Five Things We Will Learn From Man of Steel

The buzz feels like it has been building for weeks. The reviews have begun pouring in and they are
overwhelmingly positive. On Friday the first great Superman movie in 33 years is going to burst on to the scene, and with it’s arrival we will learn the following (mostly unimportant) things…

Superman is THE Superhero… sure, Batman is cooler and Tony Stark is a lot more fun and Spider-Man is funnier and the X-Men are more kick-ass and so-on and so-forth, but Superman is, well, Superman. He is so iconic that his name is an adjective. He is the answer (if you are being even the least bit honest with yourself) to “if you could be any superhero who would you be?” There is a reason why the entire genre flows from this source.

Yes, This Movie Was Ridiculous

Zack Snyder Makes Really Cool Looking Movies… it is funny how one movie can really undercut a career, can make us forget about everything that came before. After 300 there was no director who was hotter than Snyder, and rightly so. 300 had no business being a smash hit, but Snyder made a movie that didn’t look like any movie we had seen before, it was at once surreal and yet somehow gritty and grounded. After 300 Zack could have done anything and what he decided to do was take on a graphic novel that just about everyone agreed could never be made into a movie. Watchmen may not have been the smash hit Warner Brothers had been hoping for, but I don’t know one person who loved the graphic novel that diWatchmen! Trust me when I tell you that that is a remarkable feat. Then came Sucker Punch and all of the sudden Zack Snyder sucked. No one is going to argue that Sucker Punch is anything other than what it is, a cool looking movie with a story that is so bad that the film itself is unwatchable, but that isn’t the point. Zack Snyder was 2 for 3 and Man of Steel will make him 3 for 4. The man knows how to make really amazing movies. If you know nothing else going in than that Zack Snyder directed this movie than you know before the first image appears that you are about to see something that is visually unbelievable.
dn’t love the movie. He made

There is No Harm in Fixing The Icon… red underwear, gone (a good thing). The “S” standing for Superman (always a bit pretentious), not any more. Lois Lane not being able to tell the difference between the man she works with and the superhero who saves her life because of a pair of glasses, they deal with that too. As Nolan did with Batman, Zack Snyder is making Superman real, and with that comes some necessary tweaks, and that is a good thing.

Maybe That Whole “Marvel is Kicking DC’s A**” Narrative isn’t Entirely Accurate… yup, The Avengers was awesome and Iron Man 3 proved that Marvel isn’t going to rest on what they have done, but the truth is DChas been doing pretty well for itself too, just nobody seems to be willing to admit it. The New 52 rebooting of their comic lines has been a huge success.  Arrow on The CW was one of the biggest new shows on TV. Their animated movie department is still considered the best in the business. And their feature films have been doing really well too. The last five superhero movies Warner Brothers has released (Batman Begins, Superman Returns, The Dark Knight, Green Lantern and The Dark Knight Rises) grossed over $3 billion combined at the world wide box office (an average of $616 million per movie). Sure, over the same time period Marvel’s movies brought in a whopping $4.8 billion, but the released two more movies than DC, so their averages are actually pretty close (Marvel’s movies average $686 million per picture)*. In fact, if Man of Steel matches Iron Man 3 (a huge “if” as Iron Man 3 was a massive hit) DC’s average would shoot past Marvel’s. It seems like when you here the DC sucks narrative it is as though the only thing DC has done was put out Green Lantern (which would be like saying Marvel sucks because of the so-so performance of The Incredible Hulk). Batman counts, and so does Superman. If Man of Steel is as huge as some think it will be, than Warner Brothers and DC comics will be sitting on two HUGE movie franchises with stand alone characters. Not bad for a studio that can do nothing right.

*One of the come backs I always hear or read from Marvel fans who like to slam DC comics is “well, all they’ve got is Batman.” Batman counts. That would be like saying “all the Bulls had in the 90’s was Michael Jordan.” With Nolan being involved in Man of Steel and reportedly other DC movies going forward it is impossible to talk about what DC is doing with their movies without including Nolan’s initial Dark Knight trilogy as the cornerstone of their efforts.

We Still Don’t Know How Many Great Superman Movie Can Be Made… it is an accepted truth that there have only been two great Superman movies ever made, Superman The Movie and Superman II (I don’t think this assessment is entirely fair to Superman Returns**). Those movies represent Superman’s origin story (Superman The Movie) and his battle with General Zod (Superman II). Man of Steel combines those two stories into one movie, leaving us with the question “is there another Superman story that will work as a movie?” Superman, as a character, poses a number of problems from a movie point of view. Some problems are technical (he is Superman, s
o the visuals have to make you feel like you are seeing something otherworldly), some stem from the age of the character (1930’s plotting doesn’t tend to translate too well to modern cinema), but the biggest problem stems from the fact that Superman is too powerful. How do you create conflict worthy of a God? The origin story works because the conflict is in Clark’s choice, does he have the right to use his powers? The Zod story works because Zod has all of Superman’s powers, so the conflict is evenly matched. But a conflict with Lex Luthor? That’s trickier because the only way Lex could beat Superman is if Superman is an idiot or if Lex just keeps hurting the people around him (hard to keep that up for too long and make it interesting on film). I think their are other more great Superman movies to be made, a lot more, but the truth remains, we haven’t seen those movies yet.

**When I was doing the nominal amount of research I did before writing this thing the most surprising thing I came across was how successful Superman Returns was. Superman Returns grossed over $200 million domestically and nearly $400 million worldwide. That is more than any Marvel movie that didn’t have Iron Man in it. After coming to that realization I watched it again and I’ve got to say, it really isn’t bad. Tonally it is too reverential and doesn’t feel like a strong place to build a great “Superman universe” from, but as a stand alone movie it is reasonably entertaining.

Conclusion

Who knows if Man of Steel will do Dark Knight business. Not me, that’s for sure. But I am excited to see if this is another step in the direction of building a DC universe on film. Then again, a part of me is not entirely sure if I want to see a DC universe on film. Maybe the smartest thing DC could do is not bring all of their characters together into one film universe. Maybe keeping Gotham and Metropolis and Starr City and the rest entirely separate is the way to go. DC’s great fail (not including Jonah Hex, which was a fail of such massive proportions that it should never be mentioned again) came when they tried to do what Marvel did. Green Lantern ended up in a universe no superhero wanted to be in, a universe filled with product placement, silly special effects and the fingerprints of studio executives all over it. Maybe DC should just let Nolan and Snyder make movies without worrying about a phase 1, phase 2 or phase 3.

But hey, what do I know? I’m fat.