Jul 23 2009
Superman is a waning superhero.
In the past year, his comics have consistently been outsold by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flash, Green Lantern, Deadpool, and every A-list franchise. (For example, his top-performing comic book in June 2009 placed #43 on the bestsellers list).
According to io9, even DC Comics acknowledged that the Superman movie franchise is struggling. Superman’s latest film-outing grossed about $390 million on a production budget of $270 million. That’s notably worse than 1996′s Batman Forever, let alone either of the two most recent Batman films. Yes… even Joel Schumacher, the “director” that put nipples on the Batsuit, beat Superman.
Here’s how I would reboot Superman.
1. Give him a real personality with some actual flaws. This does not mean that he has to be brooding. (Please see Spiderman or Ironman– characters can be three-dimensional and fun!) For example, maybe he’s a bit overconfident or careless. Even a small flaw would make him more likable and believable.
2. Have him discover his alien ancestry as an adult or remove the alien origin altogether. Right now, there’s a ~30 year gap between his origin story (landing on Earth) and the events of the front-story. In contrast, most successful superhero franchises place the origin story fairly late in the protagonist’s life, as part of the front story. For example, Tony Stark built the Iron-Man suit as an adult, Peter Parker was bitten by the spider in his late teens, the X-Men mostly develop mutant powers in their late teens, etc. Even Batman Begins focused on the second part of Batman’s origin: his ninja training with the Legion of Shadows as an adult rather than the murder of his parents as a child. When the origin story is part of the front story, the pacing usually benefits. One of the advantages of this is that a story like Spiderman doesn’t have to describe what happens to the character when he’s an infant or six or whatever. No one cares!
3. Revamp his powers so that he depends more on agility and skill than raw strength and speed. Strength and speed make for Hulk-like action sequences that are stale and monotonous. Most top-selling superheroes rely on agility instead: Spiderman, Batman, Wolverine, etc. Remember, no one loves Neo because he could punch hard enough to leave a crater in the concrete. The action scenes in The Matrix were freakishly successful because the heroes did acrobatic stunts that were far more gripping than flying straight at the enemy. Additionally, agile heroes are usually easier to threaten. Overcoming threats helps makes a hero compelling.
4. Lose the kryptonite. If the character weren’t overpowered to begin with, the kryptonite wouldn’t be necessary. Kryptonite is terrible for several reasons. First, a helpless Superman is even less interesting in battle than an invincible Superman. Second, relying on kryptonite rather than reducing Superman’s powers entirely means that 99% of criminals can’t even conceivably threaten him.
5. Recast everyone. Brandon Routh (Superman) and Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane) turned in particularly lifeless performances. I’d especially recommend looking for a pair that’s fun and energetic. This is a superhero movie, after all. Also, it would help if the actors had the gravitas to play two award-winning journalists. Kate Bosworth as a Pulitzer winner? Please.
6. If Superman is going to be 100% moraled, at least test his morals. Even Spiderman made mistakes– he let the robber run off, for example. Superman’s morals are never tested and generally poorly-developed. For example, why does someone so powerful empathize with humans? Why does he care about human laws? If he’s going to be so faithful to human legal systems– which are often quite flawed– then make sure there are consequences. Test him! If he just turns in Lex Luthor to the police, Lex will get off with the best lawyers and witness-killing assassins money can buy. If Superman wants to beat Lex without giving up his law-abiding morals, he has to build a case that sticks. To do so, he has to rely on more than just his superpowers. That’s more impressive than just beating his way to the end of the story.
7. NO LEX LUTHOR. Apparently the writers missed the memo that this is a superhero movie. Sure, he’s got megalomania, rugged good looks, and premature male balding going on, but he isn’t any more qualified to be a supervillain than I am. If using Lex is really necessary, at least give him superpowers and a more compelling motivation than greed.