By now you’ll have heard the story doing the rounds about Christopher Nolan starting prep on Batman 3, and playing a ‘Godfather’ role in the development of a Superman reboot. (If not, you can find it here). I have no issue with the accuracy of either part of this story, it all sounds pretty feasible, even likely. What i do take issue with is whether Nolan mentoring another director through a superman project is really necessary, or even a good idea.
I understand the logic behind it. One of the best filmmakers of the last ten years, Nolan has made a huge success of the Batman series, both commercially and critically. Warner Bros clearly want to recreate this magic with the Superman franchise, and rightfully so. Superman is probably the biggest superhero in history, and is being buried by the success of Batman, Iron Man and even Spider-Man in recent years.
However, rather than recreate the Batman success by attaching the mastermind behind it in some way, i think it’s more important they recreate the conditions. They gave the project to a highly talented, contemporary filmmaker, and allowed him to make the project his own. Nolan used his own personal style to spin the comic series into a coherent, entertaining movie, with a compelling storyline.
To recreate this, Warner Bros need to hand the Superman series over to another highly talented, contemporary filmmaker. They don’t need Nolan’s spin on the comic series, they just need another director with his own voice, his own strong ideas, with the talent to make a great movie. By having Nolan overseeing the project, they are making this almost impossible
No filmmaker worth his salt is going to want to take on this project with another director figuratively, if not literally, looking over his shoulder. There ARE many directors who would find this situation tenable, but they aren’t going to be great directors who can inject their own style into the film. Now, i know people will point to Neill Blomkamp’s work with District 9, and the fact that Peter Jackson was the producer, and effectively overseeing his work. But Blomkamp was a first time feature helmer, was working on a screenplay entirely his own, and needed the big break he was being offered. District 9 could have turned out badly, with an untried director behind the camera. Warner Bros can’t afford to take this risk. If Superman fails again, the franchise will be cinematically buried.
If instead, they turn the development over to, say, Sam Mendes, or Darren Aronofsky, if either of them were interested, they’ll be allowing someone with huge talent to make the work their own. Both would make a very distinctive piece, with very strong ideas. Mendes would excel if they wanted the movie set during the period of the original comics, as he has shown a great eye for period detail. He would also provide focus on the love triangle between Superman, Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Aranofsky would provide a much more contemporary setting and ideas, with an intelligent and absorbing storyline. David Fincher reportedly turned down Batman before Nolan took charge, but i imagine if he didn’t feel Batman was for him, the more primary coloured world of Superman may be even less interesting for him.
I also believe that an origin story is necessary. One of the problems with Superman Returns was that we were thrust straight into it with no origin, and whilst yes, we know the story, i think it made the movie feel less complete, the universe somewhat unfinished. The recent lawsuit may make the origin a grey area, and possibly unworkable, but there definitely needs to be a definable beginning. In my opinion.
If they do start from the beginning, an unknown actor is traditional for Superman. Personally, however, my choice to play the Son of Jor-El would be Karl Urban, Bones in last year’s Star Trek reboot. I think he has the look, the likeability, and the presence to play the part perfectly. He is maybe a little too old to play it from an origin standpoint, and is very busy over the next couple of years, so that’s more of a fantasy casting for me. The shadow of Christopher Reeve still looms large over the role, so i do think someone with a strong presence and acting ability is required to redefine the role, much like Bale did with Batman.
Whatever happens, i hope they get it right. It’s a travesty that a character as strong and popular as Superman has been so badly mishandled cinematically for so long. The world deserves a great Superman movie, and if it really takes Christopher Nolan’s influence to make that happen, i won’t complain. The important thing is that someone makes it happen, before the rights disappear into oblivion.