Monday, April 16, 2012

If I Did - Superman Returns


Good evening,

            The ‘If I Did’ series seems to be popular with people. I know this now because I mentioned IID at a friend’s party some time ago. Needless to say, my vision of Twilight and Hangover 2 won over some and perplexed others. Then, something I never thought possible happened: someone issued a challenge.

            “Okay, hot-shot,” he said, not actually calling me hot-shot, “Redo Superman Returns.

            You know how these things work. The gears got turning and soon enough I had a premise. Now, I’m going to post it here. It’s funny, because I didn’t get into Superman as much as I did with Batman or Spiderman, but there’s something about him that is fun. I had some of the comics, and I saw the Richard Donner films and the Bruce Timm animated series. Then, in 2006, I hit the theatres and saw Returns… and I kind of liked it. Kind of.

Okay, yes, it was silly, melodramatic, and riddled with plot-holes – especially the whole illegitimate son arc and the ‘Superman lifts the Kryptonite island and becomes a Jesus metaphor’ malarkey – but it was fun for me. Then again, the films have always been silly. If you can believe a man can fly and shoot heat-rays, then taking a bullet to the eyeball and pushing the earth back through time should be easy to understand.

Returns, though, could have been much better, but Superman is incredibly difficult to write for. How exactly do you add tension when your main character is a solar-powered god? Singer had the right idea by hitting Superman in the soul rather than across the jaw, but how could he have explored that further?

Here are some ideas:

First, I’d start with a recap. You know how The Incredible Hulk began with Bruce Banners’ origin story being played alongside the credits without labouring over details or alienating the audience who never bothered with the Ang Lee film? I’d do the same; the opening credits would show the death of Krypton, Superman landing on earth, growing up, heading to the Daily Planet, stopping Lex and Zod, romancing Lois, and then soaring off to find himself. No dialogue, just quick-cuts, and all done in just under four minutes.

Then we roll into it. See, Singer had the right idea by having a time jump for when Superman was away, but it was too short. So, rather than Superman being absent from the planet for only six or seven years, he’s actually been gone for over two decades. We begin with Lois Lane in charge of the Daily Planet, but she’s no longer a spry twenty-something but a woman in her mid-forties and married with two teenaged kids. She reminisces on the days of old as her new editor, Jimmy Olsen, prepares the presses for the President’s speech.

All of a sudden, a huge alien ship breaks through the atmosphere. It launches an attack, travelling across the world wreaking havoc. Probes zip through the streets abducting people, and any tanks and fighter jets that get mobilized to stop it end up shot down.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, another ship crash-lands in the middle of a field and is discovered by the grandson of Ma and Pa Kent’s neighbours. It opens up, and it’s Superman, still a young man of twenty-something as he was when he first left the earth. Before he gets told how long he’s been gone, though, his super-hearing picks up on Metropolis being invaded.

Superman appears as the ship does, beats back the probes, and the UFO retreats. This is when Kal-El finds out he’s been gone for twenty years and that Lois Lane’s moved on with her life. His friends have changed or are gone, and society and technology are now far beyond what he was used to. More importantly, he gets called out and praised by the new President of the United States of America: his former arch-nemesis Lex Luthor.

This is the tipping point for Superman. Disillusioned, Superman runs back to the Arctic and revisits his Fortress of Solitude. He takes the time there to consult his crystal computer about the new era. After some much-needed me-time, he puts together an “aged Clark Kent” look with some hair dye and returns to the Daily Planet, reconnecting with Lois and Jimmy Olsen. Clark gets his job back, and also goes back to slipping out as Superman to do some good, later reconnecting with Lois as Superman and finding out more about Mrs. Lane’s life and discussing the love they once had. Things get tense, Superman suddenly feels less super knowing that Lois settled for an average guy, and sulks off.

On one of his outings, Superman blows out a fire at an abandoned factory and meets an unexpected visitor – President Luthor. Luthor explains that his goons started the fire to get Superman’s attention, and that he wants to team up to stop the alien robot-thing that attacked Earth. Superman, of course, refuses and flies off.

The next day, the alien ship returns. Luthor arrives in Metropolis, announcing to the American public that he hired roboticist Winslow Schott to help him develop a device that might help him communicate with the aliens. This proves fruitless when Lex and Winslow get abducted and the ship continues its assault on Metropolis, abducting Lois Lane and the Daily Planet crew next. Clark Kent becomes Superman and breaks into the ship.

Inside, he finds people being frozen in tubes, shrunk down and stored in cases by a humanoid. It introduces itself as a Coluan supercomputer its people colloquially referred to as “Brainiac.” Brainiac explains that it was programmed to gather architecture samples from other civilizations for its masters, but the Coluans destroyed themselves during one of its outings. Since then, it has decided to collect entire intelligent species instead, and that it plans to start with Earth. Superman explains that Brainiac can’t travel the universe stealing off with people for his galactic butterfly collection, but the robot won’t listen. Brainiac decides that the only logical course of action is to wipe the floor with Superman.

Big fight, biff-bang-pow. Superman throws Brainiac aside and figures out how to free the citizens of Earth, including Lois and co, and – much to his disdain – Lex Luthor and Winslow Schott. Brainiac recovers and attacks Superman again while Lois gets everyone to Brainiac’s probes, sending everyone back to Earth. Superman crashes the ship outside the White House and then punches Brainiac into the sun. After the battle, Superman discovers a hidden room in the ship where he finds a shrunken-down ancient Kryptonian city called Kandor. He takes Lois and Kandor back with him to the Fortress of Solitude. He clears the air with Lois, and the two agree that even though they can’t be lovers again, they can still be together as friends.

As the film ends, we get our big twist: that Lex and Winslow planned to get abducted. They knew Superman would come to the rescue and free them, but he didn’t anticipate that Winslow and Lex would run amok in the ship, find a control panel and redirect the UFO towards the nation’s capital. Luthor’s science team pick apart the remains of the spacecraft, Brainiac’s body, and some other technology found on board, and then set to work on three projects code-named “Metallo,” “Parasite,” and “Bizarro.”

And there you have it. Once again, kudos to Josh L. for giving me the idea, and thank you for reading.

See you next time!

-RWI

EDIT: A friend noticed that I forgot a word in one of the paragraphs. It's fixed now. Thanks, Michael!

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