Monday, September 20, 2010

Avengers Assembled!

For comic book fans, one of the highlights of last month’s Comic-Con was the panel that brought together, for the first time in public, the entire roster of The Avengers, the Marvel Comics super-team headed for the big screen in 2012. Since the end of 2008’s Iron Man, in which Nick Fury approached Tony Stark to discuss “the Avengers initiative,” fanboys have been teased with hints and cameos in almost every Marvel superhero film. After next summer’s one-two punch of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, all the individual pieces will be in place to launch what could be the most epic comic book adaptation of all.

All those costumes in one film could be overwhelming for those who can’t tell a Kree from a Skrull, so we thought we’d give you a primer on who’ll be fighting for the best room in Avengers Mansion (yes, they have a mansion).

(Chris Evans)
Cap’s solo film (currently filming under the direction of Joe Johnston) uses the comic’s World War II origin story, in which a frail, 4F army volunteer becomes the sole recipient of a super soldier serum, turning him into a perfect human specimen. While official images have been sparse so far, a Comic-Con photo of a standee picturing Cap’s red-white-and-blue shield encased in ice would indicate The Avengers movie is going to adapt Stan Lee’s deus-ex-machina of a suspended-animation Cap being unfrozen decades after WWII by his would-be-teammates (to say how he got there would probably spoil the end of Captain America’s first flick).

IRON MAN (Robert Downey Jr.)
Following two successful Iron Man films, as well as an Oscar nomination for his turn in Tropic Thunder, you’d think Robert Downey Jr. wouldn’t be crazy about the notion of being part of an ensemble superhero film. Then again, the Iron Man role is primarily responsible for his career resurrection, and Downey still seems to be having a blas tplaying the part. Besides, his brash, likeable armored Avenger is likely to be the film’s biggest drawing point (at least as of now). As far as his role in the Avengers, besides those repulsor rays, the team relies mostly on Stark’s more human power: his vast wealth subsidizes the super team.

WAR MACHINE (Don Cheadle)
Downey’s going to have some familiar faces on set… Don Cheadle is reprising his role as the ultra-weaponized Iron Man counterpart, War Machine, who, in the comics was a member of the West Coast Avengers, a subsidiary of the super team that fought crime when they weren’t taking meetings with publicists and surfing (or so we assume).

THE BLACK WIDOW (Scarlett Johansson)
Although never referred to as such, Black Widow was Scarlett Johansson’s character’s code-name in Iron Man 2. In the comics, the Russian counter-spy has slinked all around the Marvel universe, as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., partner of Daredevil, member and even leader of the Avengers as well as the B-list supergroup the Champions. It should be interesting to see how / if The Avengers tackles the Widow’s stormy romance with our next superhero…

HAWKEYE (Jeremy Renner)
Marvel Comics’ answer to DC’s Green Arrow, the master archer has been a minor character in the Marvel Universe since the 1960s, and a major player in the Avengers for most of its existence. The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner seems like a glove-fit to play the brash bowman, currently the only major hero who’ll be introduced in The Avengers rather than his own film first. One thing seems certain, though… the character’s onscreen costume will probably bear little resemblance to the ridiculous purple suit he wears in the comics.

THOR (Chris Hemsworth) and LOKI (Tom Hiddleston)
The Asgardian Gods of Thunder and Mischief respectively, brothers Thor and Loki square off in next summer’s Kenneth Branagh epic, but with Hiddleston listed in the cast for the Avengers, perhaps by the end of Thor, they will have punched and made up (at least to form an uneasy alliance in The Avengers)? It’s more likely that Loki will take part in whatever massive evil requires a team of super powered heroes to conquer. In any case, how the movie balances the grit of Iron Man with the fantasy of Thor will be interesting to see.

THE HULK (Mark Ruffalo)
After Ang Lee’s overly introspective HULK and Louis Letterier’s video-gamey reboot, hopefully third time will be the charm for Marvel’s grumpy green giant. Mark Ruffalo takes over the role of Bruce Banner from the departing Edward Norton. Since the 2008 film established Banner’s transformation as a gone-wrong attempt at recreating Captain America’s super-soldier serum, we can assume that plot point will play in The Avengers. There is speculation that the impetus for the team’s initial formation is to capture (and recruit?) an out-of-control Hulk.

In addition to handling exposition, perhaps Coulson will do chores that the computer butler Jarvis cannot (in the comics, Tony Stark’s butler is a human who does double duty as major-domo to the Avengers).

NICK FURY (Samuel L. Jackson)
The glue holding together the cinematic Marvel Universe isn’t Stan Lee (although an Avengers cameo feels guaranteed), but Sam Jackson’s leader of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.). It’s been reported that in the film, Fury, and not Captain America will be the leader of the Avengers, which could lead to some conflict of styles and ideals perfectly suited to the angsty, clashing Marvel Universe.

At this point, the plot is a tightly guarded secret (The Infinity Gauntlet, a jewel-encrusted glove that grants the bearer control of the universe could come into play). The selection of Joss Whedon as director should please fanboys, as his Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly showed he’s adept at balancing action and characterization.

So now it’s hurry up and wait. If both Captain America and Thor’s films turn out to be duds at the box office, that could put a serious damper on the excitement for The Avengers… with the mainstream audience, that is. As for the fanboys, nothing short of recasting David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury could keep them away.
NOTE: This piece originally appeared on STARPULSE on August 8, 2010.

TV's 6 Most Satisfying TV Finales

While ABC’s claim that Sunday’s LOST finale is “the Television Event of the Decade” may be a bit hyperbolic, there’s no denying the excitement... and anxiety… that surrounds the final episode of a beloved TV show. Rabid fans of any series demand not just closure, but emotional resonance. After all, we’re saying goodbye to good friends here, not just clearing space off the DVR schedule. With that in mind, here’s our list of the Six Most Satisfying TV Finales of All Time.

SEINFELD “The Finale” (1998)
Granted, the much-maligned two-part ending to the legendary show about nothing is not the funniest episode of the series, despite the return of co-creator Larry David. But the finale is ultimately satisfying because it’s an unflinching, unsentimental reminder that, despite the immense popularity of these characters, Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine are perfectly horrible human beings: Self-absorbed, vain, immature narcissists, really. Avoiding a cuddly M*A*S*Hification (in which antagonists become good guys) of its anti-heroes, Seinfeld stuck to its “No hugging, no learning” edict to the very end, making it finale manna for misanthropes everywhere. Anyone who expected or wanted Jerry and Elaine to get engaged at the end had this show confused with FRIENDS.

We’re cheating a bit here, as this intended closer of the seminal teen vampire series turned out not to be, when UPN picked up the show from the WB for two more seasons. But as finales go, this one packed a wallop, especially coming on the heels of the heartbreaking episode, “The Body,” which dealt with death as powerfully as any drama (with or without demons). In “The Gift,” Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) sacrifices herself in place of her sister Dawn by throwing herself into, and thus closing a portal opened by the evil Glorificus that will merge all dimensions and literally unleash Hell on Earth. For fans of the Scoobies, the final shot of Buffy’s tombstone, reading “She Saved the World. A Lot” carries far more resonance than the actual 2003 finale, in which Buffy becomes just one of many Slayers presumably headed to Cleveland (no, really).

While sci-fi fans were robbed of a proper finale for the original Star Trek series (unless the 1991 film “Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country” counts), the crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D got a proper send-off in this two-parter pitting Captain Picard against his arch-nemesis Q in a final battle to determine the worth of us pitiful humans. Picard’s time-shifting leaps will now feel familiar to LOST fans, and while the series had suffered a politically correct softening over the years, this resonant finale is a grand testament to Gene Roddenberry’s humanistic, optimistic vision of the future (and a much better sendoff to these characters than the tepid 2002 film, “Star Trek: Nemesis”).

SIX FEET UNDER “Everyone’s Waiting” (2005)
It’s no surprise that a show about mortality would end its five-year run with a heart-tugging finale (even after killing off its main character three episodes earlier), but nobody was prepared for the emotional wallop of Six Feet Under’s final six minutes.  As Claire (Lauren Ambrose) pulls out of the Fisher Funeral Home driveway to begin her 3000 mile trek to New York, we flash forward to red letter days good and bad for the family, including the deaths of every major character, cramming about 80 years of story into six minutes that defy even the casual viewer to keep away from the box of Kleenex. And speaking of said tissue product…

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW “The Last Show” (1977)
One of the greatest sitcoms of all time was one of the first to make its finale a true event, and its storyline proved to be prescient. In the episode, station WJM is sold to a new company that streamlines the news operation by firing solid workhorses Lou, Mary and Murray, while keeping the incompetent anchor, Ted. In the final scene, everyone gathers in the newsroom for a tearjerking group hug punctuated by a hilarious huddled shuffle to grab a box of Kleenex off of Mary’s desk. This is a prime example of a show going out on top (Mary killed the show, not CBS), and it set the precedent for all finales to follow.

THE SOPRANOS “Made in America” (2007)
Okay, haters, pay attention. Tony Soprano was not killed at Holsten’s while munching onion rings and rocking to Journey in the final episode of The Sopranos. Nor was Carmela. AJ or Meadow. Oh, someone was most definitely whacked, but it wasn’t anyone onscreen; it was us. The startling conclusion of one of the greatest shows in television history made the audience a part of the story with its final act. Confirming Bobby Baccala’s theory earlier that season that when you get killed, “you never see it coming,” rapt Sopranos viewers were so focused on every seemingly innocuous person and activity in that final scene (Who are those guys? Why can’t Meadow parallel park? Did that man look at Tony?) that when the screen abruptly cut to black, we never saw it coming. Anyone who moans about the lack of a neat little bow tied on The Sopranos really wasn’t paying attention for those six brilliant seasons. But for those who reveled in David Chase’s gloriously gray microcosm of pursuing the American Dream at the dawn of the 21st century, “Made in America” was as delicious as those onion rings.

Honorable Mentions go to THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, NEWHART, THE FUGITIVE, CHEERS, JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, GILMORE GIRLS and THE WIRE. But we refuse to put the saccharine-sweet FRIENDS finale or that overblown M*A*S*H ending on this list.

How will LOST’s farewell fare? Only time (travel) will tell, but we have a feeling that people who hated The Sopranos’ finale will again be angry. LOST has always been about bending the mind and leaving more questions than answers… and that’s not a bad thing.
NOTE: This piece was originally posted on STARPULSE on May 20, 2010

Marvel & DC Slugging It Out on the Big Screen!

With Iron Man 2, Kick-Ass, The Losers and Jonah Hex all hitting the multiplex this summer, the onslaught of comic book movies shows no signs of slowing (for better or worse). Leaving the Green Hornet (who started as a radio show) and Scott Pilgrim (indie press slacker hero) for later debate, we’ll get you up to speed on the heavy hitters from comics’ Big Two, DC and Marvel that are heading to the big screen in the next few years, culminating (supposedly) in epic team-ups for both universes!

THOR (May 2011)
Kenneth Branagh is directing Chris Hemsworth (Captain Kirk’s father in Star Trek) as the Norse God of Thunder, another creation from the Stan Lee / Jack Kirby juggernaut of the 1960s. In the movie, the arrogant Mjolnir-wielding warrior is sent to Earth by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to learn some humility, and ends up protecting us from an invasion led by his evil half-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Expect some major battle action and cosmic scenery in this one.

First debuting in 1941, Cap is considered the moral cornerstone of the Marvel Universe, so there’s a lot riding on the Joe Johnston-helmed flick, spanning WWII through today. Casting Chris Evans as the hero seems risky, and not just because he’s already played a major Marvel character (The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies); the smart-alecky Evans doesn’t have the inherent heft of say, Mark Valley (TV’s Human Target) or Jon Hamm (Mad Men), but Marvelites are hoping for the best.

Captain America’s solo film is the final building block needed for The Avengers, the Marvel supergroup comprised of Cap, Thor, Iron Man and other heroes, presumably uniting to reign in an out-of-control Incredible Hulk (Edward Norton reprising? Maybe.). Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury is the uniter, and no doubt other B-list heroes (the Black Widow? Hawkeye? Ant Man?) will round out the roster in the ultimate superhero blockbuster. Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) has just been confirmed as director.

Non-fanboys may find it odd that Marvel’s most popular character won’t be in The Avengers, but in the comics, Spidey’s traditionally been a loner. Besides, this reboot (to be directed by music video director Marc Webb) puts Peter Parker back in high school, still a little too wet behind the webbed ears to play with the big boys. Nobody’s been cast yet, and there are fears amongst the fanboys this movie will try to appeal to the teen set.

After the commercially successful, but critically-drubbed X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Marvel’s mutant franchise is in a state of disarray, with numerous films in various stages of development. First Class would be a sort of “X-Men Begins” taking us back to the first group of mutants brought together by Professor X. Bryan Singer was at one point slated to direct, but now is listed as producer on the film. Meanwhile, X-Men Origins: Magneto, X4, another Wolverine film and a Deadpool spinoff are all on the potential slate.

One of Marvel’s smallest (literally and figuratively) characters has been in development for years, with Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg slated to direct. While most fanboys fear a less-than-reverent treatment of the shrinking scientist, we relish the thought of Pegg’s snarky sense of humor being attached to a somewhat silly character.

Meanwhile, over at DC COMICS:
The only major DC film currently in production, Green Lantern has potential to meld science fiction and superheroics as no movie has done yet. Ryan Reynolds plays the test pilot recruited into an intergalactic police force who wield rings that grant the user almost unlimited power. Director Martin Campbell proved his action mettle with the stellar James Bond reboot, Casino Royale, giving fans high hopes.

After Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns proved to be a letdown, Warner Bros. turned to Batman rebooter Christopher Nolan to oversee a new film version of the quintessential superhero. At this point, the movie is being written by David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan (with nobody cast, nor a director selected), reportedly featuring Lex Luthor (again) and the alien android Brainiac in a story that focuses on Kal-El’s Kryptonian heritage.

BATMAN (July 2012)
After the smash commercial and critical successes of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s return to Gotham City brings a sigh of relief for Batfans. While no villains have been confirmed, rumors swirl about Catwoman (Kate Beckinsale? Angelina Jolie?) and the Riddler (Johnny Depp?). What’s most intriguing is Nolan’s declaration that this “final film” will bring a conclusion to the story, in stark contrast to the infinite milieu of the comics. Could this be the end of the Caped Crusader?

The character of Captain Marvel (Shazam is the name of the wizard who gave the hero his powers) has been in development off and on for about a decade. In the wake of The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. seems to feel that every superhero movie has to be dark and serious, but this whimsical, light character has always had a hard time being adapted to a serious tone. Time will tell what route an inevitable film takes (we’re hoping for light).

With The Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman also in development, DC plans to follow Marvel’s lead and eventually produce an epic film of their superhero group, the Justice League (of America). In 2007, Director George Miller was hard at work on the film, which was tabled in favor of establishing the individual characters in solo films before teaming them up. But following Marvel’s lead may not be the best take for the League, as Christian Bale’s über-realistic Batman just wouldn’t work in a movie alongside aliens and super powered adversaries. Besides, at this point, waiting until every member of the roster has his or her own film to lead into a Justice League movie would take probably a decade at least. If Warner is hot to make a super-team film, they should treat it as its own unique entity. After all, different versions of their characters already exist simultaneously in various media. It wouldn’t necessarily dilute the strength of Batman to have two different versions of the hero on film.

The bottom line is, both DC and Marvel have an almost bottomless well of characters that Hollywood can mine, and as long as moviegoers continue to line up to see costumed do-gooders, odds are someday we’ll be reporting on Michael Cera suiting up for Elongated Man: the Motion Picture.
NOTE: This piece was originally posted on STARPULSE on May 5, 2010

Christina Hendricks vs. the Hollipops

Hollywood’s IT girl of the moment is Christina Hendricks, the voluptuous redhead who plays über-secretary Joan Harris on AMC’s MAD MEN. Hendricks (for those of you not paying attention) is a throwback to an era of Jayne Mansfield and Russ Meyer, the antithesis of the Size 0 pretzel sticks dominating the tube and screen. But with Hendricks in the running for Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive, could she signal a new standard of beauty in Hollywood?

Don’t hold your breath.
This is not to say that Christina Hendricks isn’t hot. Oh, she most undoubtedly is. But part of the allure of the actress lies in the character she plays on TV. Joan is, despite the circumstances of sexism and paternalism in the 1960s, a strong woman, smarter than the men who think they’re dominating her. Joan carries a steely resolve as she suffers the slings and arrows of a society that underestimates her as a servant or mere eye candy, or, in the case of her ineffectual husband, a piece of property. All the while, she embraces her sexuality, and not just because it’s a powerful weapon in her arsenal. Joan is a sexual being, and she’s comfortable with it, which is enticing to both men and women.

To varying degrees, we can’t help but attach personality characteristics onto actors of the parts they play.  But it doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to think that Christina Hendricks is as comfortable in her skin as Joan. She’s certainly not a celebrity to demand Photoshop liposuction in her magazine spreads.

Beauty is subjective, of course, and some people prefer thin. But surely I’m not the only person who finds the diminutive Alexis Dziena (Eric’s annoying love interest on ENTOURAGE last season) being presented as a bikini-clad sexpot in the execrable FOOL'S GOLD to be more than a little disturbing. Her tiny, rail thin body looks, well, more like that of a child than a woman in her mid-20s. But in Hollywood, Dziena is the rule, not the exception.

Hendricks is the latest Hollywood anomaly of the “big girl” who steals the thunder from the parade of starlets whose bodies barely seem substantial enough to hold the weight of their heads (I hearby coin the term, “Hollipops” for these walking candy sticks, feel free to propagate at will). But the fact remains that film and TV is dominated by actresses like Kate Bosworth, Olivia Wilde, Keira Knightley, The Olsen Twins (do they count as actresses?), Katie Holmes, Lara Flynn Boyle, anyone on 90210, Rachel Bilson, Rachel McAdams, Sienna Miller, Jessica Alba, Thandie Newton… the list goes on and on, as it has for decades.

There’s even a sizeable sorority of formerly voluptuous actresses who have since caved (literally and figuratively) to the teensy weensy standard ala Jennifer Connelly, Angelina Jolie, Christina Ricci, Renee Zellweger and Lindsay Lohan, just to name a few.

The point is, don’t believe it when people herald the ascendancy of Miss Hendricks as the dawning of a more enlightened age of realistic body types in the movies and TV. After all, most articles about Christina have to go back a half a century to finds a comparable bombshell in Marilyn Monroe (the same go-to comparison of every curvaceous star since).  Nobody’s writing articles about how Olivia Wilde is bringing to mind the era of Twiggy.

But for those of us who find women with curves alluring, let’s raise a toast to the Bombshell of the Moment… however fleeting it may be.

NOTE: This piece was originally posted on STARPULSE on April 28, 2010.

The Best and Worst of Martin Scorsese

With Shutter Island about to open, cineasts are holding their collective breath wondering if the latest film from legendary director Martin Scorsese will add to his legacy or continue what some perceive as a decline from the Robert De Niro era to the Leonardo DiCaprio years.


Paul Newman and Tom Cruise star in this superfluous sequel to the 1961 pool hall classic, The Hustler. Cruise is in full-on cocky mode (whether that's good or bad is up to you), while Newman seems to be sleepwalking through a film that isn't terrible, but, to its detriment, never truly feels like a Scorsese flick.

Despite the rightly-lauded star turn by Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher, this film is a mesmerizing mess. Its look at warring street gangs and political unrest during the Civil War is marred by an unwieldy, sprawling screenplay, a horribly unconvincing performance by Cameron Diaz, some awful soundtrack choices and an overstuffed climax. This film also marks the beginning of Scorsese's "DiCaprio period," as every film since has starred the man-child actor, often playing against type (more on that later).

Set in 1945,"New York, New York" is Scorsese's attempt at putting his stamp on the musical genre and is an awkward misstep (which flopped at the box office). Old-fashioned visuals and big musical numbers are populated with unlikable characters (played by the mismatched Robert De Niro and the perpetually-histrionic Liza Minnelli) in an unhappy storyline that ultimately pleases only die-hard Scorsese fans. "Bringing Out the Dead" stars Nicolas Cage as an on-the-edge EMT in a film that's uncharacteristically unfocused, a style-over-substance Taxi Driver-lite, with a saner hero and a happier ending. It just doesn't work.

Scorsese's lavish biopic of legendary filmmaker / industrialist / billionaire wackadoo Howard Hughes features gorgeous cinematography, an interesting (if somewhat sentimental) screenplay and some incredible performances (Cate Blanchett's Oscar-winning turn as Katharine Hepburn could've easily been mere caricature). The problem lies in the miscasting of the lead. Acting chops aside, Leonardo DiCaprio is not a chameleonic actor ala De Niro and simply does not have the physical gravitas to be believable playing someone as imposing and intimidating as Howard Hughes (he's also hard to buy in The Departed). For us, it kills the whole film.


MEAN STREETS (1973) / AFTER HOURS (1985) (tie)
Two very different odes to New York: "Mean Streets" (marking the beginning of Scorsese's cinematic relationship with Robert De Niro) is an unsentimental, unflinching and riveting portrait of gray morality set in the small time Little Italy underworld. The black comedy "After Hours" takes a bored / horny Griffin Dunne down the rabbit hole of 1980s Manhattan after midnight, alternately aided and accosted by a motley cast of characters including a beautifully sad Teri Garr as a Monkees-fixated waitress and Cheech and Chong as two art-loving burglars.

Robert De Niro is transcendent as troubled 1950s boxer Jake LaMotta in what many consider not just Scorsese's masterpiece, but the best film of the 1980s. All of the director's themes are here: Guilt (Catholic and otherwise), redemption, violence, Italian-American identity, family, and the definition and demands of manhood. Much of this film ain't easy to watch, but it's all beautifully choreographed with some of the most disturbingly arresting violence (shot in unforgiving black and white) ever put to screen.

Scorsese's most overlooked film, this black comic tour de force stars De Niro as a wannabe stand-up comic so desperate for fame that he (abetted by Sandra Bernhard) kidnaps a Johnny Carsonesque TV host (played brilliantly by Jerry Lewis) and holds him for ransom in exchange for a spot on the show. Filled with moments so painfully awkward they make Curb Your Enthusiasm feel like Full House, this pitch-perfect satire on media and celebrity (both how much it costs and how much some refuse to earn it) now seems frighteningly prescient in this era of fame-at-any-cost.

In a word, duh. Scorsese's harrowing portrait of loneliness, obsession and descent into madness remains utterly vital after over thirty years. Working with screenwriter Paul Schrader and star De Niro (in his most iconic role as the titular Travis Bickle), aided by Michael Chapman's stark cinematography, a stellar supporting cast, spare but genius editing and Bernard Herrmann's haunting score, Scorsese sets the template for modern collaborative filmmaking under a strong guiding vision. New York City never looked uglier...but you just can't look away. An undisputed classic.

As with any "Best/Worst" list, this is subjective (no doubt many of you are screaming about the absence of Goodfellas). And in the case of this director, "worst" is contextual; Even Scorsese's "bad" films contain more to make them worth watching than most directors' entire oeuvre. This is why "Shutter Island" needs to be more than just a good thriller: We hold Marty to a high standard. Here's hoping he again rises to it.
This piece was originally posted on STARPULSE on Feb. 17, 2010.

An Open Letter to Christopher Nolan on Rebooting Superman

Dear Chris,

Congratulations on being handed the reins of one of Warner Bros.' most valuable properties, albeit one that seems to cause no small amount of creative consternation.

Relax, Mr. Nolan, I'm here to give you and the team you'll select advice on how to handle Superman.
I'm one of many fanboys who was, let's say underwhelmed with SUPERMAN RETURNS. Using Richard Donner's classic 1978 film SUPERMAN as a springboard wasn't necessarily a BAD idea, but Bryan Singer and his writers, despite the best intentions, created a movie not exciting and inspiring, but ill-conceived and waaaay too mopey.

There were lots of mistakes. Superman abandoning Earth for five years was dumb. Giving Lois Lane a kid was REALLY dumb. There wasn't enough action. Some of the casting could've been better. But the movie's biggest problem was that, unlike Donner's film, SUPERMAN RETURNS didn't GET the character.

Chris, here's the thing to remember: unlike Batman (with whom you've done brilliant work), Superman is not tormented, conflicted, nor in any way DARK. Yes, Kal-El is the orphan of an entire world; yes, he has sacrificed a normal life in order to help mankind (side note: I'm one of those who chooses to pretend that the marriage of Clark Kent & Lois Lane in the comics is a temporary aberration in the overall legend). But he has no angst. In fact, he's a pretty well-adjusted guy.

Therein lies the paradox that eludes most people: What makes Superman interesting is how he is absolutely UNcorrupted by his absolute power. He could rule the world, but all he wants to do is help. It's not a conflict. For Kal/Clark/Superman, there was never any other choice. He's not vain, he's not arrogant (remember, the S-shield is his family crest; he didn't name himself Superman). This utter selflessness is what drives power-mad narcissists like Lex Luthor crazy.

But let's talk about what a Superman movie SHOULD be in this era of unlimited digital effects and serious superhero films.

The first step is choosing the right villain. SUPERMAN RETURNS may have shot itself in the foot by using Lex Luthor as its bad guy. Luthor may be Supes' arch-enemy, but he's not exactly a spectacular character. To reach modern movie expectations, the Man of Steel needs to do battle with one of his more cosmic foes. Brainiac, the alien android who collects civilizations around the universe could work. If Lex Luthor has to return, maybe he could be responsible for the creation of Bizarro, the Superman-clone gone awry.

(Oh, and since Warner will no doubt demand more than one enemy for merchandising purposes, please take a note from James Bond: Use a B-lister like Toyman or Silver Banshee in a pre-credits action sequence that requires no exposition and doesn't muddle up the main story… that NO superhero movie has done this boggles my mind.)

But for the primary adversary, I think the best choice is the massively powerful and sinister über-villain Darkseid. Created by comics genius Jack Kirby in 1970, the character's complex back story would have to be simplified for a movie, but at the core, the notion of an alien despot bringing an army of parademons and super powered baddies to conquer the Earth sounds like a pretty cool movie to me. The main thing is, for a successful reboot, Superman needs an adversary he can CLOBBER.

One of the problems with SUPERMAN RETURNS is that Superman was always being REACTIVE; he caught, deflected, repelled, etc., but never threw one punch. The giant machine gun sequence ended with the implication that super-butt-kicking was about to take place, but we didn't SEE it! And the only scene to feature a Superman-Luthor confrontation had our hero getting the crap beat out of him! Aside from the plane scene, there wasn't much to cheer in SUPERMAN RETURNS.

In fact, SUPERMAN RETURNS may be the SADDEST superhero movie of all time. Not that a Superman film should be a comedy (as SUPERMAN III painfully proved), but there needs to be a sense of whimsy amidst the adventure.

It wasn't just the tone that was too dark in SUPERMAN RETURNS; while Bryan Singer vociferously defended the decision to make Superman's costume darker and more complicated, it was another wrong move. In his 1978 film, Richard Donner wisely embraced the bright elements of the character (both literal and figurative), knowing that while they may empirically be corny, you don't mess with an icon. Cynics and hipsters may mock Superman for his goody-goody image, but he appeals to the id, to our innate desire to see good triumph over evil… his primary status as the quintessential superhero is visually represented by the primary colors of his costume: red, blue and yellow, not maroon, blue and gold. Go ahead and do some slight tweaking (the blue is up to you), but don't go crazy with superfluous design (oh, and while it may seem inconsequential, please note: Clark Kent's black hair is parted on the right; as Superman, the part is on the left, allowing for the trademark S-curl… Singer screwed that up, too). And Chris… the red shorts stay.

One thing that Singer got right was casting another unknown in the lead (Brandon Routh was fine, if lacking the laid back masculine charm of Christopher Reeve, but those were big red boots to fill). Unlike with masked heroes like Spider-Man or Batman, suspension of disbelief is needed to accept that it's Superman onscreen, not a well-known actor in a Superman costume (and don't cast too young). When it comes to the female lead, please pick someone more consequential than the slight Kate Bosworth. Lois has to be ballsy and formidable in addition to beautiful… see if Evangeline Lilly or Zooey Deschanel is available. I trust that you'll avoid any stunt casting… we don't want to see some American Idol castoff as Jimmy Olsen.

The bottom line is, as you've done so well with Batman, and as Richard Donner did with Superman, make sure that whomever ends up directing the next Superman TRUSTS the spirit of the source material. There's no need to retell the origin, everybody knows the basic background of the Last Son of Krypton. There is a real opportunity to make the most spectacular superhero movie of all… the raw materials are there, many of them remarkably untapped; the (super) ball's in your court.

If you need more advice, feel free to give me a call. I'm in the book.
Originally posted on STARPULSE.COM on Feb. 17, 2010.