By Amy Ryan
Updated July 30, 2020 at 05:54 PM EDT
Brandon Routh, Superman Returns
Credit: David James

Poor Superman. His last movie was a disappointment, and now his DC Comics stablemate Batman is getting all the box office glory. But Warner Bros. has a plan, according to the Wall Street Journal, to reboot the Superman franchise, and its DC superhero properties in general. That plan, in a nutshell: Do what Marvel does. (After all, Marvel didn’t wait around too long to go back to the drawing board with a Hulk reboot.) The two prongs of the plan: First, make a bunch of related movies about individual DC heroes (including Green Arrow, Green Lantern, the Flash, and Wonder Woman), then tie them together with a group tale (the sidelined Justice League of America movie), à la Marvel’s Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers. Second, make the characters all psychologically darker (like Iron Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, Spider-Man, etc., but more importantly, like Warners’ own Batman, as Christian Bale has portrayed him, to great box office success).

Derivative as it is, this is not a bad plan, but can it work for Superman? The Man of Steel is not usually thought of as a brooding, tormented character, but there’s certainly room in his mythology for him to be portrayed that way. David Mamet wrote an essay about 20 years ago emphasizing Superman’s history of psychological damage. He’s an orphan who never knew his real parents or even his birthplace; he loves a woman he can’t really have, everyone he’s close to is consequently a target for his enemies; he’s an immigrant who remains a freak who’ll never be able to fully assimilate (and who finds refuge in the remotest place on Earth); and the only thing that can kill him is literal fragments of his past. Plus, his human disguise — as weak, awkward, clumsy, ineffectual professional bystander Clark Kent — suggests he doesn’t hold humanity in high regard.

Still, do moviegoers even want a dark Superman? We do like our superheroes bleak these days — not just Dark Knight and the Marvel characters, but also Hancock and the forthcoming Watchmen. And we’ve certainly seen Clark himself display plenty of teen angst on Smallville. But moviegoers have almost always gotten a Superman who’s a big blue Boy Scout. There’s certain to be outrage from some quarters if Superman is portrayed as something other than the untroubled, apple-pie defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But I wouldn’t worry; he’s a pretty strong guy. If he bounced back from Superman IV and Superman Returns, he’ll survive this, too.

addCredit(“Brandon Routh in Superman Returns: David James”)

Superman Returns

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 157 minutes
  • Bryan Singer