The Pros and Cons of a Christopher Nolan Superman Movie

Yesterday, the LA Times ran a feature on Christopher Nolan by writer Geoff Boucher (also up at Boucher’s Hero Complex blog) that found Nolan speaking openly about his role as architect of a projected Superman reboot for basically the first time. He won’t be directing the film—at least he’s not slated to—so much as shepherding it along, which so far means talks with Batman collaborator David S. Goyer about a vision for the movie.

Nolan’s involvement is exciting; speculation concerning the plot and tone of the film has already started, and probably won’t let up until opening day. Is it a good thing? Not necessarily.


Clout: That Leonardo DiCaprio signed onto work with Nolan on Inception is important because Nolan is not Martin Scorsese. From the decorated cast of Batman Begins onward, Christopher Nolan has attracted actors of the highest caliber to his projects, and intends to again, as indicated in Boucher’s piece. Does this mean we’ll see Daniel Day-Lewis play Lex Luthor? Probably not. But it does mean that more than likely, the cast of the next Superman film will be full of talented men and women. (Mad Men dreamboat Jon Hamm might be too old for the central role, but depending on the direction Nolan and company choose to for the Man of Steel, he could be perfect.)

High Concepts:
Whatever else happens in the next movie, Superman really ought to face something he can punch. (This sounds obvious, but it didn’t happen in Superman Returns.) That’s a criterion for an adequate Superman movie. A great Superman movie would find Superman facing a threat only someone with a laundry list of otherworldly powers could defeat. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s recent All-Star Superman—warm, clever, pitch-perfect, go read it—pitted him against legends of Greek mythology, a poetry-writing inversion of an inversion of himself, and an evil, sentient Sun. The trailer for Inception has entire city blocks lifting off the ground until they block out the sun–showing that Nolan might have a mind for Morrisonian imagery, which wasn’t a given, considering how grounded his two Batman films have been by comparison.


So Serious: Preserving Superman’s fundamental goodness, rather than deconstructing it—working with a character that represents the best in everybody—is a kind of challenge Nolan hasn’t faced yet. But if the next Superman movie isn’t the stuff of sincere optimism, then what’s the point? Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were not entirely bleak. At times they were even funny. But the films’ running themes of internal conflict, grief, and compromise should stay remain Batman’s territory. One reason why Superman’s hard to get right is because he’s motivated to protect his adoptive home planet in a relatively uncomplicated way, and it’s probably easier pick at this than to work with it. (This trait goes hand in hand with All-Star Superman’s over-the-top psychedelic sci-fi—a great Superman movie would tell a story in bold, colorful strokes.)

The Symbolism Trap: Superman can be made to symbolize any number of things, and perhaps more easily than Batman, including things Important Filmmakers make Important Films about: the United States or Jesus Christ. Was Batman really George W. Bush? Was the Joker Osama bin Laden? I never cared, because that movie had strong performances and cool action sequences. If the Nolan-supervised Superman film turns out to be an allegory on American interventionism then I HAD BETTER HAVE JON HAMM’S HANDSOME, HANDSOME FACE TO LOOK AT. In 3-D.

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One Comment on “The Pros and Cons of a Christopher Nolan Superman Movie”

  1. Glass Says:

    There are no cons to a Christopher Nolan Superman movie.

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