Superman, the superhero who started the entire genre, the Man of Steel who has been adapted many times to radio, television, and film, is returning to the silver screen in a reboot movie. Part of the movie will cover Superman’s origin. Which is great, except, well, if there’s one superhero whose origin is widely known to audiences, it’s Superman. The last son of Krypton, sent away by his parents as an infant as his homeworld exploded, landed on Earth on a farm in Kansas, raised by the Kents, then moved to Metropolis to become a mild-mannered reporter. The quick version can be, he was raised well by adoptive parents. How much time is going to be spent on Superman’s background? How do you show “raised well” when you have a limited time in the film. Spend too long, and you run into the problem Battleship did and lose a lot of energy, especially if the destruction of Krypton appears on screen. At the same time, Clark’s early years could be delved for great drama. In fact, Smallville was all about that delving. Why cover that same ground?
It may sound like I’m harping on origin stories, and I am. It feels like every reboot, remake, and adaptation of a superhero story has to spend time showing the hero getting his abilities. Lately, superhero movies have been focusing on the origin. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some heroes, such as Iron Man and Thor have compelling beginning stories. With others, such as Batman and Spider-Man, the compelling feature isn’t getting powers (or, in Batman’s case, his wonderful toys), but why they turned to being heroes. Tony Stark created a suit of power armour to escape captors. Peter Parker failed to stop a robber who wound up killing Peter’s uncle. Bruce Wayne wanted revenge on the criminals who killed his parents in front of his young eyes. Clark Kent . . . was raised well. Something just doesn’t fit.
Don’t get me wrong. If a, say, Cloak & Dagger TV series were to be made, I’d expect the pilot to show how they got their powers.* Same with other characters like the Punisher, Zatanna, and Speedball. Not to mention, with television, there’s more time to set up longer arcs. In a movie, though, very few last longer than three hours, with most run times being under two.
Superman, though, isn’t known to just comic readers. He is arguably the best known superhero character around.** He’s been around since 1938. He’s been adapted to radio, serials, television, and movies. The most recent television adaptation, Smallville, was a ten season long origin story. Before that, Lois and Clark, the New Adventures of Superman*** managed to remind viewers of Clark’s humble beginnings by including Jonathan and Martha Kent as regular characters, even if they only appeared when Clark phoned home. The 1978 Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, the definitive Superman film for a generation, did spend time with Clark’s upbringing, but not in depth. However, remaking that movie shot for shot will leave people wondering why they just didn’t pop the 1978 film into the DVD player instead.
My hopes for the Superman reboot is that, if the director really needs to show the origin, then Clark’s background is done as a montage, quick enough to not lose energy, but long enough to show where Clark is from. The movie then should get to the heart of the plot.
Next week, despite the above, the Avengers Adaptation continues.
* In fact, how they got their powers – forcibly injected with synthetic drugs triggering their latent mutant abilities – is key to most of their comic runs, as they took the War on Drugs down to the pushers.
** Definitely in the top three, with Batman and Wonder Woman. Marvel’s Spider-Man and X-Men (as a group) fill out the top five.
*** Lois and Clark also took a different approach to Superman stories by examining the relationship between Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Superman.
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