Monday, February 7, 2011

Superman casting: Like I needed something else to complain about...

With Middle East governments destabilizing, winter storms turning the gutters into leaking yet impenetrable ice dams, and a partially torn Achilles tendon in a boot that forces me to walk like RoboCop (as opposed to normally when I choose to walk that way), today  I’m going to complain about something serious: Hollywood’s use of Superman.

They’ve cast Superman for a new film, and he’s Henry Cavill an impressive looking relative unknown.  A fine choice as long as they used the, “Lois…there’s something I have to tell you,” scene from the original for his screen test…otherwise it hardly matters.

Once again, it looks like Warner Brothers does not understand the characters they own.  I learned  here that the female lead will not be Lois Lane. That write up has the important reasons detailed why this is a bad idea, you should go read them, and I’ll wait …

Welcome back.  There’s a new add on indicating the role may be Ursa, but since that may show this film is heading down the path of Superman Returns, my nerd rage can continue with only a slight change in direction.  Many times when DC characters get made into films, the movie makers look for ways to make them more flawed and realistic characters. Unfortunately, they aren’t…they’re mythological style icons. If you make them more flawed and realistic, you get Marvel characters.

Batman as a more realistic version of a millionaire orphan playboy:  that’s Iron Man. Bruce pretends to be a hard partying womanizer, Tony is.
Batman as a more realistic version of obsessively driven violent vigilante:  that’s Daredevil.
Bruce makes his foes think he’s completely over the edge unhinged, Matt frequently is.

 DC characters are often more symbol than person. I just reread the Death and Return of Superman arc.  The best parts of that story were reactions of other characters. Losing someone so much a part of your life (for good or ill) that it seems inconceivable that they can be gone is something most people have to deal with at one time or another.  Superman symbolized that for EVERYONE.  His replacements in that arc are also great demonstrations of why shifting Superman in trendy directions away from the core myth is a bad idea.

The 1978 movie got it right, which is why it’s not only a classic, but a blueprint for super hero origin movies.  Unfortunately, it got it so right that Superman Returns treated the original FILMS as iconic, instead of the CHARACTERS, leading to a somewhat lumpy result, and causing some to desire a push away from the elements used in those films.

Here are my concerns about that pushing away:

This first is Lois, which again, has been covered, but her importance can’t be overestimated.  Superman is often shown saying he can’t belong to “one person”. He even said that specifically to Lana Lang in a couple of stories (and remember, Lana was created to basically be a teenage version of Lois for Superboy.)  But Lois was created to BE that one person who gets in touch with his “human side” and gives him the hope that he acts as a symbol of to everyone else.  Heck, she named the guy, and there was a comic called “Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane” that ran for over 130 issues. She’s the one.  The Nolan Batman movies worked very well with a new love interest, but the identity of the love interest isn’t important to the Batman myth, just that it ends badly for him.  Note that in these films, and other well done adaptations, Commissioner Gordon and Alfred are well written and developed characters. They represent Batman’s strongest influences, just as Lois is Superman’s.

Then there is kryptonite.  Again, I’ve seen many complaints that they use Kryptonite too much in Superman films.  Kryptonite has become like Kleenex (and I’m not just using its color to make a booger joke this time.) Whenever a weakness is brought up, not only for super heroes, but especially there, Kryptonite is invoked.  If Kosher Pastrami Man can only be defeated by Swiss Cheese, then Swiss Cheese is referred to as “Kosher Pastrami Man’s Kryptonite”.  So in a Superman story, when they want to show “Superman’s Kryptonite” guess what?  It’s the real El Guapo…I mean Kryptonite! 

(Actually Superman’s other real weakness is magic, but don’t hold your breath for magic to show up in the “realistic non childish” type of superhero films we have now.  That’s also why we have no Robin in the new Batman films.  God forbid we have any hint of silliness in our story of a man who dresses in high tech winged pajamas to go out and beat up a clown.  And while I’m ranting, Batman is not more realistic than Superman. The sheer amount of improbable things that have to line up to make Batman possible are WAY less likely than the notion that an alien could have abilities far beyond ours. )

Another item that’s dancing around my head (on this topic anyway, it’s crowded in there) is the use of Lex Luthor. Again, many are hoping that some other villain is used in the new film. I think not. If there’s any man, beast or alien attacking Superman, Luthor should be funding, supporting, or looking to control it.  Luthor is the one person that Superman’s message of hope doesn’t reach, there’s no way to convince him that anyone could be “that good”. Superman is “that good” again, because he’s an icon, that’s his job. Luthor is actually close to an evil version of Batman, well funded, well supplied, and well planned. He’s the pinnacle of human achievement, but also of human jealousy.  He claims he’s trying to prove that humanity has no need of “the Alien”, but really wants all of Superman’s accolades for himself.  There can be other main adversaries, but Luthor’s presence should at least be acknowledged.  More than any other villain, Luthor provides the best contrast to Superman by simply not believing in him.  No amount of evil super powers can compare to that. (As another aside, this is why the stories of Batman and Superman work best when they are friends.  Bruce has every reason to believe the same things Lex does, but he doesn’t because, when written correctly, Superman inspires hope even to Batman’s dark world.)

Superman also inspires people to go, “Wow!” a great deal, so we’ll need Jimmy there to put a face on that…I’m just sayin’.

DC characters are icons requiring myth like tales to use them correctly.  Superman is the icon of icons, the first, and the original. In order to have it be the character that has been successful for over seventy years, the elements of the myth need to remain intact.  The myth doesn’t need rewriting to create new stories, there are a myriad of creative possibilities from such a strong foundation.

However, if Superman’s squeeze turns out to be Lori Lemaris as a method of leading the way into a new and uber-awsome Aquaman film…I withdraw this entire essay.


longbow said...

They shouldn't cast a foreigner as Superman. It should be an American or a *real* alien

Matthew Drabik said...

Christopher Reeve sucked as Superman and "Superman IV" was the logical conclusion of that suckitude. He was so terrible that he ruined this character for me until I read "The Death and Life of Superman" (first as comics then bought the novel).
Replacing Lois in an original story is a stupid idea, but I disagree about his need to be in touch with his human side. He IS Clark Kent, the son of Jon and Martha Kent. Being Superman is just something he does because he feels obligated due to his abilities, but he always sees these abilities and Kal-El/Superman as something alien. The fact that chunks of his birthworld strip him of his Kryptonian characteristics underlines the alienness of Superman in Clark's mind.
Also, Big Hollywood had a good article yesterday about how geeks should welcome Brit actors in superhero movies since Brit actors are cast due to the strength of their performances while American actors are cast based on looks and SAG guidelines (resulting in atrocities like Christopher Reeve as Superman, blech!).

Jeff McGinley said...

OK, we’re going to have to disagree here (Except about Superman IV, I’ll give you that one.)

1) Reeve is the ONLY actor who made the Clark/Superman duality and disguise believable. It's not just me saying that, I've seen it stated by many movie reviewers and comic book professionals. When I read Superman comics, I hear his voice in my head. For many of us, he was Superman.

2) The idea of Clark as the real person and Superman as the disguise is mostly true of the Post Crisis “Man of Steel” reboot. It was the opposite Pre-Crisis, when the 1987 movie was made. (David Carradine’s speech about Clark Kent being how Superman sees humanity in Kill Bill was spot on for Pre Crisis.) The truth of it in all versions is closer to both the Clark Kent and Superman personas he shows to people are disguises of a sort. Remember of his two closest friends, Bruce calls him “Clark, but Diana calls him “Kal”. He’s a mix. That’s what I meant by his “human side”, Lois is the one normal woman who sees who he really is, outside of both Superman the Icon and the Clark Kent that he shows the world.

3) That’s an interesting take on Kryptonite, and I’d like to see stories based on that theory, but that’s not how it works in any continuity that’s been used. It would make sense if it only worked on Superman, or even other Earth raised Kryptonians. It doesn’t though it works on all Kryptonians, even the ones that have no other identity, and revile humans. Plus it doesn’t take away his alien powers…it kills him. At least the green one does, the gold one does remove powers permanently, but again it works on everyone. Then there’s red which has a random 24 hour effect, and blue which is created by an imperfect duplicator ray, and kills Bizzaros…what was I saying again?

So far a British Batman’s been doing well playing all three parts (Batman, Who Bruce pretends to be, and who Bruce really is), so I have no problem with a British actor playing Superman if he can do all three as well.

Linda said...

I think even the makers of Superman Returns acknowledged that Christopher Reeve "was" Superman. Their casting choice of someone who looked frighteningly like him, and decision to reproduce scenes from the original, again with disturbing accuracy, reflects that.

However, I think Superman Returns suffered an unforseen side effect of these choices. Beyond plot, script etc. issues with Superman Returns, the frequent deja vu moments throughout make it pretty much unwatchable as far as I'm concerned. And I don't think I'm the only one who had, I'm seeing the ghost of a dead man, moments throughout....

Hence reboot!

Jeff McGinley said...

Exactly what I meant by treating the inital film as iconic instead of the characters. What I did enjoy about "Superman Returns" was seeing a film made by people who liked the original movie as much as I did. But their attempts to recreate that film as much as possible got in the way of the new story. Also, just because Superman was away from the movies for a long time, doesn't make it true to the character that he'd be away from Earth for a long time.

Jeff McGinley said...

Argh, I know no one cares but me, but above It should say "when the 1978 movie was made".
1978 was, in fact, when Superman came out and was pre 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. 1987 is just me typing too fast.