With the recent rumors of DC possibly deciding to put a solo Man of Steel sequel on hold, it brings up certain questions on Superman’s adaptability on the silver screen.
Superman has had a troubled history on film. While the Superman series started off promising in 1978 with Richard Donner’s iconic origin film, that franchise quickly depleted in quality, ending with the embarrassing 1987 film, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. And then of course 2006 saw the wannabe return of the character in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, which got a muted response from audiences. And yes, while Man of Steel was the biggest success the character has seen since the 1980’s, it still did not fully resonate with audiences.
So, what is the problem? Why haven’t audiences wholeheartedly connected with the character since Christopher Reeve? Is it the actors in the role? Is the problem the films and their respective plotlines?
I believe one must look at the character of Superman itself to answer these questions.
When the Superman character first appeared in Action Comics in 1938, the character was the first comic book superhero that truly resonated with audiences and effectively imprinted itself in pop culture, until Batman emerged a year later. But through the years the character was given to numerous authors and artists, and he swiftly became increasingly powerful – less of a man with abilities and more of a God-like figure.
There lies the problem. The character of Superman has ultimately become so perfect that audiences can no longer relate with the character’s struggles. He can fly; he can crush metal in his bare hands. Nothing can hurt the man except for a glowing space rock. And while Snyder and Goyer tried their best to humanize Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel (a feat I attest they somewhat succeeded with), it still was not enough to win Superman detractors over. Critics still considered the character to be too perfect, too vanilla.
At a certain point, who can blame some of these individuals? When Superman is lifting continents into the sky, you’ve become more focused with inserting the character into infeasible action sequences and less focused on creating a sense of tangible danger that’s engrossing to audiences.
Perhaps another reason why audiences fail to identify with the character is because of his Clark Kent shtick. Some find it challenging to believe that this superpowered being can put on a pair of glasses, act like a complete buffoon, and go about unnoticed by Lois Lane and his coworkers at the Daily Planet. Man of Steel tried to alleviate this criticism by having Amy Adams’ Lois be in on Clark’s secret, which is a curious new take on the two’s rapport. But even if the character’s powers cause him to be unrelatable, and his Clark Kent secret identity is forced to some, that does not take away from the potential that the character has on screen.
For the most part, we have yet to see a filmmaker truly delve into the struggle of Clark. How it must feel to have this unimaginable power at your disposal. What it must be like to literally have the world in the palm of your hands. Man of Steel attempted to show that growing up with these extraordinary abilities was challenging for Clark. Even though those around him told him the world wasn’t ready for a person of his kind, he still had an urge to do good and save those in need.
That aspect of the character needs to be explored way more in future films. That is what’s fascinating about the character. How he must live with these unique abilities. How, as essentially a god, he must wake up every day and decide to do the right thing, how he must make the choice of who to save. Even as Superman, he cannot rescue every single soul in the world. That is an engaging angle; it’s what defines the character.
Superman’s desire to do good in the world is what I relate to. His leadership, his morals, the hope he represents. It is why I admire and appreciate the character so much. In the frightening and gloomy world we sometimes live in, our society and its individuals need to escape at points. What is more hopeful than reading about a man who is always there for us, no matter the mistakes we make?
Maybe the character will finally have a chance to prove he’s deeper and more multifaceted than some would have to believe. It appears that Zack Snyder and Chris Terrio are going to touch on that kind of power and what it does to a man in 2016’s Batman v Superman.
While Superman has had a troubled history on film, all is not lost for the character’s future. Dawn of Justice looks to be promising, Henry Cavill is widely liked in the role, and there are rumors that George Miller may direct the sequel to Snyder’s Man of Steel. It isn’t impossible to make Superman relatable with audiences. So long as he is fitted with the right storyline, and audiences can get a feel for the character’s struggle of having the weight of the world on his shoulders, Superman shall survive on film for years to come.