Monday, 14 February 2011
Bryan Singer's 2006 movie Superman Returns was a bag of shite. It bored the hell out of moviegoers and was considered a major disappointment by studio Warner Bros. Although the movie grossed in excess of $390 million, that success was marred by Entertainment Weekly's claims that its final budget was more than $350 million, with development costs mounting in excess of $40 million amid money being wasted on expensive pay or play contracts. $10 million was just needlessly spent on Bryan Singer filming a "Return to Krypton" sequence that was excised from the finished film. Warner Bros. further messed up by caving in to Singer's demands not to experiment with test screenings and then allowed him to drop 15 minutes of footage after the filmmaker showed Superman Returns to some 'trusted associates' who allegedly preferred the emotional dramatics of the storyline over exciting action set-pieces.
On its release Superman Returns couldn't even usurp the Pirates of the Carrabin: Dead Man's Chest at the UK box-office; an even worse film that had already been on general release for over a week. Internationally, Superman Returns stalled at $191 million.
Warner Bros. President Alan Horn explained that while Superman Returns was a 'successful film', it "should have done $500 million worldwide." Horn added: "We should have had perhaps a little more action to satisfy the young male crowd." Upon hearing Horn's remarks, Bryan Singer reacted disbelievingly to the studio complaints, saying: "[Superman Returns] made $400 million! I don't know what constitutes under-performing these days.
Warner Bros. is intent on not making any of the old mistakes with their new Superman: Man of Steel reboot and is instead making a whole set of new ones. After taking the project to heralded action auteur Ben Affleck as a follow-up gig to The Town, Warner Bros has settled on exploitation maestro Zack Snyder who last week Sunday cast 'British' actor Henry Cavill in the role of quintessential 'American' icon Clark Kent/ Superman. Alan F. Horn is ensuring that Superman: Man of Steel is a superhero movie that mirrors these austere times by restricting the film's maximum budget at $175 million. There is no doubt that Snyder was chosen to direct Superman: Man of Steel because of his ability to prioritise style over substance, never allowing characterisation to get in the way of exhilaration. For all of Superman Returns' many faults, Singer always put his desire to tell a story before anything else. Alas, Superman: Man of Steel will no doubt be action packed to the hilt but the cultural mechanics shaping this reboot laves much to be desired.
In last Saturday's The Times newspaper, Jonathan Ross wrote an interesting article titled "Why I don't want a sexed-up Superman", in which he discussed DC Comics' latest Superman: Earth One which recasts Superman as a moody teenager searching for an identity and purpose. If that isn't enough, Superman: Earth One presents the superhero as an angst-fuelled hoody-wearing adolescent who is more of a hipster than righteous hero. Dan DiDio of DC Comics has justified Superman: Earth One's teen-friendly reincarnation, saying: "We wanted to tell a story that's hip, sexy and moody."Ross responded by saying: "The appeal of Superman was, and should always be, that he is Earth's guardian ― [He has] instilled in him all the values that America most wishes to be known for ― He is not, nor was he ever, a teenager in a hoody."
Ross is convinced that Warner Bros. Superman: Man of Steel exemplifies Hollywood's dangerous fixation on youth, intellectually paring down dramatic story elements in favour perfunctory effects showpieces that are comparative to modern videogames. He cites The King's Speech as exemplification that even young people will flock to see a good story regardless of the actors' ages. Although The King's Speech was every bit as shit as Superman Returns, Hollywood does seem to have a lazy logic in thinking that young people only want to look at other young people. Superman, Batman and Spiderman have all decreased in age as further film instalments have been let loose. Even the ages of directors hired to helm these franchise properties has reversed, most now being in their 30s.
If cinema does not challenge its audiences then the chances of movies being anything other than standardised norms will be limited. The 1990s was a precarious decade for superhero movies in that studios knew these properties had potential but they often failed to harness them satisfactorily. That changed in the Noughties with the panoply of solid superhero-fare cultivating both commercial and critical success. But with this success we are seeing an overcrowding of these types of films and there's cracks beginning to show. Last month's The Green Hornet was meant to be a $120 million franchise starter that fell way short of its target. Marvel has now had two cracks at their The Incredible Hulk franchise and underwhelmed both times. Last year's post-modern superhero comedy Kick-Ass underperformed even with its low price tag. Also, the continuing pattern for casting non-Americans in hugely American comic book icon roles is likely to eventually annoy loyal fanboys, and the studios efforts to saturate their schedules with standardised superhero tropes will sooner or later infuriate the rest of us. If that doesn't do it then the ad-hoc 3D conversion jobs they utilise on these films will almost certainly wean us off our superhero adoration.
The truth is that if you've seen one superhero movie then you've pretty much seen them all. Nearly all of them predictably stretch from limp beginnings to lame conclusions. Some will stand in protest and declare that I can't possibly include The Dark Knight in this argument but I do include it. Christopher Nolan may proclaim he manufactured a brooding morality tale for modern times but at the end of the day it's still about some prick in fancy-dress who speaks like an idiot.
Last night Zack Snyder gave an interview to Latino Review in which his vision for Superman Man of Steel came across as pretty unformed and muddled. He said: "My feeling about 'Superman' is that I've been a fan of the character for a long time. But the question for me was always, 'What can you do with Superman in a modern world?' And I think the amazing thing that [scriptwriters] Chris [Nolan] and David [S. Goyer] have created, that I'm working on now, and the reason why I was like, 'Yeah, I'll do that,' was that they found that in him. They found the why in him. That's the exciting part for me."
Snyder's statement makes little sense, perhaps proving that Warner Bros. are rushing this project through the finishing line primarily because they will lose the character rights to Jerome Siegel (of Siegel and Shuster) if they fail to release a new Superman movie before the end of 2012. Therefore, Superman: Man of Steel is a legal requirement for Warner Bros., not simply a commercially creative endeavour.
There's no doubt that Alan Horn and Zack Snyder will produce a better performing movie than Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, but is that really an achievement or a necessity? Is the world really in need of more superhero fodder or should we demand that studios work harder to court our appeal?