Warner Bros. also put on hold plans for another movie starring multiple superheroes -- known as "Batman vs. Superman" -- after the $215 million "Superman Returns," which had disappointing box-office returns, didn't please executives. "'Superman' didn't quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to," says (Warner Picture Group President) Jeff Robinov. "It didn't position the character the way he needed to be positioned." "Had 'Superman' worked in 2006, we would have had a movie for Christmas of this year or 2009," he adds. "But now the plan is just to reintroduce Superman without regard to a Batman and Superman movie at all."
A couple of reactions:
1. Just to clarify, it's my understanding that "Batman vs. Superman" was shelved before Superman Returns went into development (correct me if I'm wrong). I think the multi-hero project the (typically clueless) reporter was referring to was actually the recently shelved "Justice League" movie.
2. If there's any professional class better at obfuscation than politicians, it's entertainment executives. Let's try to decode Mr. Robinov's spin:
"Superman' didn't quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to..."
Translation: "Superman didn't make $400 million like Dark Knight."
Sure, Robinov could be referring to a factor other than total box office, but since money is all these guys understand, I doubt it.
But if it's money he's talking about, let's talk money: According to Box Office Mojo, Superman Returns netted $391 million worldwide compared to Batman Begins netting virtually the same amount ($371 million worldwide). The difference? Batman Begins is consistantly hailed as a critical and commercial success, while Superman Returns continues to be poo-pooed by guys like Robinov and others who weren't "pleased". So, based on box office take alone, what was it about Batman Begins that made it "work" (thus green-lighting a sequel), yet Superman Returns didn't work (despite pulling in an additional $20 million).
I know. Shame on me for trying to apply logic to a movie studio's pronouncements.
3. That said, let's take a look at another, even more opaque and irritating comment from Robinov:
"It didn't position the character the way he needed to be positioned."
Now, even my great abilities to translate obfusaction are stymied here. What in the world does he mean by how Superman needs to be "positioned"? I'll take a wild guess and say he's probably not referring to Brandon Routh's flying poses, but rather the overall emotional tone of the movie...which leads me to my real concern with Warner hitting the reset button on the Superman franchise.
You see, elsewhere in the same article, Robinov cuts to the chase:
"Like the recent Batman sequel -- which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far -- Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as "The Dark Knight." Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.' DC properties. "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it," he says. That goes for the company's Superman franchise as well."
Got that, folks? The "key" to successfully translating superheroes to film is...evil! Silly me for ever thinking it could be the idealism and escapism superheroes have always represented.
Now, I'm the first guy to admit Superman Returns had big enough problems to warrant a new approach (only one of which was saddling him with a kid), but the solution should never be to add a "brooding tone" or to "go dark". Of course the brooding works for Batman....he's Batman, and Batman broods! He's the original "emo superhero", for Pete's sake! But darkening Superman? Huge, huge mistake.
If anything, what Superman Returns needed was far less brooding and much more action and jaw-dropping spectacle. Yeah, the airplane rescue sequence was exactly that, but the rest of it? Lots of standing around, lots of talking heads, more than enough campy Luthor scenes, and director Bryan Singer's odd preoccupation with re-creating the original movie's look and feel (such as meticulously duplicating the Kent farmhouse).
So...yes...Superman Returns wasn't a cinematic masterpiece for the ages, but the way to turn that around isn't to make him into Batman with a red cape. In fact, that kind of talk suggests a step backward to the dark years of development hell when Tim Burton wanted Superman to be essentially Edward Scissorhands with a haircut and an S-shield (which, I kid you not, could be removed and broken into smaller "knife weapons").
Where does that leave director Bryan Singer, who was initially supposed to start planning for a Superman sequel? According to Anne Thompson, editor of Variety.com:
"I was told that it is a priority at the studio to find the right direction and if Bryan Singer is willing to do that, fine, but if he gets in the way, he may not stay on the project. There are no writers working on a Superman script now. The studio wants to figure it out. "It might be better to start from scratch," one exec admitted."
"If he gets in the way"? What is this, the Sopranos? What's going on over there in the WB studios?
Bottom line: Am I open to a rejuvenated Superman movie franchise? Sure....but not with clueless suits like Robinov calling the shots.