This post is about Superman.
My sister, father, and I went to see Man of Steel in theatres. This was a big deal for us. We all love Superman, and were really, really excited about the new movie. My sister and dad don’t even go to see theatrical releases. But, alas, this is the year of disappointing movies.
After the film was over we went to McDonalds and got ice cream. We talked about the 40 minutes of mandatory car-smashing and glass-breaking that occurs in all these films. We talked about the distinct lack of plot and originality in various superhero films. On the drive home we compared Man of Steel to Christopher Reeves Superman. We came to the following conclusion:
The original (Christopher Reeves) Superman was really hokey in terms of effects. I mean, flying around the world really fast to reverse time? O-kay. But the plot was good. The relationships were compelling. In Man of Steel the effects were jaw-dropping. The details of Krypton was stunning. The plot was meh, and the relationships were pretty much non-existent. (Except for all the development between Clark and his parents. I will grant that that was extremely well-done. And I will also point out that clips from that made up 85% of the trailers. Mostly we’re picking on Lois Lane here.)
And then we figured out what the plot for Man of Steel should have been. It primarily involves making Zod more wily, and less idiotic. Clark holds the fate of an entire race in his hands, and destroys it, and nobody cares because they don’t realize what’s going on. It hasn’t had time to be absorbed because we only just had it explained to us. Clark never even hesitates. And then, in the final battle with Zod, it turns into a big “I don’t want to kill you” or “I don’t kill” sort of emotional thing that was never set up for! (Because, basically, there is no dialogue during these fight scenes. What happened to the time-honored tradition of witty banter between hero and villain?)
So here’s what Zod should have done. He should have come in peace. He doesn’t know what Clark knows. Even Clark isn’t sure what he knows. The mere prescence of aliens would have been enough to draw him out. Zod should hav e been friendly, fatherly. Shown him the wonders and history of Krypton. Offered him a piece of what he had lost. Explain why he’s so important to saving Krypton. Done a bit of lying. And Clark would have been tempted. He should have considered it. It should have been a hard choice. So when he finally does destroy the Genesis chamber it would break his heart…. and all of us with it.
It should have been more like the third season finale of Doctor Who. We all know that the Doctor doesn’t like killing anyone. Even his enemies. And we all know that he’s alone in the world, and desperately lonely. And then suddenly there’s a chance, just a chance, that he’s not alone after all. There’s another member of his race, a man who’s almost a brother to him, his oldest, most charming enemy – the Master.
The third season finale of Doctor Who is really hokey in some ways. But we don’t care, just like we didn’t care about Christopher Reeves reversing time by flying really fast, because we’re so drawn into the emotion of what’s going on. The Doctor’s agony in having to destroy the only hope for companionship he’s ever going to get it very, very real to us. Clark’s agony is something we’re only guessing exists. He never even appeals to Zod as a kinsman. (Because, again, no dialogue in this movie.)
Now we come to the bottom line. My dad is the one who figured out what makes Doctor Who so compelling, and what makes Man of Steel so blah. And he’s not a writer. He has no story sense. He’s a good critique, but not all that great at coming up with plots. So if you agree with me that our alternate version of Man of Steel is pretty good then you’ll be wondering why it wasn’t the writer that came up with it. It’s because my dad is really smart.
All the best stories are based in some manner upon the story of Christ. It’s the greatest story ever told, and it has no equal. It has plots no one has ever thought of, or ever will. It has themes like betrayal, redemption, and temptation. My dad said: “Clark is perfect. Christ is perfect and he got tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. So why wasn’t Clark tempted?” In his mind it’s a logical progression. Perfect protagonists have to suffer from temptation. The Doctor, for all his occasional sappy behaviour, weeps for his enemies; another rare concept found primarily and originally in the bible. Christopher Reeves, in his Superman, portrays sacrificial love.
Take your favourite story, your most compelling character, and find out what aspect of the bible is portrayed in them. I think you’ll be surprised at the results. And the next time you’re writing a story that seems boring, unoriginal, or lacking intensity, look at it through these lenses and see what’s missing. Reinvent the oldest story in the world, and you’ll be retelling the greatest story ever told. And that’s a film my dad and I will spend money to see.