Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mumble grumble

So, I've been keeping up with the news regarding the new Superman movie, and a few of the rumors (though I've avoided the 'we've totally read the new script' people). Some thoughts:
  • So, we know that Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are playing the Kents, and that they're looking to do some exterior shooting in a rural town. At the very least, that means we get to see some Smallville, and I'm obviously fine with that. Since there appears to be enough of a fanbase for "Smallville" as a TV series to keep it going for ten years, and since the movie's coming out only a year or so after that series ends--possibly right in time for a "Complete Series" boxset to be released--this seems like kind of a no-brainer.

    That being said, it also has implications: Either we're going to see an origin story, or Superman's parents are going to be alive and involved with his adult life. The former case makes me rub at my temples; it's definitely dynamic and dramatic and allows the director to flex his sci-fi muscles, but the origin of Superman is among the most well-known stories in the western world. It's a part of the cultural consciousness, and it really doesn't need yet another telling. At least, not one that's long and protracted, which would be suggested by casting big names as the Kents.

    If it's the latter case, then I can't say I've got a real problem with that. I like the idea of Superman having parents, having a family to turn to, and it'd be nice to see that carry over.
  • Michael Shannon has been cast as General Zod. This is the "mumble grumble" of the headline; my feelings about General Zod are well-documented, and despite a strong showing in the New Krypton storyline, I don't expect him to have any incredible amount of depth in the new film. The biggest mistake "Superman Returns" made was to basically retell the story of the first Superman film; I really hate to see the new film apparently following the same path. It's like seeing all the Trekkies who want the next "Star Trek" film to be "Wrath of Khan" or "Space Seed" again. Doesn't anyone want to see new stories? I've watched a movie where Superman fought General Zod. I'd really like to see a movie where he fights, you know, anyone else, but maybe especially Brainiac or Metallo or Darkseid or even frigging Doomsday.

    The worst part about that, though, is Snyder's commentary:
    Zod is not only one of Superman's most formidable enemies, but one of the most significant because he has insights into Superman that others don't.
    Can we unpack that for a moment? Sure, Zod has insights into Superman that others don't. Zod has the exact same powers, unrestrained by Superman's sense of honor and decency. Zod lived on Krypton, and has no loyalty for the human race, no love for them. Zod knew Superman's birth father, who Superman never met, and while Superman might be tempted to idealize Jor-El, Zod hates him. These are all rich areas to mine for conflict and action. The problem is that they've already been mined, and you can see the evidence of that every damn weekend when the movie's on some cable channel or another.

    But it's the first part that I have the most problem with. Not Zod's formidable-ness, that's fair (though there's really no shortage of characters who are a physical match for Superman--Doomsday, new Brainiac, exo-suited Luthor, Bizarro, Metallo, Mongul, Kalibak, even more obscure guys like Reactron, Neutron, or Atomic Skull), but his significance. Before "Superman II," Zod was a footnote. Less than that, in fact; looking through Michael Fleischer's 1978 Superman Encyclopedia, I can't even find reference to Zod (or Dru-Zod, or General Zod), who appeared only a handful of times in the Silver Age. I appreciate that the movie made him a name character and caused him to supplant Jax-Ur as the Number One Phantom Zone villain. But Superman has many more significant villains than General Zod.

    Okay, several.

    But you know, this doesn't happen to Batman. You ask people to name a Batman villain, they'll pick the Joker, sure. But ask them to name another, and I bet their first guess won't be "The Penguin" or "Max Schreck." Maybe "Catwoman."

    I don't doubt that there's a good story to be had from Superman vs. General Zod. I just feel like I've already seen that story. In the shadow of Richard Donner, that story is always going to play out the same way: Superman fights Zod, Zod says "Kneel before Zod!", and then...what? A story with General Zod paints itself into a corner. Lester had him depowered and apparently killed. Donner had Superman turn back time again. Byrne had Superman execute him. Everyone else has mostly just shoved him back into the Phantom Zone, which is kind of anti-climactic.

    There are seventy-five years of Superman stories to pull material from. 1978 and 1980 are only two of them.
  • Rumor has it that the movie has been semi-retitled; following the trend set by "The Dark Knight," the Superman reboot is supposedly called "Man of Steel." I don't have much problem with that, but it is a little odd.

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