What Ruined The Mummy? Bad Decisions

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Nearly every decision made regarding Alex Kurtzman’s THE MUMMY was the result of bad decisions, mostly on the part of executives. And those bad decisions are Legion, for they are many.

1. MAKING A MUMMY MOVIE

You can actually reverse-engineer the decision disturbingly easily.

EXEC 1: We want to make a shared continuity universe like Marvel has, because those make money. Let’s use our old-school monsters. Who’s our most popular one?

EXEC 2: Dracula!

EXEC 1: Yeah! But nobody liked DRACULA UNTOLD (2014), and we jumped the gun on making that our shared continuity movie.

EXEC 2: Frankenstein!

EXEC 1: But other companies made I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014) and VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015), and nobody liked those.

EXEC 2: Ummm… The Wolfman?

EXEC 1: WOLFMAN (2010). Nobody liked that either.

EXEC 2: Creature from the Black Lagoon? Invisible Man?

EXEC 1: Too small.

EXEC 2: The Mummy?

EXEC 1: Yeah! We could blow around sandstorms, destroy cities, and do all kinds of crazy stuff!

EXEC 3, who has been silent all this time: But won’t audiences just compare that with the popular MUMMY 1999 franchise?

EXEC 1: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!

Spoilers: EVERYONE has done that, and THE MUMMY hasn’t looked good because of it.

There’s nothing wrong on paper with making a Mummy movie, but in the age of reboots, you have to be especially careful about audience burnout and the optics of sullying a fan favorite. THE MUMMY (1999) IS a fan favorite, and if Universal doesn’t have enough evidence of this from its box office success and continued DVD sales, it certainly does from the fact that The Mummy is STILL a major ride at their theme parks.

It’s not been that long since THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008), which came out 7 years following THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001). Audiences had plenty of reason to wonder if MUMMY (2017) was a sequel or reboot or wonder why Brendan Fraser didn’t return.

2. MAKING THIS AN ACTION MOVIE

Regardless of my love for the action-horror genre and my unpopular opinion that MUMMY (2017)’s horror scenes were among the few things it got right, horror is enjoying a renaissance, with movies like GET OUT (2017), IT FOLLOWS (2015), THE CONJURING SERIES, and THE PURGE SERIES showing how very much is possible within it. Universal’s “Dark Universe” could’ve truly stood out if only it’d fully committed to its horror. While its original movies were horror-dramas, they eventually evolved into action-horror movies. That gave audiences plenty of time to fall in love with the characters to care about their slugfests. Audiences today are clambering for the next big, exciting horror movie. There’s no reason why Universal couldn’t have started with a mid-budgeted horror movie and worked its way up from there.

By that same token, the UNDERWORLD and RESIDENT EVIL movie franchises have demonstrated that with a mid-level budget, you can make exciting movies that are consistently both action & horror without betraying either. THE MUMMY (2017) was initially slated to be directed by Len Wiseman of UNDERWORLD fame, and probably would’ve been a more appropriate movie for that.

3. FORCING THE SHARED CONTINUITY

I’m all for Universal’s “Dark Universe” of classic monsters. I love gothic horror, and I believe that there’s a place for it in a modern setting. By the same token, I respect anyone who has “shared universe burnout,” especially when MUMMY (2017) shits the bed with it.

IRON MAN (2008), only establishes its shared continuity status in its post-credits scene with Nick Fury, which is nothing more than, “We’d like to put more superheroes together. Whaddya think?” In THE MUMMY, Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll commandeers the movie with his monster-hunting organization, Prodigium. It effectively becomes HIS movie, undercutting whatever interest you probably hadn’t been building for Tom Cruise’s Nick, Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny, or Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet. Nearly the entire second act takes place in Prodigium’s headquarters, where you’re treated to shots of a vampire and werewolf skull, the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s arm, THE MUMMY (1999)’s book of the dead, and Dr. Jekyll’s transformation into Mr. Hyde. It’d feel random as hell if those scenes –Nick’s heart to heart with Jenny, Ahmanet’s schemes in captivity, and Mr. Hyde’s Hulk-inspired fight- weren’t lifted directly from THE AVENGERS (2012).

These scenes work for monster nerds like me, but for everyone else, they feel like a marketing plan. “This is how we plan to make billions of dollars. We don’t care if the story makes sense, just that you know that we’re going to keep making these things until the money stops rolling in.”

4. HIRING ALEX KURTZMAN

Alex Kurtzman, the critically-panned writer of TRANSFORMERS 1-3, STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS (2013), and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) was hired to shepherd in Universal’s “Dark Universe” clearly not out of talent, but because those movies had been BANKABLE. Well, except ASM2. Kurtzman’s gotten lucky in being attached to sturdy franchises and bankable directors like Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams, making his own success cloudy at best. The man isn’t tested with an original property, which THE MUMMY half-is, at least for audiences in their teens & twenties.

Considering those above movies, Kurtzman is an awful idea as a creative head: He’s a lazy writer. To be clear, his work ethic is fine, but he doesn’t care about the craft of storytelling, and holy shit, does it show. INTO DARKNESS, ASM2, and THE MUMMY highlight a writer who arranges scenes in any order without tonal flow or a clear cause-and-effect. He only seems to know how to write lame banter for 14 year-old douchebags, making everyone sound like an idiot. He routinely writes himself into dead ends, and his ONLY solution is Deus Ex Machina (THE MUMMY features about FIVE instances where outside forces inexplicably stop The Mummy from stabbing major characters). Kutzman doesn’t care about internal logic (The Mummy wants to stab Tom Cruise with a magic knife, but the movie is never clear if that’s a good thing or a bad thing and what the consequences truly are). Finally, Kurtzman is a writer with a DEEPLY traditional view of sexual politics. If the Mummy’s relentlessly sucking-out-men’s souls doesn’t convince you, check out the male gaze in TRANSFORMERS 1-3 and INTO DARKNESS, and the fridging of Gwen Stacy in ASM2.

This is not a guy you want anywhere near your mass-appeal summer blockbuster designed to herald in a sprawling shared continuity. He’s going to set a bad tone.

5. $125 MILLION PRODUCTION BUDGET

For fun, let’s run some numbers.

-Universal’s WOLFMAN (2010): $150 mil. budget, $61.9 mil. domestic, $139.7 mil. worldwide.

-Lionsgate’s I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014): $65 mil. budget, $19 mil. domestic, $71.1. mil. worldwide.

-Universal’s DRACULA UNTOLD (2014): $70 mil. budget, $56.2 domestic, $217 mil. worldwide.

-Fox’s VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015): $40 mil. budget, $ 5 mil. domestic, $34.2 mil. worldwide.

Things to note, none of these movies, even the two enjoying Universal’s marketing, were able to break $70 million domestic. All four of these movies took a domestic loss for whatever reason (all four of them are bad-or-iffy movies). Only DRACULA UNTOLD was profitable worldwide, owing almost exclusively to the widest distribution and the emerging global market.

Conclusions: There IS a market for classic horror monsters, but a nascent one. It needs to be developed, not expected. Budgets over $100 million are, at this stage, untenable, when you can only expect an average (of the Universal brand horror movies) of $59.05 million domestic at best (for bad movies). The worldwide box office is a lifesaver, but that doesn’t exactly build excitement for franchises.

A safe budget is probably in the $70-$90 million range. DRACULA UNTOLD (2014) had a reported budget of $70 million, and it’s a good-looking movie with decent talent. Bummer that the movie itself was mediocre.

6. HIRING TOM CRUISE

Tom Cruise is a legendary actor who probably starred in one of your favorite movies, but when’s the last time he hasn’t coasted on just playing an idealized version of himself? In the last 7 years, he hasn’t. His star his dimmed, and if you hire Tom Cruise, the 55 year-old is going to act as if he was 30, and damned if that isn’t out of place.

Just like he’s fallen into niche roles, Tom Cruise has fallen into niche MOVIES. He stars in glossy action movies where he can banter and show off his physicality. His supporting female love interests are always tech/lore/intellectually savvy and play foible to him. He doesn’t have character arcs, but he grows in power throughout. When you see Tom Cruise in a starring role, you know you’re getting “a Tom Cruise movie,” not whatever else a movie might want to be. Thanks to Tom Cruise, THE MUMMY was branded as “a Tom Cruise movie,” which I have to believe hurt it.

7. HIRING TOM CRUISE

Bear with me, because this speaks to another bad executive decision. Why would you hire Tom Cruise? Outside of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, his movies don’t consistently clear $100 million domestically and are routinely saved by the foreign market. At best, audiences show tepid interest to his work.

Chances are, he was hired because he’s Tom Cruise, a name that was huge a decade or two ago. Remember that picture of the actors hired for Universal’s Dark Universe? Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise… these are men who were gigantic a decade ago, but now… aren’t. Their personal reputations and box office performances have ruined their brand. There’s much to be made about how the star system is defunct, but the big actors and actresses now are people like Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Tom Hardy, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlet Johansson. THOSE are the kinds of people you want to hire to usher in a new era.

Even then, look at Marvel’s approach: they hired people JUST on the verge of popping. People who could be defined by their MCU roles, not the reverse. Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet is this kind of excellent casting so OF COURSE…

8. THE MUMMY RUINS AHMANET

In the age of EVERYONE clambering for diversity and positive representation in roles, especially after the success of THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) and ROGUE ONE (2016), it seemed like a great idea to make Sofia Boutella Ahmanet, the Mummy. An Egyptian princess out for revenge because her kingdom was stolen from her? BRILLIANT. Sounds like a great way to attack the idea of the glass ceiling and those who enforce it.

Except Alex Kurtzman has an extremely traditional view of sexual politics and gender roles. As an example, when we’re introduced to Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny, we’re immediately told that Tom Cruise’s Nick bedded her to steal information. Our supporting female lead is introduced as a sex object.

Ahmanet fairs little better. Her intro in ancient Egypt is heavily exoticized and eroticized, but things nosedive when Nick falls under her curse. Ahmanet’s curse basically means you have waking wet dreams about her, most of which confusingly end with undead sexual assault. Ahmanet grows her powers by sucking the life-force of men, and attempts to sexually manipulate others into doing her bidding. Ahmanet’s, a brunette, actions run counter to Jenny’s, a blonde, who continually calls Nick to the high path, confident that there’s some good in him, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So much for a feminist character.

Worse, Nick’s solution to killing Ahmanet is to suck out HER life-force, which is undeniably coded on the screen as rape. Then it’s heavily implied that Cruise will become the next Mummy.

Nicely done, Kurtzman.

9. PREMIERING THE WEEKEND AFTER WONDER WOMAN

Snarky point, but it highlights executive bad decision-making. It nearly says EVERYTHING about what went wrong during every phase of THE MUMMY’s production.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the ONLY character who emerged unscathed from BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), and Jenkins’ titular movie was getting strong buzz throughout its development. Wonder Woman is an established brand, not to mention THE most widely-known female superhero in western comics. Even if the DCEU was a three-movie failing brand, people WERE going to see Wonder Woman just BECAUSE IT’S WONDER WOMAN.

This should’ve behind why it’s hard for a Superman or Batman movie to fail, but…

…executives commonly think that since movies like CATWOMAN (2004), ELEKTRA (2005), and SUPERGIRL (1984) failed, female-led superhero movies flat cannot be successful. It’s pitifully reductive thinking that ignores every more relevant detail of those projects, and it’s nakedly misogynistic. Boiling it down, the execs behind THE MUMMY thought that WONDER WOMAN, a movie all about the positivity of women, their representation, and their role in the world, couldn’t be successful.

Oops.

There are a myriad of other nitpicks for THE MUMMY. Jake Johnson’s ghost corpse clearly rips off AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Nearly all the dialogue. A host of logical and continuity errors. But these aren’t isolated things that spell doom for movies –after all, look at Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams’ ongoing success.

The bigger failing is in the executive decisions that made THE MUMMY feel like a movie of the early 90s instead of the late 10s. It feels like a throwback, ignoring all the progess cinema has made since MUMMY 1999, except for the shallow sequel-delivery vehicle of cinematic universes. Audiences don’t want to see business models; they want to see good movies, and that didn’t happen here.

Personally, I have hope for Bill Condon’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (2019). Condon’s a strong director with an undying passion for the original movie, and he’s clearly got things to say about untraditional gender roles, romance, and dysfunction. It’ll probably be a good movie.

But will audiences care? I’ve already heard people wondering why it should be made before Frankenstein, or just how badly THE MUMMY would’ve ruined its brand.

Maybe executives will learn the right lesson here, back off, and let Condon do his crazy thing. Or maybe they’ll make him bend over backwards to get a cameo with Johnny Depp’s Invisible Man.

They probably will.

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Should The Mummy Be a Horror Movie?

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Even though I’m excited for THE MUMMY (2016), I’m waiting for it to bomb, critically and financially.

The conversation leading up to this movie has been fascinating. Those in the critic community have pointed out the blandness of the trailers; that the movie seemingly can’t decide on a tone; and that it seems like a cynical, Marvel-inspired cash grab. Time will tell how accurate those thoughts are.

More interestingly, others have stated that they don’t want an action-horror Mummy movie, and would prefer a straight horror movie. While I respect that impulse as a horror fan, I’m not sure I buy it. Not when THE MUMMY (1999) -action horror with comedy elements- is still highly regarded.

From there, I’m having trouble parsing out the expectations for THE MUMMY (2016) and Universal’s “Dark Universe.” If it’s a wish for it not to be a cynical cash grab, I understand, respect, and agree with that argument, and can only hold out hope that THE MUMMY holds together despite its iffy trailers. If it’s “we only want this as a horror movie,” well… doesn’t that seem unreasonable?

Put simply, “only if it’s horror” is “I don’t want X to be Y.” and it’s an overly simplistic sentiment that has bedeviled horror for decades.

In a genre closely related to comedy, horror is all about eliciting physical reactions in viewers. That’s the point of the jump scare. That’s the point of dread and suspense. But what about when horror isn’t trying to scare you? The latter Freddy and Jason movies are trying to make you squirm and laugh with the absurdity of the gore. ALIEN COVENANT generally doesn’t use suspense and prominently displays its creatures. Is that scary? No. Is it horror? Yes.

SLITHER is a fantastic creature feature with heart, but it’s more funny than scary. CABIN IN THE WOODS starts as an effective, self-aware slasher, but it’s more interested in satirizing a subgenre than scaring. THEY LIVE is sort of an action comedy, but its implications about corporate and political control are the stuff of paranoid nightmares. Horror represents a broad range of subgenres (hauntings, slashers, body horror, etc.), but why do we keep trying to police what horror can/can’t be? Psychological horror and zombie movies aren’t alike, but both are valid. Both explore different kinds of horror, some that might not rely on big scares. Hell, ALIENS is one of the greatest movies ever made, but it toes the line between action and horror.

My point is that the Universal Monsters don’t need to be pure horror movies to be good or important. Yes, their original movies were horror, but as their titular characters shared sequels, they became horror-dramas, and ultimately horror-action movies. What else do you call it when the Wolf-Man wrestles the Frankenstein Monster?

The real strength of the Universal Monsters, to me, is less in outright terror, but in our own empathy. We can see ourselves in them. Who hasn’t felt like the Frankenstein monster, struggling for purpose and identity in a world that can seem hostile and alienating? Who hasn’t been attracted to the idea of Dracula’s seductiveness and power? Who isn’t scared of losing control of their base instincts like the Wolf-Man? The Universal Monsters are veritable Jungian archetypes for our understanding of the world, which has led to them enduring as Halloween costumes and symbols for all these years. We may not have had a true theatrical Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolf-Man movies for ages, but their derivatives are ubiquitous.

To that end, a successful Universal Monster movie doesn’t need to be a horror move in the jump-scare-gore-fest-high-tension-sense; it needs to explore a part of ourselves that’s simultaneously horrifying… and alluring. Whatever mode it takes -action, horror, drama, even comedy- it just has to be honest with itself and to the audience.

Does that mean that “The Mummy” (2017) will be a good movie just for being emotionally honest? No. It could still have poor characters, bland action, lame horror, and little overall merit. Hell, if it’s as paint-by-the-numbers as its trailer looks, it could be a snooze. But it WON’T fail by virtue of its genre.

So yeah. Action-horror. Time for everybody to start reappraising VAN HELSING.

Because that movie rules.

Retconning Man of Steel

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Superman Handcuffs

(This article contains major spoilers for Man of Steel)

Man of Steel isn’t a great movie. It’s got a disjointed script of emotionless characters; on-the-nose theming; overlong action scenes; scattershot pacing; and more holes than a chain-link fence.

Perhaps the greatest stir came from the movie’s reimagining of Superman -the idealistic paragon of truth, justice, and the American way- into a gritty, sociopathic murderer. Initially, I, like so many others despised these changes. Why make a Superman movie if you’re not going to use Superman?

Still, just as many people seem to prefer the dark Superman, citing that they’d never liked the original character, and that he’s unrealistically pure and upstanding for our modern world.

Divisive, to say the very least.

With Man of Steel not being the $1.5 billion dollar success they’d anticipated, WB seems to have all but pulled the plug on the fledging franchise and has called in Batman to save the box office day. Maybe even Wonder Woman. Hell, it’s not like they’ve got Marvel’s level of foresight.

But what if they’d followed up Man of Steel? What kind of sequel could possibly reconcile fans of classic Superman purists with those of the dark-and-edgy new version?

Get ready- this proposed sequel is going to blow your freakin’ mind.

If you want to cut to the chase, I guess you could just jump to section 3.

Superman Sad

1.            The movie’s story.

To help understand the tools I’ll be working with, here’s a summary of Man of Steel. If you’ve already seen it, feel free to jump ahead.

On the dying planet Krypton, Jor-El helps thwart the crazed military leader Zod’s insurrection, putting him in the Phantom Zone, an extra-dimensional prison. Simultaneously, he sends Kal-El, his only child, loaded with the Codex (a record of all of Krypton’s genetic information) into space just as the planet explodes. Why he didn’t send himself and his wife on this ship is beyond me.

Discovered and raised by the Kent family on Earth, Kal-El grows up as Clark Kent. His parents teach him to hide his powers from society, even at the cost of human life. This culminates in Pa Kent allowing himself to die in a tornado while Clark watches.

Clark Kent travels the world, finding himself, using his strength to do “good things.” Sometimes this involves saving people on an oil rig, other times, it means skewering a lecherous trucker’s rig with logs. Still other times, it causes him to go to church and equate himself with Jesus. No, really.

Discovering a Kryptonian space ship buried in the Arctic, Clark and Lois shoehorned-into-this-movie Lane, inadvertently send a signal out from it, bringing Zod and his insurrectionists out of the Phantom Zone. Zod’s bent on terraforming Earth into the new Krypton, presumably because Mars doesn’t have enough genocide opportunities. Problematically, he also wants to use Clark’s genetic material for repopulation.

Ewwww…

Also activated in this Kryptonian space ship? A holographic personality recording of Jor-El on a handy-dandy USB drive, who provides a Superman suit for Clark and tells him how important he is. Why Jor-El didn’t let his wife in on the holographic-personality-recording action is anyone’s best guess.

Clark/Superman sets out to treaty with Zod, but winds up having a series of smackdowns with him that leads to the destruction of Smallville and play a massive role in leveling Metropolis. Saving the day? Not for hundreds of thousands of civilians.

At the apex of their fight, Zod, in Superman’s headlock, uses his laser vision to threaten murdering some civilians. Ignoring the fact that he could do a million other things to prevent this, Superman snaps Zod’s neck.

“Triumphant,” Superman flies away. When the U.S. military deploys surveillance drones on Superman, he takes them down, warning the government to leave him be.

…And that’s sort of the end.

"Or we could just hug it out."

“Or we could just hug it out.”

2.            The Tools:

As stated earlier, everything in Man of Steel sets Superman up to be a sociopathic menace. Let’s unpack that.

Pa Kent repeatedly gives young Clark mixed messages about basic morality. To paraphrase…

“It’s ok to let a bus full of people die if it protects your identity.”

“Here’s your space ship! You were destined for greatness, and everything about you is special.”

“I’m going to awkwardly die in a tornado because your freedom is more important than anything else.”

The arrival of Jor-El, holographic ghost from an ancient flashdrive (bad script, remember?), complicates this with more mixed messages, which I’ll also paraphrase:

“You’re the first being to be naturally born on our planet, and you’re (theoretically) its only survivor. You’re special.”

“Also, you carry all of our genetic information, making you the most important person in our history.”

“We deliberately set you to this planet to be a God among men.”

“Wear these Kryptonian long johns that I somehow perfectly tailored for you 20,000 years ago to show how special, important, and godly you are.”

Torn between two some of the worst parents ever, Clark becomes a sociopathic super-powered being with a messiah complex, which again culminates in (1) a destroyed Smalltown, presumably at the cost of a hundred lives; (2) a leveled Metropolis, presumably at the cost of several thousand lives; (3) a slaughtered villain; and (4) a threat against the U.S. military.

I suppose we can add ‘fascist’ to the list.

Superman Collateral

Bear a few things in mind: (1 & 2) We never see Superman save anyone during these fights, and there’s no indication that either city has evacuated in any real capacity. When Superman slams Zod into the train station, the civilians had no idea what was happening outside. With this, by slamming Zod into buildings, there’s reason to believe that Superman was complicit in mass murder, at least by omission. (3) Yes, villains die in superhero movies all the time, but notice a common thread: they usually die by their own hand (ex: Spider-Man’s Green Goblin), or by the hero’s inaction (ex: Batman Begins’ Ra’s Al Ghul). What few times the hero DIRECTLY murders the villain are often extremely fantastical (ex. Iron Man 2’s Whiplash). Contrast this to Superman’s actions in Man of Steel where, on camera, he outright snaps Zod’s neck. Brutal and direct. (4) Superman’s cheeky and unchallenged threat to the military codifies him being above the law. Perhaps to the point of BEING the law. They are afraid to take measures against him.

Superman Evil

“…with justice and lobotomies for all.”

3.            The Sequel Idea

So Superman is a sociopathic, murderous fascist with a messiah complex, huh? Gee, I wonder where I’ve seen that before.

Superman’s got a long history of being the bad guy in alternate universes, either by leaning to far in a radical direction or by just being outright villainous. Hell, even within the mainstream DC universe, he’s got to deal with evil Supermen like Bizarro, Ultraman, Eradicator, Superboy-Prime, and Cyborg-Superman.

So what if Man of Steel’s Superman was actually an alternate/evil Superman from another dimension?

Superman vs. Man of Steel

4.            The Retcon/Sequel…

“Man of Steel 2” or whatever you’d like to call our proposed Superman sequel, would take place a few months after the events of Man of Steel.

Things have been quiet. Real quiet. Superman’s been dealing out justice with an iron fist. You break the law –anywhere in the world- you die. Simple as that. Crime drops 100%. Hell, there IS NO crime. That done, Superman turns his eyes to war, stopping every national and international conflict. Effectively, he becomes Earth’s dictator.

Superman broods in that ancient Kryptonian warship in the Arctic (his Fortress of Solitude), waiting to detect the slightest tremor of human aggression. Little does he know that the Phantom Drive Device that summoned Zod’s ship is on the fritz…

Earth’s governments band together in a desperate mission to overthrow Superman. Prodigy genius and strategist LEX LUTHOR leads them. This guy’s studied Superman for months, and he’s convinced he’s got a plan…

A seemingly endless wave of military forces siege the Fortress of Solitude, guns blazing. Superman soars out to meet them, cutting through their ranks like butter. He prepares to kill them, starting with Lex Luthor, when Luthor’s true attack comes into play:

A low-orbit satellite fires a kinetic bombardment missile, hitting the Fortress of Solitude with the force of an atom bomb, inadvertently sending that Phantom Drive device into hyper drive. This creates a vortex in space and time that rips Superman into it.

Here’s where things get really interesting.

Superman lands in the Arctic, right outside his Fortress of Solitude. Geographically, nothing much has changed, except the military’s gone… And there’s something else…

In Man of Steel, the dying planet Krypton looked dark and corroded, foreboding and hellish. That made sense; it was on its last legs. But Earth… Earth looked much the same, its colors washed out, its people existing only in grays and blues. People were short, curt, and passionless. The world felt empty and ready for ruin. But now… everything’s HIGHLY saturated and clean…

The sound of mayhem in the distance –Superman zooms after it with lightning speed, the prismatic world blurring past. He finds himself in Metropolis –a city so beautiful and strong to give him pause- and it looks like a major catastrophe never happened there –well, except for the GIANT ROBOT currently demolishing 5th avenue. Before Superman can intervene, a blur of blue, red, and yellow whooshes past him—

IT’S SUPERMAN.

Superman Mind Blown

Superman watches in wonder –or is it horror- as another him zips around the robot, using a clever mix of heat vision, frost breath, super-speed, and super strength to reduce it to scrap –leaving its pilot unharmed to be delivered into police custody –all without any collateral damage.

As this other Superman helps clear away the robot’s mess and rebuild, Man of Steel Superman notices differences in their costume: while his costume is dark and washed out, other Superman’s costume is bright and cheery … and he wears a red speedo outside of his spandex. Man of Steel Superman? Meet CLASSIC SUPERMAN.

Alerted to the sounds of a bank robbery,  Man of Steel (MoS) Superman zooms off in its direction –Classic Superman notices and shoots off after him –nonchalantly passing the LEXCORP Building, where a terrified Lex Luthor gawks out the window. MoS Superman slams down, preparing to deliver his brand of justice –only for Classic Superman to stop him, apprehending the criminals effortlessly. MoS Superman yells about how they’ll just cause more crime, Classic Superman tries to calm him down, but it’s all too much for MoS Superman… the noise of crime, the chaos of the world, and of the presence of another him… he flies into the upper atmosphere until Classic Superman can talk him down, and take him to a place where he can get his head screwed on straight.

MoS Superman wanders the Fortress of Solitude. It’s brighter. Cheerier. There’s a zoo of Kryptonian animals, things he’d only seen in data records, and trophies of colorful villains he’d never (but we might!) recognize. Classic Superman sits down with him, hashing out the world. Classic Superman is what we, the audience, would know as “the real” Superman from the DC comics. Idealistic, wholesome, pure… you get the picture. MoS Superman can’t get over how calmly Classic Superman’s taking this. Classic Superman shrugs “After Toyman, Brainiac, and Parasite, it’s pretty hard to surprise me.” The two talk vaguely at first, both sizing up the other, not sure what to do. MoS Superman asks Classic Superman why his world is so chaotic. Classic Superman replies that he’s a hero, not a dictator. He saves humanity; he doesn’t rule it. It’s just not how he was raised. At one point, it becomes clear to MoS Superman that in this universe, Classic Superman’s parents are still alive. He flies out of the Fortress of Solitude at hypersonic speed, leaving Classic Superman to follow.

MoS Superman lands in Smallville at the Kent farm and sobs, hugging Pa Kent. Classic Superman lands. “I’m sorry, Dad. You died when he was just a child.”

Seeing the farm and Smallville in all of its glory before the Kryptonian attack on his world (in Man of Steel), MoS Superman agrees to help Classic Superman defend his world until they can find a way to send him back.

superman Farm

Together, they save people from natural disasters, and stop crimes, always stopping back to the Fortress of Solitude to work on the Phantom Zone Drive together. Still, this lingering doubt hangs in MoS Superman’s mind as they pass over battlefields, and as he sees political strife causing inequality and human suffering. It’s slowly driving him mad. Just as they’re putting the finishing touches on the Phantom Zone Drive, a series of major rumblings draw their attention—

They fly to Metropolis where they’re too late to save thousands of people from collapsed apartment buildings. Classic Superman mourns their loss, hating himself for not being more vigilant; but MoS Superman with glowers with a fiery vengeance for those responsible. Classic Superman sweeps over the ruin with his X-ray vision, discovering the buildings’ cornerstones: they’d been made by Lex Luthor.

The Supermen burst into Lex Corp, but Lex Luthor is ready. He assaults them with kryptonite, and prepares to kill them. The collapsed apartments? All to get both Supermen to come to him after his robot trick failed the first time. No one should have the kind of power they have; especially aliens from another planet. Earth deserves better. He levels a gun at Classic Superman, who struggles helplessly under the kryptonite… MoS Superman just uses his heat vision to kill Luthor. Just burns a hole right through his heart.

Luthor sinks to the ground, confused, “But… but you’re Superman…” and dies.

Superman on Killing

Classic Superman’s beside himself with horror, screaming at MoS Superman that he can’t just murder people –that they have to uphold the law. MoS Superman argues that in letting people like Luthor live this long, he’s let thousands die. If he hadn’t have snapped Zod’s neck, how many others would die? Classic Superman broods. “So you’ve killed before.” MoS Superman argues that Luthor slaughtered innocents just in the hope of killing Superman. Of course that justifies murder. He goes on to argue that this is the same man that united the Man of Steel world against him. Classic Superman wonders if maybe that world’s Luthor had his head screwed on straight. MoS Superman flies off to “correct the world” that’s grown too chaotic and allowed too much human suffering. Classic Superman tackles him out of the sky, refusing to let him kill again.

Commence epic Superman-on-Superman fight, Classic Superman in defense of justice and Earth’s sovereignty, and MoS Superman to save it from itself –at any cost. However, at multiple points during the fight, Classic Superman breaks off from combat to save people from collateral damage. MoS Superman screams at him to just surrender, starting to notice how terrified civilians are of him.

Classic Superman draws the fight away from people as best he can… which allows MoS Superman to maneuver him into a headlock. Classic Superman asks him if this is how it’s going to go… if life means so little to him. MoS Superman prepares to do it… but his eyes keep meeting those of terrified civilians… and Classic Superman isn’t struggling. He’s just waiting. Scared of himself, MoS Superman lets him go and falls to his knees, shaking. Classic Superman stands, telling him that they’re as much a part of the world as everyone else. Their talents are used to inspire humanity to greatness and to catch them when they fall. “We’re Superman. We’re not better; we’re held to a higher standard.”

Mos Superman helps Classic Superman rebuild what was destroyed in their epic battle, learning that final ounce of compassion… learning that people can sort themselves out, if he but gives them a chance.

Humbled, MoS Superman returns to the Fortress of Solitude with Classic Superman. There, he uses the Phantom Zone Drive to travel back to his Man of Steel universe. Classic Superman wishes him good-bye, telling him to shape up. After all… He could always pay him a visit.

MoS Superman returns to where he’d been without skipping a beat: the militaries of the world surround him, Lex Luthor in his grasp… MoS Superman lowers Luthor to the nearest ship. He relinquishes his hold on the world, pledging to make it up to them. Then, he flies away, leaving them all in wonder.

He lands in the crater of Metropolis, now a memorial to those lost. Somberly, he begins to rebuild.

Superman Destruction

6.            What the hell was that?

At the end of the day, just like Warner Bros.’ forthcoming “requel” tentatively named “Superman vs. Batman,” “Man of Steel 2” would be about rebuilding: literally in Metropolis’ sense, but figuratively in crafting a Superman that’s a happier medium. Rather than wallowing in a cold, apathetic world as Man of Steel does, “Man of Steel 2” makes MoS Superman a fish out of water in his own world and redeems him through the power of compassion and humanity.

With my pitch, you get a surprising, creative story; an emotional arc; moral grayness; metaphysical wonder; and a few kick-ass, character-driven fight scenes all for the price of one. At the end of the day, you’re left with a Superman who’s got a closer, more genuine connection to humanity, with a greater understanding of what might be done to save it.

And really, that was all we needed from the first movie.

Nice try, Warner Bros.

Official pictures courtesy Warner Bros. & DC Comics.

Original and edited pictures courtesy the Nerd Bastards & headside.