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Superman Returns Again, Maybe

November 2, 2008

Comic-book writer Mark Millar is now talking about his plans for the Superman film series, which was resurrected two years ago with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, to mixed reviews. That’s a polite way of saying lots and lots of geeks went to see it, but not all of them will admit it was pretty sucky.

Singer’s mistake was paying too much tribute to the Donner Superman movies (I’m counting the original version of No. 2 here). He wisely ignored Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Plot and tried to continue that noble, squeaky-clean version of Clark Kent/Superman that Christopher Reeve did so well.

But Singer got something really wrong, something that proved how bad a match he was for the job. He just didn’t convey any kind of grandeur, of epic majesty, which is crucial for a Superman story. Singer has excelled with street-level grit, even in his two X-Men films; they were about superbeings who dwell in the shadows, dressed in black, not godlike figures in bright primary colours.

Example, and this may be a spoiler: When Superman saves the falling jet in Superman Returns. The crash sequence itself should have been thrilling, but it falls apart under its crappy CGI (I saw it in 3D originally, which made it worse). Then Singer redeems himself with a nice character moment with Lois Lane (a really miscast Kate Bosworth, who looks about 13). But it all falls apart when Superman steps to the door of the plane to face his adoring crowd. Singer parks the camera at crap angles and gives us a vaguely smug Superman just sort of looking around.

And from there, Superman Returns flew downwind, taking the stupidest elements of the early movies (Oh, Lex Luthor has a real estate scam? How … lame), adding a son-of-Lois subplot, throwing in James Wooden, I mean Marsden, as a make-good for X-Men and all in all just tanking hard.

Brandon Routh did a pretty good Christopher Reeve impression, but never quite mastered Reeve’s ability to make Clark and Superman two different people. Reeve nailed it. Routh didn’t. He was too Clarky as Superman, too Super as Clark.

So, Mark Millar says, ditch all that. Quit trying to draw from the old films and instead look to something else for inspiration. He suggests, as an example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and wants to film three Superman epics back-to-back, to be released a year apart. The series would begin with the birth of Kal-El, uh, a thousand years ago on a dying Krypton, then tell his life story through three films until the trilogy travels far in the future, with an ancient and immortal Superman, the last man on Earth, as the sun turns from yellow to red and he ends his story.

“It’s gonna be like Michael Corleone in the Godfather films, the entire story from beginning to end, you see where he starts, how he becomes who he becomes, and where that takes him,” Millar told Empire Magazine. “The Dark Knight showed you can take a comic book property and make a serious film, and I think the studios are ready to listen to bigger ideas now.”

Okay, I love this. I think it’s perfect. This is Superman. He’s tough to write, as he’s indestructible, fast and pretty much unbeatable. This is why Superman comics are so dull, why the movies haven’t been working, why the various pitches that crashed and burned in the 80s, 90s and onward couldn’t be made. Tim Burton’s Death Of Superman came close, and had a story worth telling on film, but also had Nic Cage as Superman, which could almost be called the worst Superman casting concept ever until you remember that John Travolta was supposed to play Superboy in 1978. Seriously.

So to do this right, it should be a monumental piece of filmmaking, which is exactly what Millar is proposing. He is, after all, in the upper echelon of modern comics writers, and possible among the best of all time. So when he comes up with an idea like this, you know it’s no fanciful geek daydream, but a viable, makeable plan.

At this stage, it’s still a theory, but it would be something amazing to see this happen.

Note: The image at the top was created by a guy called Huckman.

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