I am currently rewatching Smallville and having my students compare Superman Returns to Man of Steel. Watching ALL the things gave me an opportunity to consider characters, storylines, and renditions of the Superman lore–and why it’s so bloody difficult for filmmakers to make a good Superman movie.
First of all . . .
This is where I think Smallville becomes my favorite rendition of Superman. I know–the show is sometimes cheesy, the story goes out of order in some places and takes certain liberties in others, but I really love this show. I love Tom Welling’s portrayal of Clark Kent because he nailed it, as did John Schneider as Jonathan Kent. This show also has the only Lois Lane I like–Erica Durrance was great, and the character was well written. (I really didn’t care for Margot Kidder’s Lois either–not because of the actress but because of the writing.)
There is so much potential for Superman, but the writing usually suffers. Superman Returns was no exception, but Man of Steel offered some redemption–except (1) Jonathan Kent was a terrible person and (2) Superman doesn’t kill or DESTROY ENTIRE CITIES. I understand that the movie needed action and adventure, but SERIOUSLY?! One thing that I loved about Man of Steel was the question of free will with Kryptonians and why Zod was so hell-bent on recreating Krypton. Excellent questions to ask and ponder for the audience! And I didn’t mind Lois Lane too much in this movie–they’re getting better at portraying her.
When is someone going to make the movie to Red Son?! This concept was brilliant and mind-boggling and–let’s be honest–terrifying. I loved every minute, and Mark Millar did an excellent job. With the current trend in movies and the advancements in technology, there is no reason why this movie can’t or shouldn’t be made. Period. We only need the best writer for the job.
The Character of Superman
One of the things that seems to turn audiences off of Superman is how he’s portrayed. Harkening back to the Christopher Reeve era, it was accepted and applauded to see the untarnished good guy persevere over his enemies, but now we as movie viewers are bit too disillusioned to relate to such a character as Superman. (As you know, I happen to love Superman for much the same reason that I love Captain America–they believe in doing the right thing but also happen to be, for lack of a better term, human.) We caught a glimpse of Superman’s humanity in the 1978 film when he set out to save Lois from a most terrible fate, resulting in his version of time travel. But I think that someone needs to approach Superman not as an alien but as a human–show us not was sets him apart but what makes him like us. This is where I think Smallville wins with me; we experience life with Clark, not with Superman.
Superman vs Batman
With the upcoming Superman vs Batman film, a lot of people have sided with either hero, and in the video below, most of them go to Batman.
Batman’s character is an interesting one, full of tragedy and heartbreak. Audiences love a dark avenger, someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. We love to see a heroic character who is flawed, who is still very human in spite of his superhuman persona, and we fall with him when he stumbles. Anyone can be Batman–Batman is an image, a symbol that represents the part in all of us that wants the bad guys to lose and the good guys to win. Superman, though, is an ALIEN with SUPERPOWERS, not a billionaire with a penchant for cool toys. Again, it’s about being relatable–Clark is more relatable than Superman. Superman’s persona isn’t in the same realm as Batman’s because Batman is a man wearing a mask–whereas Superman is a man NOT wearing a mask (horn-rimmed or otherwise). Because Batman hides his identity behind a tangible, physical mask, anyone could be Batman and anyone can be Batman. It’s not the same with Superman.
In short, it all boils down to writing.
Exploring the character of Clark Kent, not Superman, is what I love, and I feel like audiences would resonate more with his human side than his alien one. We love Batman for the hero he becomes and the obstacles that made him who he is–and it would be the same for Superman.
That, and I really want a Red Son movie.
Bonus: Here’s part two of the same Batman vs Superman survey: