The Man of Steel in Nolan's Shadow

So the countdown has begun. How will you be spending the next 300 or so days before Zack Snyder’s vision for Krypton’s favourite son arrives on the big screen? Some of you no doubt, will be buoyed by the fact Snyder remained faithful to his source material in Watchmen, and no doubt some of you will remember the video game/modern art/soft porn picture that was Sucker Punch.

But there is a bigger shadow looming over Clark Kent’s return to the big screen, a big, bat shaped shadow called Christopher Nolan. The new movie’s producer brings with him a weight of expectation and also a series of themes that while they worked well with the Dark Knight of Gotham, may not work out so well for America’s favourite boy scout.

The trailer for Man of Steel had Nolan’s influence stamped all over it. Not a hint of laser eye beams, perfectly coiffed quiff, and bar the last few seconds, no reference to the word “Super” at all. This, rather, is the back to basics Superman. He’s unshaven, he’s doing things that the rest of us do, he wears jeans and scruffy trainers when doing work around the house, and yes, he’s even slung a sheet over his back and pretended he can fly. This looks to me like the grounded world of Batman Begins, where people have to work to achieve greatness, and never have an easy path.

Let me say before I go any further though, that I love Nolan’s Bat franchise, in fact I think they are some of the finest movies ever committed to film, but Nolan’s grittiness, his emotional, character driven drama, bleak themes and unremitting violence fit into the darker world of Batman very, very well. While I’m sure Man of Steel will be a success, will those traumas and real world difficulties fit in with a character who can fly whole islands into space and put out raging infernos with his breath?

Superman has always been the antithesis of Batman, indeed, if Nolan and Snyder draw on some of the more serious (ie that which will fit in with a more grounded Superman), then the two are often two different sides of the same coin. Batman is the dark, brooding, uncompromising hero, he’s the symbol of fear and intimidation. Superman, by contrast, is the icon of hope and inspiration, and they often end up opposing one another.

In Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”, where an aged Batman comes out of retirement to fight crime, he is a brand of crime fighter that the US Government doesn’t want to succeed: Unsanctioned, unwilling to follow the rules and totally justified in the end, despite the means.

So the Government get their number one weapon, Superman, to take him down. Without spoiling things if you’ve never read it, the conversation the two have paints Superman as pitying his opposite number, because he is, after all, human, and can’t ever hope to stop a Superbeing like him.

In Jeph Loeb’s “Hush”, Superman again finds himself in the opposite corner to Batman, but in this fight, Batman is in his prime, and the difference again occur between the two where Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego employs sophisticated weaponry and more than a little underhandedness to even the playing field. Superman is portrayed as being so unstoppable, that Batman has to fight dirty to get close to beating him.

This brings me back to my original point. Superman, is, for want of a better analogy, God-like. Stronger, quicker, more durable than any mortal and with morals that would make Captain America look a bit lazy. In other words, he doesn’t have the challenges facing him that Batman does. Nolan has proven adept at creating worlds where characters, no matter how powerful, can be brought down, and the only way to survive is to endure. Superman’s world is vastly different, and while Snyder will undoubtedly have final say, the power that Nolan will wield after his Bat-success will give him more than an ample say in the film’s look and storyline.

In creating Superman in a world like this, will they take something away from the character himself? The darker world Nolan prefers can be difficult to depict a shining light of hope. Before anyone says “The Avengers aren’t like Batman and that made more money,” the key to that franchise was not only building up the characters, but each movie, and the big one itself, had a fair slice of humour that fit in with the more colourful type of hero.

Nolan isn’t exactly known for his witty punch lines, and Snyder doesn’t exactly bring a barrel of laughs with him, so that option is out. Both face a huge challenge in bringing an iconic character out of retirement and placing him in a modern setting, where cynicism and selfishness are more prevalent than ever before. Can Superman really be a shining beacon of hope, integrity and glory in 2012, or will Nolan and Snyder alter the character, and make him a flawed, gritty Kryptonian? Either way, it’s a difficult task for them, and they will need every trick in the book they have to ensure that Man of Steel doesn’t get the same critical mauling that Superman Returns did.

If they can get that right, then they could have a franchise that surpasses The Dark Knight himself.

Article by Columnist, Phil Bowers, at


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