8 reasons for a 1930s Superman movie

Here's why a depression-era Superman could cut through the gordian knot of bad sequels and actually be fun again...

It's been kind of heading that way for quite a while...[1930s Superman]

I personally hope that Warners doesn’t use the Superman fan-base as a multi-million member focus-group for how to approach the ‘darker’ Superman movie that it wants to make. What a new film needs is a visionary director with enormous enthusiasm for the project and a clear and bold vision for the Man Of Steel that will re-boot the cinematic branch of the Superman franchise. With clear direction and a three-film vision, minimum. Superman needs Donner II, its own Chris Nolan. Not twenty million chefs. The zealous fan-threats regarding the fidelity of Watchmen creep me out a bit…

There are other reasons to not overly placate comic Superman fans – Supie has had notable adventures and incarnations in so many worlds and ‘universes’, that whichever one you pick, there will be groans from the opposing camp/s. Make a good film, however, and they will all forgive you.

Finally, a great many Superman fans – like myself – are ex-Superman comic readers who have moderate enthusiasm for the comics but huge enthusiasm for what a Superman movie could be, seeing what magic Richard Donner wove with pre-digital tech and a big heart in the late 70s. Unfortunately, Bryan Singer seems to be a little too much in that camp, and therefore turned out to be the wrong choice for Superman Returns. The ‘safe’ market for Superman v3.0 (or maybe v2.0, since Returns was kinda v1.5) is far broader than comics fans.

But what the hell, since Supie fandom is practically making this movie in threads all over the web right now, here’s my two cents…

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Set the new movies in the 1930s. Superman hit the real world in 1938, so why not? This came up yesterday in the comments to The Dark Man Of Steel, and apart from solving a number of problems, it just seems like a cool idea to me. Here’s why…

1: There’s popular precedentMark Millar’s Red Son is probably the most celebrated retro-Supie, where our hero is re-imagined as having fallen on communist Russia instead of small-town America, and the tripartite arc covers 1950-2000. I doubt that Warners are going to spend $200 million on a pinko Superman (the ‘wine’-coloured cape did enough damage in Returns), but the character has already proved popular in the past.

2: It would be visually stunning Like them or loathe them, check out the production design in The Hudsucker Proxy and King Kong (yeah I know Hudsucker is set in the 1950s, but the aesthetic and tone are pure 1930s); all that glorious art-deco and world’s fair vibe would be absolutely amazing to look at, and if you check out the Daily Planet’s globe in Superman Returns and the Woman Of The Year chic of the seventies movies, it’s patently obvious that the cinematic Superman myth is strongly tied to the 1930s.

3: It would let Superman be a fantasy again… Away from the 9/12 world, we need not explain why Supes isn’t out there in the middle-east kicking arse and taking names (besides which, we already have Tony Stark for that). Set it mid-thirties and Hitler is still only gearing up in Germany at this point, and remains a regular guest at embassies worldwide, so no need to worry about the Superman contribution to the war yet. Superman’s perennial problem is that he is too powerful, and can choose to solve too many of the world’s problems, which conundrum only adds to the ‘Christ parable’ which got Donner and Singer into trouble. Give him no easy targets, and the situation is more interesting.

4: …whilst still capturing a modern feeling Having lived through at least two recessions, I know that the current economic gloom is likely to still be worrying us in two years’ time, even if it mercifully doesn’t hit as hard as many are fearing. So setting a new Superman movie in depression-struck New York errr Metropolis gives an opportunity for some hard edge among the glamour and the high-energy of the Planet newsroom.

5: No spring-boards needed I’m not suggesting that Superman be returned to his diminished power-set from the early Action Comics days. Let him fly over the old city, and keep his X-ray vision, super-strength, etc. Howbeit it might be appropriate that his powers be slightly just slightly toned down from the last four films – watching him lift about a billion tons of Krypton crystal away from the Earth in Superman Returns was frankly a bit much, and I don’t care if he did ‘fall to Earth’ afterwards.

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6: No need to re-run the origin story One reason there’s significant fan-resistance to a genuine re-boot is that not everyone wants to go through all that business on Krypton again. So do it X-Men style: go back to the origins later and get on with the story now. Admittedly this isn’t specific to a retro-Supie movie.

7: He wouldn’t have to apologise for being who he is anymore One of the most depressing aspects of Superman Returns was watching the Man Of Steel participating in an apologist tract for male WASPs. Not only is that not an issue in the 1930s, but the Katherine Hepburn era also presents us with some of the strongest female heroines/villainesses in Hollywood history, so there’s no scope for turning back the clock on feminism. Hopefully whoever plays Lois Lane will play it slightly straighter than Lane-clone Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Hudsucker. Which leads me delightfully to…

8: It’s a great opportunity to dump Kate Bosworth I don’t know whose idea it was to put a whining, nagging, petulant, semi-depressed (and not even redeemingly attractive) Lois Lane into Superman Returns, but if you think that fulfils the original character remit then…ahhhhh, yer screwy! A dame like that wouldn’t last two minutes under the demanding schedule of a 1930s Perry White, so she’d have to liven up a bit, see.

What Mark Millar wants to do with a new Superman movie [interview] The dark Man Of SteelIs Superman heading back to square one?

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