said...

I think you have to look at Superman Returns as the finally of what Donner started in the 70's and forget all about Superman 3 & 4.

If they were going to reboot Superman I would prefer them to make mention to the 'origin' of the character but not tell and out and out 'origin' story.

My preferred storyline would be to drop us into Metropolis with an already established Superman and Lex Luthor. The movie should deal with Lex's passion to awaken the humans to the threat of Superman. That is, people should think and act for themselves instead of relying on this godlike figure to save them all the time.

Simon MacDonald said...

Okay this link describes what I was talking about in my last comment far better than I did.

On Luthor

The League said...

One of the greatest challenges of the "public opinion" spin for a Superman story is that, thanks to fanboys and mainstream press calling Superman outdated for the past ten years, a lot of the audience comes in asking "why should I care about Superman? He's got it made!"

I think that drove the whole "Why the World Doesn't Need a Superman" sub-plot of Superman Returns. And I think they made a very compelling argument as to why he does what he does in a few simple lines in Superman Returns.

It's actually a fairly complex idea, and its only really applied to Superman. (I suspect people see most superheroes as "super cops", and wouldn't flinch if a cop helped them out, but see Superman as something else.) The trick is to get the storyline rolling, I think, without some goofy "framing of Superman" by Luthor, or some other plot device that you know will unravel before movie's end.

Unfortunately, Singer's take explaining Superman's place in the world was played too softly. And doesn't have much application to the audience once they walk out of the theater.

The storytelling team needs to find a way to make Superman seem like a person, and explain why that person would do the things that Superman does, rather than what most people do when they find themselves in possession of authority/ power.

As per Lex: The Billionaire to criminal mad-scientist arc works surprisingly well. I think it can be brought to the movies, and Lex can use that influence to spread his message. It would also be a much better example of what the person with power does that's the polar opposite of our good guy.

But getting people not to rely on Superman... that's some tricky stuff. I agree, it'd be an intriguing storyline. But it'll be tricky for people not to feel like maybe Lex has a pretty good point.