WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Justice League, in theaters now.
Let’s roll back the clocks to the end of 2006’s Superman Returns, in which Lois Lane begins write an article titled “Why the World Needs Superman.” In the intervening decade, the DC Extended Universe has struggled to make that argument, instead transforming the iconic hero into a moody, world-weary figure. Director Zack Snyder brought his signature style to 2013’s Man of Steel, toning down the brightness of both Superman’s costume and his personality. And although the ‘S’ on his chest might stand for hope, Kal-El quickly became disenchanted with humanity once Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice arrived in theaters in 2016.
Following the events of Justice League, it’s clear we need another Superman movie to give the Kryptonian some breathing room. When he faced off against the Dark Knight in Batman v Superman, there were far too many plotlines, characters and rivalries to allow audiences to actually care about his sacrifice. Plus, because we’d only seen Henry Cavill’s Superman once previously, his death didn’t mean as much as it should have; the emotional impact wasn’t earned.
Warner Bros. has demonstrated its difficulty with gathering together the DC Comics characters onscreen. Neither Batman v Superman nor 2016’s Suicide Squad was greeted warmly by either critics or fans, although both were commercially successful (yet fell short of expectations). That’s an indication the DCEU should go back to the basics, and translate what worked so well in director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman to other characters. There are solo projects for the likes of Aquaman, Shazam and Batman confirmed in the pipeline, in various stages of development, but what the DCEU really needs is another Superman film.
What it doesn’t need, however, is another Superman origin film. Instead, the DC Films needs to expand the Man of Steel’s universe, and its own, by pitting the Last Son of Krypton against an extraterrestrial threat; removed him from the familiar surroundings of Earth, and place him in a (literally) alien environment. Instead of Lex Luthor and General Zod, perhaps bring another of Superman’s classic foes to live-action: Brainiac.
A techno-organic being possessing advanced intellect and technology, Brainiac shrank and stole Kandor, the capital of Superman’s home planet of Krypton. He’s a formidable opponent, but bringing Brainiac into Superman’s solo film would mean Kal-El would have to face certain truths about his homeworld. A journey of self-discovery could have lasting ramifications for the hero. Similar to the way Tony Stark losing access to his suits during the events of Marvel’s Iron Man 3, trapping Kal-El in Kandor would render his powers useless – meaning he’d have to figure out other ways to defeat the villain.
Yes, stripping away one of the key aspects of Superman may be controversial, but it would give Kal-El an interesting character arc that moves beyond him coming to terms with his origin and his role as protector of Earth. He begins Man of Steel by saving the men working on an oil rig, but finishes the film by saving a family from being killed by Zod. Superman deserves to embody hope, and although saving innocent lives does instill people with hope, it’s also about his attitudes. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice became so wrapped up in pitting the two heroes against each other that it didn’t explore Clark’s actions and motivations. It prioritized introducing us to a new Batman rather than developing Superman’s personality.
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