Raise your hand if you don’t know who Superman is
Quick: describe Superman’s origin story as briefly as you can. Where he came from and what his deal is.
Did you do it? Great. If your description included the words “alien”, “Krypton”, or “American way”, I can almost guarantee you got the basic gist of it correct. If you said “I don’t know” then congratulations, you don’t exist.
I mean, am I wrong? Is there anyone who doesn’t know the very basics? If so, here they are:
That’s Superman tossing off his entire origin in a thought bubble. Not much more to it than that. But if you really hate reading…
My point is this: I challenge you to find any potential moviegoer who was unaware of the above premise, and yet the new Superman reboot, reportedly called Man of Steel, will be yet ANOTHER origin story.
I’ve mentioned the origin problem of superhero movies on the podcast before, and written about it in one of my first articles for the site, my review of The Spirit. The issue is that these films feel the need to give you a detailed walkthrough of the hero’s early years, partially because it establishes their character motivation, and partially because the fact that Daredevil was blinded as a child, or that Plastic Man used to hate broccoli until he tried it in olive oil may be vital to the plot. That’s all well and good, and I love a well-told origin. The problem comes in when the origin overtakes a huge chunk of the movie, eating up precious time that could be spent on the actual story.
Now, I’m not talking about a film like Batman Begins which is really and truly ABOUT the origin. In that case, the origin itself is the entire story. I’m talking about movies that could have been tighter and more focused if they weren’t saddled with all that setup up front.
And even if you yourself are from another planet and have somehow avoided hearing Superman’s backstory. Guess what? It doesn’t matter that much. You can still enjoy a Superman movie.
You don’t need to spend thirty minutes watching Superman grow up on a farm just to establish his homespun American ideals. Maybe instead, Superman is flying over Kansas and offers to help the locals with some superspeed harvesting, after which he reminisces for a second about his own cornfed upbringing. You don’t need to actually see Krypton explode to get across that he feels alone on Earth. Maybe he’s invited over to Lois’s parents’ house for dinner and is reminded both of his own adopted parents and the biological ones he never knew. Two scenes and a few lines of artful dialog. Less than ten minutes of screen time where you’re also moving other plot elements forward instead of wasting time hashing out stuff we already know.
I just realized that I don’t even know if Lois’s parents are still alive in the comics. And I don’t really care. It’s nice trivia when you’ve got the time for it, but it’s not that relevant to understanding and enjoying the character.
So please, Man of Steel, I know Chris Nolan and David Goyer are involved, so I don’t want to tell you what to do. But please. Please can you spare us another origin story?