Over the weekend, my wife and I watched Man of Steel, the Zack Snyder-directed Superman reboot. I liked it a lot. Granted, Superman was never my superhero of choice (he always seemed too powerful and too goodie-two-shoes to be really interesting), and while I appreciated the first two Christoper Reeve movies, I was happy to see a grittier, more action-packed take on the character. Bringing in Chris Nolan and David Goyer to kickstart the reboot on the heels of their fantastic Batman trilogy gave Man of Steel a fresh, grounded approach to the material, and Snyder did admirable work developing the production into a special effects extravaganza. It had plenty of spectacle and action, and it was cool to see a Superman who wasn't so afraid to get his hands dirty, rather than rise above it all and speechify about how the villains won't win. He was an active, take-charge hero, which I really appreciated. And Russel Crowe as his Kryptonian father, Jor El? Awesome stuff, and quite an ass-kicker in his own right. Definitely a far cry from Marlon Brando's brief million-dollar performance. I also appreciated Kevin Costner's Pa Kent, Superman's adopted father who, in this new picture, was very conflicted about his son's role and development, and kept him sheltered. My father was of a similar mind-set, and was very over-protective, so I could relate to Clark's frustrations regarding familial expectations. Ultimately, the movie just really worked for me, and I felt it was a solid reintroduction to the characters and broke new ground, rather than repeating and retreading so much of what has come before. === Man of Steel SPOILERS follow, along with lots of rampant speculation! ===
The really big news came after the film's release, with the announcement that Ben Affleck would be starring as The Dark Knight in the Man of Steel follow-up (tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman, although Warner Bros. has registered some other Internet domain names that lack the luster of the proposed title). The casting news was met with a lot of controversy and unnecessary vitriol. At first, I was taken aback by this choice, but have since warmed to the casting, and even more so after finally getting to watch Man of Steel. Affleck has done some great work in The Town and Argo, and I am really looking forward to his helming the adaptation of Dennis Lehane's Live By Night. I can see him fitting into this new phase of the DC Cinematic Universe rather well. His Batman will be older, weary, and more experienced. He's definitely got the jaw to fill out the bat cowl. I can't imagine he'll have many problems bringing either Batman or the Bruce Wayne alter-ego to life in a sensible fashion.
I think Synder, Goyer, and Affleck will adopt an interesting and fresh approach to the Caped Crusader, and their collaboration should produce a very different take on the character than what we saw in Nolan's films. As much as I love what Nolan and Christian Bale brought to the screen, I do hope for a more comic-book-centric approach to Gotham's best moving forward, and a richer establishment of Batman's allies and villains. It should open up the world of the DCU more, return Batman to his comic book roots, and play around with his keen detective insights (something not heavily emphasized, if not outright ignored, in past bat-films) and fun gadgetry. Now that Man of Steel has brought in the sci-fi element, it's a bit of cross-genre mish-mash that could play well in Gotham and allow some of Batman's rogue gallery to be introduced, like Clayface, or reintroduced and done right, as Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy so desperately need. But all of that will likely have to wait for solo-Batfleck films. For now, it's a Man of Steel sequel, and it should be conducted as such.
At its heart, Man of Steel was about parentage and the lessons of a father, and how that input shapes one's sense of self as the boy develops into the man. This would be a good theme to explore in the sequel, and perhaps the more seasoned crime-fighter can take the young Superman under his wing and train him properly. Although I hope we don't get another lengthy crash-course into the origins of the Batman (really, hasn't his mythos seeped into the pop culture enough that we can get a Bat-flick without all the expository background on his parents death, especially so soon after Batman Begins?), it's interesting that both characters have lost family, and, in their formative moments, relied on somewhat-pseudo-father figures (Bruce Wayne's relationship with Alfred, and Clark's with Jor El) for support. These elements can help them foster a common ground and develop a friendship despite their odd-couple nature. Of course, one would imagine there will be plenty of conflict in brokering that alliance.
In a sense, Man of Steel is also about Superman losing. He had to kill Zod in order to end the Kryptonian threat on Earth. It's an emotionally resonant climax and an action that Superman regrets taking. He violated the one rule that we, as an audience, know he would never do. Superman would never kill. But in the film, he wasn't left with many other options and he did the necessary evil and was immediately anguishing over that action. I think the consequences of this will be where Batman enters the picture, perhaps initially believing Superman to be a dangerous threat and taking steps to oppose him. With large sections of Metropolis destroyed, it'll likely take the combined philanthropy of Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne to rebuild, and Batman and Superman will oppose one another until they realize they share a common foe with Luthor.
First and foremost, the sequel needs to be a Man of Steel film. While it'll be cool to have Batman back in action, his inclusion shouldn't overshadow the production. It would be neat to see him in a smaller, more adversarial role prior to becoming a mentor of sorts to the blue boy scout. Secondly, it needs to avoid the typical superhero trope of the entire planet in danger. We got that in the first movie, along with the alien menace. The second pic needs to focus on the human threat, which is where I imagine Batman (and probably Lex Luthor) would come into play. Let it be about Superman embracing the Clark Kent persona and reveling in his adopted world, and embracing his fundamental humanity and striving to make-up for the wrongs committed in dealing so absolutely with Zod. Let him learn from Batman why, even with all of your strength and power, you cannot just kill somebody without repercussion. It should be a film about humanity and trust, with a strong focus on Metropolis and its reconstruction. The rebirth of Metropolis should be symbolic of the rebirth of Superman as he puts his guilt aside and strives to become the idyllic hero that speaks to the best of humanity.
If this first film is any indication, along with Goyer's skill and familiarity with the Bat-mythos, the Superman sequel should be a worthy, enjoyable follow-up. Hopefully it will be a more personal, introspective film with a tighter focus on characters. The filmmakers would be smart to pull a move or two from The Wolverine and scale things down, rather than trying to go bigger and bolder. We've already seen Metropolis get decimated. Now is the time for these creators to focus on building a better and stronger world Superman to inhabit and protect.