How to Make a Superman Movie Sequel

By Steve Younis

Date: March 15, 2008

In January 1999 I wrote an article titled "How to make a Superman movie". Now, with news that the sequel to "Superman Returns" is moving into development stage, I thought I'd go back and have a look at some of my previous ideas and note down a few new ones.

What do we know about this movie?

At this point in time little is known about what the movie will involve. The cast is likely to remain the same, with Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey and their fellow cast members all signed on to reprise their roles.

Bryan Singer has noted that the new movie will be more action packed. "The first one was a romantic film and a nostalgic film," he says. "I'll be the first person to own up to that without making any apologies for it. I knew it was going to be that from the outset. And now that the characters are established, there's really an opportunity to up the threat levels."

Tentatively titled "Superman: The Man of Steel", the new movie, likely to be release some time in 2010, has the Superman fanbase divided. Time will tell whether Bryan Singer can win back those fans who were disenchanted with "Superman Returns".

The winning formula:

In my 1999 article I wrote:


    You don't mess with the Superman costume. Superman is more than just a superhero... he's a worldwide icon. The blue tights, the red cape, the famous red and yellow "S" logo on his chest. These are non-negotiable. Minor alterations are acceptable, as seen in the Superman Animated series, which used a darker blue, no "S" on the cape, black shorts with a red highlight... but still kept the overall appearance of the well-known costume.

"Superman Returns" probably changed the costume more than some fans liked. But all in all they stayed true to the classic look. I'm happy for the same costume to remain, however with "Man of Steel" looking to be more action oriented, and hopefully with more day-time scenes, the red in Superman's costume should (in my opinion) be made brighter and more vibrant.

"Superman Returns" contained a lot of night sequences or situations with dark/drab backgrounds. In these sequences Superman was usually the brightest object in the scene, and rightly so. However if the new movie contains more day time sequences (and it should) then I'd prefer that Superman stood out more. Brightening the red in his costume (and especially the cape) would go a long way to making this happen.

Another heading in my 1999 article was:

    The storyline needs to be Super! If you're going to do a movie for a character as big as Superman, then you need a story befitting his status. We need to get emotionally involved. We need to feel some deep connection with the Man of Steel. We need to be awe inspired by his deeds, his self-sacrificing nature, his goodness. We need to feel proud of him.

For me, "Superman Returns" only accomplished this in small amounts... but not over all. I didn't leave the cinema feeling up-lifted. Sure the "plane saving" sequence was fantastic, but the movie as a whole did not leave me with a sense of wonder. I was impressed, but not inspired.

There is a faction amongst the fanbase who are calling for a reboot to the franchise. We don't need a reboot. We don't need a new origin story. What we need is a stand-alone movie. A new Superman adventure. Why can't we simply have a Superman movie that has a beginning, a middle and an end? A self-contained adventure story that isn't weighed down by previous continuity, that doesn't contain held-over threads from previous incarnations. Same cast, same setting, just a new stand-alone story. One that could fit into any incarnation, any era, any version. The world is faced with a threat, Superman comes to the rescue to face that threat, and through twists and turns, he comes out at the end victorious, flies past the camera, smiles at the audience, who all go home happy, whistling the Superman theme. No loose ends, no unanswered questions, no unresolved issues. Just a solid story.

Lois, Jason and Lex James Bond movies have been doing it for years. We know who the characters are. We know where they're situated. How they're connected to one another. We don't need major changes in their lives. Superman doesn't have to go through some major personal developmental overhaul. He doesn't need to grow a beard, live in China, become a policeman instead of a reporter... or be the father of a child.

I don't understand why filmmakers feel the need to make major changes in the Superman mythos.

For all their faults, "Superman III" and "Superman IV" had the right idea. They were both stand-alone movies that didn't require you to have seen the previous films. They didn't leave any unresolved issues that weighed down the franchise. They had the right idea, they just didn't execute them very well.

Back in 1999 I next wrote:

    Casting is very important! Personally, I think an unknown, yet talented actor needs to be found for the roll of Clark Kent/Superman. Sure, get big name actors for the other supporting roles. For example, someone like Kevin Spacey playing the part of Lex Luthor would be great for the movie.

Lex's trainset Scary how I picked Kevin Spacey back in 1999. I think Brandon Routh was great in the role. I think we need to see more of his Clark Kent though. I wouldn't be overly disappointed if Kate Bosworth didn't return as Lois Lane, but I think the rest of the cast were fine. Let's keep what we've got and showcase them in a great movie.

On the subject of soundtrack, my previous article stated:

    Soundtrack... a hard act to follow. All I know is that they're going to have a huge job trying to top John Williams' classic musical score. I'm almost inclined to advise they don't even try.

John Ottman, in using John William's themes from "Superman: The Movie", did a masterful job with the score to "Superman Returns". Do the same for "Man of Steel" and we're golden.

Regarding the Special Effects, I wrote back in 1999:

    Super Special Effects. Yes, please have us believe all over again that a "man can fly"... but I'd gladly sacrifice 10 minutes of CGI fight scenes for 10 minutes of character development/interaction.

Sadly "Superman Returns", while fantastic in its effects, tended to use CGI too much in my opinion. Close-up flying shots should ALWAYS be live-action green screen shots of Brandon Routh. Even the 1978 effects were more impressive than some of the close-up CGI shots used in "Superman Returns". I don't care how good computer generated humans have become. It's more realistic if you use the real thing. You've got the actor, use him.

Major Villain. One subject I didn't cover in my 1999 article was on the topic of who the major villain should be. For "Man of Steel" I'd personally like to see Brainiac. Other villains that could be used are Bizarro or Metallo. Lex Luthor (if he has to be used, and with Kevin Spacey signed on you'd imagine he will be) should not be the main villain again. Perhaps he could, as in some of the comics and animated episodes, form an alliegance with Brainiac, or be responsible for the cloning of Bizarro or the creation of Metallo. But let's leave the real estate "land land land" obsession behind please.

Before I conclude, I'll do as I did back in 1999, and leave you with this quote from Ilya Salkind, as I think it still says it all, and shows the wisdom we hope all involved in making this new Superman film can take to heart and learn from....

"From the outset, we were determined to stay true to the spirit of Superman. We wanted this movie to have more color, style, action, and spectacular visuals than any film of its kind ever made before. But there would be no tampering with the legend."
Ilya Salkind
Executive Producer of "Superman: The Movie".