There's no kind way of saying it, Superman movies have had some issues. Henry Cavill's three outings (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League) as Superman have been divisive with critics and audiences alike, and while Brandon Routh has never heard criticisms of his portrayal in Superman Returns, others likely have. Why has Hollywood struggled so much as of late with crafting a critically acclaimed movie around Superman?
Perhaps the answer is to look to comic books, a medium that's been constantly changing and evolving Superman to make him more interesting for audiences since 1938. Not everything has worked, but there are a handful of things DC Comics has done that Warner Bros. should at least consider to use as inspiration, assuming making a straightforward adaptation is out of the question. Doing any of these would at least make things entertaining, and maybe help Superman with critics.
Make Superman Another Nation's Hero
The world knows Superman as America's boy scout, and with that persona well-established and firmly in place, why not take a chance and introduce a Superman native to another country? The concept worked beautifully in Superman: Red Son, and the story is still celebrated today as one of the greater hero stories of the era. So then why has Supergirl been the only series to attempt to adapt it?
Perhaps executives fear a departure from Superman's origins may confuse audiences. Superman is one of the most known heroes worldwide, and while perhaps some young minds may be confused by a movie that put Supes in Soviet Russia, China or even Africa, there'd be plenty of people to fill them in on the traditional hero. A new origin would make for an original story and could alleviate the pressure of finding an appropriate villain or engaging threat just a bit.
Remove Some Of Superman's Powers
One thing that DC Comics has done a fair number of times in its Superman stories is downgrade the character's abilities for a time in order to keep things fresh. A great example would be the New 52 Superman, who began his run unable to fly and wasn't nearly as invulnerable as he eventually became. He was still super strong, just not quite the indestructible entity we saw in Justice League.
Now, one might question the value of a Superman movie in which Superman isn't his ultimate self, but it's really quite simple. Audiences like to see heroes struggle, and for those skeptical, look at which hero movies top the all-time box office list. Nothing has ever been very difficult for Superman in the movies, and knowing the only thing that will bring him down is some Kryptonite can make things a bit boring. Perhaps leveling him down is the answer.
Split Superman In Half
Remember that weird phase in the '90s where Superman looked like he borrowed a costume from The Incredibles' Frozone? There was also the Red Superman, and this wasn't the hero trying out a new look to impress Lois, this was two entirely different versions of Superman. Both were created from an incident, and both believed themselves to be the one true Superman. The problem was they both were right, which caused some problems between them.
This would make for a great Superman movie as the heroes are tasked with an identity crisis of sorts. While they did end up merging back into one individual, a movie could send things in a different direction and perhaps send the other Superman off on another path. Also, imagine how sweet those modernized costumes of Superman Red and Superman Blue would look. Those toys would be flying off store shelves come Christmas time!
Make Bizarro Superman's Villain
Superman has a lot of villains in DC Comics, but very few of them have found their way into Superman movies. Instead he's usually pitted against arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace even created an original villain called Nuclear Man. Meanwhile, big names like Bizarro fell by the wayside and still have yet to make their debut in a Superman movie.
Which is really a crying shame because a goofy villain like Bizarro would really spice up a Superman movie for the better. If heroes and villains were ice cream flavors, Superman is vanilla where Bizarro is the "fried pickle chip" that, for better or worse, would certainly switch things up with his appearance. Keep Superman the same if we must, but bring in Bizarro to make the movie, and everything else surrounding the hero super weird.
Send Superman Somewhere Other Than Earth
Superman is one of the most powerful beings in existence, and yet, Superman movies have been dead set on keeping the hero glued to Earth. To be fair, Clark Kent does like to stay close to home, but when he can travel across the dark reaches of space merely by holding his breath, keeping him only on Earth is shortsighted. Superman movies are really missing out on an opportunity keeping a bulk of his action tied to our world.
Let's have the Man of Steel be kidnapped by someone like Mongul, who in many Superman comics is the leader of Warworld. There, Superman could be pushed to his limits taking on some of the galaxy's strongest heroes, and he could go all out on his powers without worrying too much about massive loss of life. A movie like that wouldn't escape criticism for being likened to Thor: Ragnarok, but is that really the worst comparison to get in the world of superhero movies?
Don't Worry About Keeping Superman Movies Grounded
Now, one certainly wouldn't blame the early Superman films for this, but Henry Cavill's Superman appearances have definitely felt restrictive. Not so much in terms of the hero, but the idea of having Superman operate in a world that follows the same set of rules we do. Even if Superman comics do generally try to follow that rule as well, the bottom line is Superman's Earth is still very far removed from ours.
So what if it's realistic that a villain can reek havoc on Metropolis and Superman can still largely prevent a massive loss of life? Stuff like that makes him incredible, and allows an audience to focus more on the heroics and less on the minutiae of having a god-like alien living amongst humans. Sure, that's a theme DC Comics does tackle from time to time, but let's maybe get back to Superman movies where everyone's grateful he was around.
Introduce The World To Calvin Ellis
Remember back when folks were asking for Michael B. Jordan to play Superman? That can and should totally still happen, and if Warner Bros. wanted to keep Henry Cavill in the role, DC Comics has a way to make it happen. All it would take is a trip to Earth-23, and a screenplay that would give the world a proper introduction to that world's Superman, Calvin Ellis.
As some may have noticed, Calvin is a bit different than the traditional Superman. That's right, he's President of the United States in addition to being protector of the world. Imagine how awesome a movie like this could be, and how DC could have an entirely different cash cow on their hands with a new interpretation of Superman. As mentioned earlier, folks are well aware of who Superman is and his story, so we can feature another adaptation.
Adapt The Actual Death And Return Of Superman
Perhaps one of the biggest things I disliked about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it relegated one of the greatest Superman comic book stories of all time into a sub-plot. The actual Death of Superman comic was a great standalone tale on its own, and it really deserved a standalone movie that it may never get thanks to BvS.
Now, the whole Return of Superman part of the arc wasn't as celebrated as the death, but I'm of the opinion that seeing a bunch of different versions of Superman on a big screen would make for a great cinematic event. Cyborg Superman, The Metropolis Kid (Superboy), The Eradicator and a version of Steel who isn't portrayed by Shaquille O' Neal would all be amazing to see. Of course, jamming it all into one movie wouldn't make sense, but that's what trilogies are for!
Jump To The Future
Superman is one of the few heroes in DC Comics who gets continually stronger with age, because each passing day on Earth means more time he's exposed to the power of the sun. Future comics have shown him approach god-like status where next to nothing can harm him, and he even at one point became a living embodiment of the sun. That sounds impressive, but wouldn't making Superman even more indestructible make him more boring?
Not necessarily, as stronger versions of Superman more often than not are jaded by humanity and driven to cynicism at best and villainy at worst. If we're going to make Superman a threat, let's make him a literal god seemingly impossible to best! That could potentially set the stage for an ensemble films comparable to Avengers: Endgame, made all the more tragic because the heroes must defeat a man once thought to be humanity's best hope. I have chills!
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