Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More on the Zack Snyder Superman Movie Thing

 It was odd to see the news about Zack Snyder getting the Superman gig when I popped open my laptop in Brownsville at the hotel.   I think i09 had a pretty solid set of recommendations for the movie.  And, of course, the rumors are now bouncing around about General Zod of Superman 2 fame named the villain for the movie.

I am as much a fan of Superman 2 as you're likely to find, but its an odd choice from a comic fan's perspective.  Zod has traditionally been a minor villain in the comics (and the movie Zod is more like villain Jax-Ur in many ways than the oddly-hatted Zod).  From a movie-making perspective, it makes more sense.  Zod can demonstrate and play out all those bad impulses that fans can say they think Superman would be unable to stop himself from demonstrating as some sort of totalitarian alien/ diety on Earth.  And, of course, Superman standing up against Zod doesn't just logically make sense, but it should define what Superman does and why.

It's that whole "equal opposites" thing you wind up getting in a lot of action movies.

Signal Corps regular Horus Kemwer sent me a link to the start of a web discussion about the philosophical issues surrounding Superman, and while I am no student of philosophy, I'd suggest that if Zack Snyder would like for his movie to carry the weight of The Dark Knight, starting with the problems inherent in a superbeing (not necessarily Superman himself.  After all, we've got a cadre of superbeings to choose from out of the comics for a "compare and contrast" session for the movie) and what the morality and responsibility of that superbeing might be...  and, of course, explosions.

But, to that point, Nolan's second Batman film was quite literally about the boundaries and limits of retaining one's morals in a city seemingly gone mad, from Batman to doomed Harvey Dent to the boatloads of people with the ultimate "would you rather" scenario put in front of them.  And I think you can use Superman to explore issues of power (something Americans don't think about wielding, but which we do flaunt across the planet like titans every day) in order to tell a compelling story and imbue the myth of the alien-christ-immigrant with relevancy and impact beyond a popcorn flick.

Can Zack Snyder do this?  It depends how closely he chooses to work with Chris Nolan and Nolan's team, I think.

And I know I've said this before, but...

I am still not sure we'll seee Snyder take this through to completion.  Prior to Superman Returns, flashy directors like McG and Brett Ratner known for their ability to put together neat action sequences and exciting car chases both wound up dropping off Superman after signing up to do the movie. Tim Burton tried to do another "outsider" movie and walked away.

It would be great to get another Superman movie in front of the lens, but at some point directors as successful and well-intentioned as Snyder have been on Superman before, and they couldn't quite find the hook. It doesn't matter what anyone says:  do not believe its happening until you see the first publicity stills.


Simon MacDonald said...

Regarding Synder, I liked the "300" as it is not a deep movie but the action scenes are quite impressive and it seems to increase testosterone levels in anyone who watches it.

His adaption of "Watchmen" could only have been better if they left the original ending in but I can understand why it needed to be changed. While it wasn't a great movie I think it would've been a lot worse if another director got his hands on it.

I have high hopes for a Nolan/Synder Superman movie. I think you are right as they really need to contrast Superman against another incredibly powerful alien being. Someone like Brainiac or Mongul. They have to show why Superman is different because of his inherent moral standard he sets for himself. He's got all the power necessary to take over the world but he doesn't.

I want to see a scene in the movie where Superman and the villain are having a big fight but Superman has to leave himself open to an attack because he has to rescue someone from a burning car or a falling building. Just don't make it Lois or Jimmy. It has to be a nobody because Superman would leave himself open for a world of hurt for anybody not just people who he has a personal relationship with.

J.S. said...

Does anyone else find it strange that the Gods of Greek and Roman mythology all had flaws and moral weaknesses that they occasionally succumbed to (Zeus had how many bastard kids running around?) and even the Christian God is portrayed in the Bible as expressing character traits such as jealousy and vengefulness (no shortage in the bible of stories where people got punished for worshipping false gods and/or turning away from God- plus there's that whole "torturing Job to test the limits of his faith" story), but Superman seems able to avoid such lowly human traits and flaws? This has been said many times before, but I still have issues with Superman as a character...
I keep coming back to him, but I got issues.

The League said...

I don't know that you've ever actually said "yes, that is an example" when I've pitched dozens of examples in the past. And I know we've had this discussion a dozen times.

And, hey, you want bastard kids? Superman Returns! Jealousy? See "I could score a touchdown every time!" Vengefulness: Dude flat out kills Zod after robbing him of his power.

As per "testing the limits of faith"... that's more the bag of the Guardians of Oa than a mid-western farm kid grappling with awesome power and responsibility.

I can point to lots of examples from the comics, but for some reason you put on some rule saying "that doesn't count". As far as I can tell, unless he's gnashing his teeth on a Twinkies box you're not pleased.

Oh, wait... there it is!

Tortured! Flawed! Twinkies!

J.S. said...

Wait. I thought you said most Superman fans totally rejected the Superman Returns bastard kid plotline as being totally out of continuity and out of keeping with the overall Superman storyline (as was the Superman/Wonder Woman daughter from the most recent Dark Knight series). And I thought Zod ultimately got banished to the Phantom Zone, not killed (maybe I'm just totally wrong about that, but...). "I can score a touchdown every time" was a line meant to reflect a youthful Superman who hadn't yet grown into the fully formed, morally flawless being that we see as the adult character (as opposed to Zeus, who is undoubtedly a fully formed adult, but still has issues).
The Superman discussion goes this way every time because Superman fans repeatedly assert the fact that the characteristic that truly sets Superman apart as a character is his unwavering moral compass and tireless ability to do the right thing, but then when the criticism arises that this same unwavering moral compass may make Superman less believable and compelling, Supe fans quickly flip and say that, "Oh, no, well he's not THAT flawless. Take note of all of these short lived subplots that various writers have attempted to implement during various ancillary plotlies designed to make the character more interesting..."
Numerous writers have undoubtedly tried to "humanize" Superman at various points by giving him occasional flaws, but since comic book characters are so prolific and appear in so many different incarnations, I think you have to look at the overall consensus in order to determine who a comic character truly is, and from what I gather, it seems like the common consensus with Superman is that, by definition, he's a guy who always does the right thing (despite having the ability to do pretty much whatever he wants). People always seem to come back to Superman's moral infallibility as a defining characteristic of the character, which, to me (and maybe only to me) makes him interesting as a symbol, but less compelling as a character.
Yeah, we've had this debate many times before, but when we start talking about the sorts of things that would make a Superman movie great, I still end up thinking about these things. I don't know. I DO feel like a good Superman movie would be one was just as concerned with really developing the character as it was with pulling off action sequences and villain battles (but Superman should be epic- he should feel the weight of responsibility on a global scale, not necessarily be the sort of mopey guy from Superman Returns who worries so much about personal problems).

The League said...

Well, the problem with this argument is that it does have to do with minutia, which is exactly what comic nerds spend their time in forums debating. In some ways, by rejecting examples presented, and those attempts to humanize that you've characterized as unimportant or transitory subplots, it dismisses the modernization of the character. And, certainly the rotation of creative teams that marked comics from 00' - 06' meant that the character suffered as growth lasted only until the next creator came onboard in 4 issues.

I don't think any fan would say "the characteristic that truly sets Superman apart as a character is his unwavering moral compass and tireless ability to do the right thing". The primary conflict in many Superman stories is the challenge of determining the correct path and dealing with the consequences of the choice, as well as the consequences of dealing with the moral code which Superman knows separates him from the bad-guys (a pretty common modern superhero theme, but blown out on an epic scale with Superman). I'd point to the recent year-long story of "New Krypton" which has led directly into the "walk across America", which similarly reflects Superman's inner conflicts.

As per the "Superman Returns" bastard kid... I think initially it was fairly well received, but the failure to follow up with a sequel sort of squashed it. But I don't think Superman's reaction in the film was entirely out of character.

From the silver age to today, one of the undercurrents of the Superman comics is Superman's conflicted feelings about home and family, as an orphan of an immense tragedy who happened, against all odds, to be placed with the Kents (a fact so improbable that the JJ Abrams draft had Jor-El visit Ma and Pa prior to sending Kal-El to Earth). The kid didn't just tie into that theme as presented pretty beautifully in the first movie and the Donner cut of Superman 2, but more or less was the theme, tying the three movies together amazingly well.

I also think a Superman movie, to be successful, needs to be a big, weighty movie on the lines of Dark Knight that uses the character to weigh the moral complexity of the character's existence, and that's part of why I'm okay with Zod as a villain, as a counterpoint.