How to revive the ”Superman” franchise
As the success of ”Smallville” suggests, troubled times like these call for a savior — or at least a Superman. And in addition to the WB’s Kryptonian Bildungsroman (which is taking its ”no flights, no tights” vow seriously), there’s a full-fledged version of the Man of Steel headed for the big screen. Director McG (”Charlie’s Angels”) and screenwriter J.J. Abrams (”Alias,” ”Felicity”) have signed on to the project, which is slated to hit theaters in June 2003, according to Variety. It’d be the first Superman movie since 1987’s flop ”Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” which, with its Superman-rids-the-world-of-nuclear-weapons premise, ended Christopher Reeve’s run as the last son of Krypton.
A subsequent effort to bring Superman to the movies — which would’ve have starred Nicolas Cage as directed by Tim Burton — wound up in oblivion. Assuming that doesn’t happen again, here are a few helpful hints for the latest project’s creators.
SUPERMAN AIN’T ”CHARLIE’S ANGELS”
Warner Bros. presumably wanted McG because of the comic-book sheen he gave ”Charlie’s Angels.” He created an unreal but stylish world of bright colors and improbable events, exploiting every bit of camp value inherent in the TV show’s dated premise. But the director would be ill-advised to try the same trick with Superman.
The critical disaster that was Joel Schumacher’s ”Batman and Robin” should be an object lesson to McG and Abrams: It’s a mistake to treat beloved characters as a joke, however silly the idea of a millionaire dressed up as a bat (or a hunky alien who can fly) happens to be. Unlike ”Charlie’s Angels,” Superman isn’t just another piece of pop culture detritus. The character — an extraterrestrial immigrant who grows up in the heartland and learns to fight for truth, justice and the way of his adopted land — is a resonant American myth (albeit one who’s been known to hang out with Krypto the Superdog and Beppo the Super-Monkey).
Still, the post-”Matrix” visual flair of ”Charlie’s Angels” would go just fine with ‘”Superman” — in fact, the advances in special effects since 1987 are themselves enough justification for a new movie. And, actually, it’d be kind of cool if cape-wearing canine Krypto came along for the ride.
DON’T IGNORE ”SMALLVILLE”
On the other end of the spectrum, ”Smallville” takes the Superman mythos, and itself, almost TOO seriously at times. It’s hard not to wish that Clark Kent (Tom Welling) would ease up on the teen angst; he’s an adolescent with X-ray vision, so what more could he want? Nonetheless, the show’s high-for-the-WB ratings, critical acclaim, and cultural cachet (witness the Rolling Stone cover) make it the most successful take on Superman since the first two Christopher Reeve movies.
How could the new Superman movie cash in that success? One simple step would be to cast Welling as the adult Man of Steel; he looks too old to be in high school, anyway. The show’s Michael Rosenbaum may be too fresh-faced to play a grown-up Lex Luthor, but his nuanced portrayal makes him worthy of consideration, too. The cross-promotional opportunities afforded by such a casting stunt could be too rich for the filmmakers (and AOL Time Warner, the corporate force behind both the show and the movie — as well as EW) to resist.
At the same time, McG is no doubt anxious to put his own stamp on Superman, which would extend to casting, and Warner might not mind having more than one viable Super-actor out there. Even so, the new movie could still be informed by ”Smallville”’s smart choices, such as placing Clark Kent squarely in the present (his ship landed in the ’80s), paring down his superpowers, and showing us how lonely a gifted alien can be.
SUPERMAN’S NOT THE MARRYING — OR DYING — KIND
One of the rumored premises for Tim Burton’s abortive Superman project was the death of Superman, loosely based on a DC Comics story arc from the ’90s (he was eventually resurrected). The Superman-croaks-and-comes-back storyline was an empty, attention-getting stunt in the comics; it’d be the same in the movies.
An equally dopey move would be to follow another current comics plotline, in which Clark Kent has married Lois Lane, revealing his secret identity in the process. The same stunt helped kill off the early-’90s TV dramedy ”Lois and Clark.” Despite his penchant for romance, J.J. Abrams should avoid this idea like Kryptonite. It eliminates one of the key dramatic premises of the Superman saga: Lois is supposed to love Superman and loathe Clark.
Instead of embracing gimmicky plots, the new movie should do for the adult Clark Kent what ”Smallville” did for the teen, and make the character come alive. In short, it needs to make us believe, one more time, that a man can fly.