Next came “Man of Steel 2” — right?
No, next came “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” director Zack Snyder’s 2016 film which featured Ben Affleck as Batman and used “Man of Steel’s” climactic battle to justify him fighting Superman. “BvS” also introduced Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, threw in a series of cameos by the rest of the proto-Justice League, and set up some plot points to keep them busy in the future. Oh, and it ended with Superman’s funeral.
Accordingly, the follow-up to “BvS” will be “Justice League.” Zack Snyder’s 2017 film will (spoilers!) bring Superman back to life, team him up with every other superhero glimpsed in “BvS,” and pit them all against the forces of Apokolips. Only after that might there be a “Man of Steel 2.”
Since Warner Bros. and DC Films have announced that the fourth film to feature Cavill’s Superman would be the second standalone Superman movie, today we’re wondering what ground it could cover, and what topics it should tackle. This won’t exactly be a blue-sky sort of exercise which runs the gamut from “bring back John Williams and the red trunks” to “fire Zack Snyder.” After all, I’m trying to be somewhat realistic, and work with what we have so far. While there’s still 15 months until the release of “Justice League,” we know generally what that movie will have to cover, so we can presume what it might leave for “Man of Steel 2.”
Up, up and away!
11. PERHAPS A STRONGLY WORDED LETTER?
Each of the previous two movies matched Superman against an implacable antagonist who was at least his equal in terms of raw power, and who absolutely refused to back down. This put Superman in a situation where he thought he had no choice but to kill both General Zod and Doomsday. To be fair, Luthor created Doomsday using Zod’s reanimated corpse; and the United States government did try to nuke the creature, so there wasn’t as much of a moral dilemma the second time around. Still, even Pa Kent’s blunt pragmatism couldn’t have prepared Supes for such dire circumstances.
Therefore, regardless of how “Justice League” puts away its big boss, “MoS2’s” climax should allow Superman to choose not to kill. 1978’s “Superman” forced the Metropolis Marvel into an impossible choice which resulted in Lois Lane’s death. In response, Superman ignored Jor-El’s advice and pushed the limits of his powers to rescue everyone including Lois. “Superman II” also had our hero choose between Lois and his powers, and he ended up pleading with his father’s ghost to have his powers restored. (The advancements in his relationship with Lois then went away.) It alMoSt makes you think the current movies’ tone is an overcorrection for “Superman Returns,” which was mocked in some corners for not having Superman punch anyone. The point of Superman’s powers isn’t their potency, but how he uses them.
10. THE “JUST HIM” LEAGUE
Longtime comics readers know that one of the downsides of a shared universe is having to account for everyone. Ever since the live-action Avengers first assembled, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had to deal with this as well — for example, with commentators asking where Iron Man and Hawkeye were in “The Winter Soldier.” and where S.H.I.E.L.D. was in “Iron Man 3.”
“BvS” showed Bruce Wayne reacting to the events of “Man of Steel,” and revealed that the other proto-Leaguers were keeping low profiles. After “Justice League,” though, that won’t be the case; and “MoS2” in particular will need the sort of adventure only Superman — and not the League — can handle. It could well be fallout from “Justice League” which Supes feels uniquely qualified to address; or it could be another menace with Kryptonian ties.
That leads into…
9. THE CASE FOR BRAINIAC
If “MoS2” does feature a Kryptonian-style foe, it would be the third movie out of four to do so. Since “Justice League” will bring in Apokolips, that puts “MoS2” in a bind. It can’t really do Bizarro, because Doomsday was pretty much Bizarro ratcheted up to 11, except without the “backwards” aspects. Furthermore, another alien-invasion story would feel especially redundant following “MoS” and “Justice League.” Much as I’d otherwise like to see them, in this respect Mongul and/or Warworld are doubly disqualified — triply so if you consider how much Warworld looks like another infamous cinematic space station. Besides, once you get past a handful of heavy hitters, Superman’s villains tend not to be very widescreen-friendly.
Therefore, just off the top of my head I could see “MoS2” creating Brainiac from the unholy union of Kryptonian and Fourth World technology, as filtered through Luthor’s malignant influence. While I think the “Krypton bad!” motif already risks being played out, maybe “Justice League” will go so far in the Fourth World’s direction that a Kryptonian-tinged bad guy could feel fresh in a subsequent movie.
Now, that doesn’t mean “MoS2” should shy away from Krypton entirely…
8. THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE
“Man of Steel’s” origin-story elements showed a rudderless Clark Kent trying to find an outlet for his tremendous powers, and drifting anonymously from job to job until he learned about his extraterrestrial heritage. That came in the form of a Kryptonian scoutship, buried for centuries under Arctic ice but reactivated and unearthed so that a Jor-El program could help Clark fill in the gaps. Nevertheless, “BvS” showed Clark still struggling with Superman’s place in the world.
Sounds to me like Clark/Supes could use an actual place where he could go and try to make sense of it all, and perhaps hide away some of that attractive-nuisance Kryptonian technology to boot. It could be as simple as Supes transporting the Kryptonian scoutship from the Metropolis waterfront back to the Arctic (or the Antarctic, for that matter); or it could be some complicated process involving the scoutship’s destruction and/or transformation, maybe Brainiac’s there too, yadda yadda yadda.
“But wait!” you say. “Why does Clark need a Fortress? Wasn’t he going to marry Lois?”
7. DOMESTIC DEMIGOD
I’d be very surprised if “Justice League” doesn’t end with everyone’s favorite reporters at least formally engaged. They should definitely be together forever at the start of “MoS2.” Still, maintaining the Fortress of Solitude isn’t inconsistent with being married to Lois Lane. (The comics did it for years.) It just means Clark gets to share that with her as well.
Regardless, one of the things that none of the movies — yes, including the Christopher Reeve ones — ever really pulled off was Clark’s home life in Metropolis. “Spider-Man 2” showed Peter’s colorful landlord and neighbors, even if it was mostly to emphasize how desperately Pete needed rent money; and “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” featured Wayne-thrown parties crashed by supervillains. A “MoS2” subplot could have Clark using his powers surreptitiously to help one or more of his neighbors, and more importantly it could inject some desperately-needed humor. Even “The Dark Knight” featured that blackmail-happy Wayne employee.
6. A LESS LONELY PLANET
Admittedly, it’s a lot more likely that “MoS2” will focus on the Daily Planet and not worry so much about 344 Clinton Street (or 1938 Sullivan, or wherever L&C will be living). To that end, “MoS2” may need to repair Clark’s relationship with Perry White. Yes, maybe Clark was going a little far afield in his zealous Batman coverage; but did Perry really want him doing football stories? Is the Planet so bad off that it had to fire Steve Lombard and the rest of the sports staff?
More importantly, “MoS2” needs — and I mean “needs” in its most imperative sense — to establish that the “Jimmy Olsen” killed in Africa was a CIA operative with a stolen identity. Letting Jimmy stay dead is simply a bridge too far. If the real James Bartholomew “Mr. Action” Olsen isn’t out there somewhere, just waiting for a thousand bizarre transformations to befall him, then Jenny Jurwich must become Superman’s Pal, signal-watch and all. I’m sorry, DC/Warners; I have to hold the line on this one.
5. THE GREATEST CRIMINAL MIND OF OUR TIME
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor bounced through “BvS” like an overcaffeinated, murderous puppy with serious delusions of grandeur, but the movie did set the stage for him to go full-on mad scientist. Assuming he forgets everything he’s learned about Superman, Batman and the Leaguers, it’d be nice for “MoS2” to return him to the tech-based schemes of the Silver and Bronze Age. I’m not saying I want to see Jesse Eisenberg in a green-and-purple jet-booted jumpsuit, but I’m not taking that off the table either.
Think about it this way: Luthor tried to get Superman to kill Batman (and vice versa) through elaborate, indirect manipulation. When that didn’t work, he tried to kill Superman with an unpredictable, barely-controllable monster who probably would have disemboweled Lex if not for Superman. If I were Luthor, I’d be ready just to eliminate the middleman, build a giant remote-controlled robot — I can’t emphasize “giant robot” enough — and finish things myself.
4. GIANT ROBOTS FOR EVERYONE!
That said, Lex Luthor isn’t the only supervillain capable of constructing a mechanical monster (or battalion thereof). After the Justice League defeats Steppenwolf and/or Darkseid himself, Apokolips could still use the high-tech organized crime of Intergang to establish a covert foothold in Metropolis. Even if it only warrants a subplot in “MoS2,” investigating the cartel would definitely challenge the Planet staff.
3. HOPING ALL YOUR NEWS IS GOOD NEWS
Superman started “BvS” with an image problem so serious that only his death seemed to counter the bad press. At least, that’s what I took away from the movie’s emphasis on public mourning and a state funeral. (One of “Suicide Squad’s” high-ranking military men called Supes a “national hero.”) Maybe that means he’ll be universally beloved upon his return; or maybe his public relations won’t be as much of a priority for “Justice League.”
Either way, “MoS2” should build on Supes’ improved approval rating. Even if it’s something involving Clark Kent that the public doesn’t necessarily see, “MoS2” needs to show viewers that Clark likes being Superman, Superman likes saving the world (not just Metropolis, and not just Lois); and the feelings are mutual. Regardless of what Bruce Wayne thinks about the Daily Planet’s coverage, Superman shouldn’t need a spin doctor.
2. “THEY WILL JOIN YOU IN THE SUN”
The early marketing for “Man of Steel” offered two versions of the same basic teaser trailer. The one narrated by Jor-El caught fans’ attention by echoing Grant Morrison’s “All-Star Superman” dialogue: “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Likewise, in “MoS” Pa Kent told Clark he’d “have to decide what kind of a man [he’d] want to grow up to be […] because whoever that man is, good character or bad, [is] gonna change the world.”
By itself this is hardly a new perspective on the tension between Krypton’s lofty ideals and Kansas’ homespun morality. In 1978’s “Superman,” Jor-El instructed both baby Kal and young-adult Clark, with the Kents’ teachings sandwiched between. However, “MoS” and “BvS” suggest collectively that Superman “changing the world” might not be for the better. “Justice League” may show Superman giving his costumed associates an ideal to strive toward as they accomplish wonders; but “MoS2” must make sure that example expands to the world at large. The first two DC Films movies did a pretty thorough job describing the dark side (no pun intended) of a world with Superman in it. The next two have the opportunity to portray something greater and more optimistic.
1. IN CONCLUSION
Superman is often seen as both too powerful and too virtuous to be interesting. While there’s some truth to that, it misses a good bit of the character’s appeal. After almost 80 years, Superman has come to depend as much on close interpersonal relationships — with Lois, Jimmy, the Kents, the League, Supergirl and even his long-lost parents — as on the trappings of superhero-dom. Moreover, whether in the comics, on TV or in the movies, Superman’s adventures have an alMoSt infinite range, from individual problems to cosmic threats. He can pluck a kid’s cat from a tree, fly off to stop a robbery, punch out a supervillain, reverse Jimmy’s latest misadventure, divert a giant asteroid, and team up with the Justice League; and none of it seems inappropriate. Although Superman’s powers can handle all manner of extinction-level events, his actions should be grounded in his desire to do good for everyone on Earth. He’s always looking for a win-win outcome, and by and large he should be able to get there.
Much of “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” seemed so concerned with justifying the very idea of Superman that they put him through various worst-case scenarios in an apparent attempt to address moviegoers’ perceived concerns. If Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, Zack Snyder and company really want a lighter, more traditional Superman, one hopes those movies got all the negativity out of the way. Maybe “Justice League” will move past this and combine the funeral’s goodwill with the positive effects of being part of a team; and in so doing will point the way to a brighter “Man of Steel 2.”
If Jor-El and Pa Kent’s collective wisdom holds true for the movies as well as the character, there’s still a lot of potential in this version of Superman. By the time the fourth Cavill movie rolls around, perhaps he’ll have room to flex his muscles in truly inspiring ways.
What do you want to see in “Man of Steel 2”?
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