There has been a great deal of discussion recently about how Superman was represented in Zack Snyder's recent Man Of Steel reboot, particularly in a final third which saw most of Metropolis destroyed, presumably with considerable loss of life. The movie industry's tendency when it comes to creating a sequel to a successful movie which nevertheless drew the ire of the core fanbase is to pretend the events of the original never happened. In the case of Man Of Steel, it's a pretty solid bet that when the second entry comes around, Metropolis will be fully rebuilt and no-one will think twice about trusting a superhero who was at least partially responsible for its initial destruction.
The problem with this approach is that it ends up satisfying no-one, diminishing the integrity of the movie's universe by pretending an event of enormous consequence never occurred and leaving the first movie's problems as an open wound. You only need to look at the Bond series, which rebooted following the dreadful Die Another Day and discarded the promising idea of a new evil organisation for Bond to go up against after mixed reviews for Quantum Of Solace. Yet with careful writing, it's entirely possible to create a sequel which is not only a strong story in its own right, but resolves the original film's mistakes at the same time. What follows is my attempt to outline how this could be done for Man Of Steel.
Before I get started, a few things to note. The outline below is intended as an example of how problematic elements from one story can be put in a different, possibly more acceptable, context by a follow-up. It was devised and written up in about two hours, so anyone expecting the polish and integrity of a final draft will no doubt have plenty to pick at. (For a start, the plot's all over the place and the ending is all kinds of clichéd). The aim of this article is instead to raise discussion about how sequels are handled, whether damage to a beloved character can be subsequently repaired by means other than pretending it never happened, and to contribute to the ongoing debate about Man Of Steel's quality - a film, for the record, I enjoyed despite its cavernous plot holes and tasteless ending. With that in mind, enjoy.
MAN OF STEEL 2
The opening sequence shows Superman at the height of his powers, rescuing a Pakistani village from monsoon flooding.
With Superman having saved the day again, we cut to press conference where Lex Luthor, a handsome young billionaire with a head of majestic red hair, is announcing his intention to run for President Of The United States. His speech is interrupted by news of Superman's latest heroics. Backstage, he is humiliated and disgusted that despite financing the rebuilding of Metropolis, Superman's exploits are relegating him to the inner pages of his own newspapers.
The following day, Clark Kent reports for work at the Daily Planet, flirting with Lois and chatting about his exploits in Pakistan, reminding us that she knows his real identity. We learn Lois recommended Clark for a job at the Planet. He's a little cockier than is usually expected from the character. He and Lois are summoned to the office of Perry White, who sends Lois to cover the opening of a new LexCorp building, while Clark hands in his latest assignment and says he plans to go home for the weekend.
Clark returns to the Kent farm at Smallville. He brags to his adopted mother Martha about the good Superman is doing and she encourages him to stay humble. Arrogance creates enemies. Clark acknowledges her, but doesn't seem to take her point. That night, he goes to see the Kryptonian ship that brought him to Earth. Inside he finds a key like the one containing the consciousness of Jor-El from Man Of Steel. As he is about to activate the key, Martha calls him home as Lois is on television. He leaves the key behind.
At the LexCorp press conference, Luthor is talking about rebuilding Metropolis following the Kryptonian invasion. A reporter mentions Superman. Luthor bristles and questions whether Superman was responsible for putting the Earth in danger and the subsequent destruction of Metropolis. Is Superman to be trusted? Lois attempts to counter his argument but is rebuffed. With proof of alien life has come proof of the dangers it brings, and Luthor claims to be the man to protect Earth against the outsiders.
Martha worries that Clark's recklessness could lead him into trouble. Clark, using his super-powered hearing to detect people in danger, reassures her and flies away.
In the LexCorp laboratories, Luthor's scientists are analysing the debris from Zod's world engine, salvaged from the Indian Ocean. They have discovered traces of an extraterrestrial element which they dub Kryptonite. Lex takes a call from Lt General Swanwick of the US military. Swanwick says he saw Luthor's press conference and shares his concern about Superman, citing his destruction of a surveillance drone at the end of Man Of Steel. With LexCorp contracted to clean up the remains of the Kryptonian invasion, Swanwick suggests the military would be interested in continuing their partnership with LexCorp should they discover anything which could be used against Superman in the event of him turning out to be a danger.
Back at the Daily Planet offices, Lois mentions to White that she's investigating LexCorp's possible involvement with the use of experimental weapons in third world countries. She mentions that Lex's weapons have been found in the hands of the Burmese military junta, although Luthor's media empire has continually buried the story. White tells her to pull back, questioning why Luthor would want to risk global instability while standing as a presidential candidate, and whether Lois' attitude towards him is biased by the campaign he is leading against Superman, remembering their kiss at the end of Man Of Steel. She denies it, saying that as one of the few newspapers in Metropolis not under Luthor's control, it's up to the Planet to investigate his suspicious activities when others won't. White tells her to hold off for the time being and cool down. Lois leaves the office and offers junior photographer Jimmy Olsen the opportunity to follow her on a big story.
In Burma, Lois and Olsen are welcomed as reporters planning a profile piece on the Myanmar Army. They are shown to their rooms for the night, but sneak out to investigate the military complex where they are staying. Inside the barracks, they find crates of weapons stamped with the LexCorp logo, which Olsen photographs. A helicopter lands nearby and a LexCorp businessman is greeted by three senior army officers. Lane and Olsen follow them into a nearby building, overhearing them discuss their contract with Luthor. In exchange for the weapons that will end the Burmese civil uprising, LexCorp will gain a monopoly on contracts to extract the country's mineral wealth once Luthor becomes President. The businessman mentions he has something new to try out on 'the patient'. Lois and Olsen follow the men into a secret laboratory, where General Zod's corpse is being preserved. The officers explain how Zod's impenetrable skin has prevented them from dissecting the body. The businessman removes a Kryptonite crystal from his briefcase and holds it over the body, allowing it to be penetrated by a scalpel. Outside, Lois and Olsen are captured by guards.
Luthor receives a video call from the businessman telling him the experiment with Kryptonite has been a success and two reporters have been captured while spying. Luthor instructs him to keep them alive for the time being. Luthor calls his R&D department and asks if the ring he ordered is ready. An assistant arrives with a lead-lined box. Inside is a ring with a glowing green gem.
Clark arrives at the Daily Planet offices the following morning and asks White where Lois is. White tells him about his conversation with Lois and surmises she continued her investigation against LexCorp regardless of his instruction ('You know Lois.') He tells Clark not to interfere, but Clark excuses himself. On his way out, Clark sees Luthor challenge Superman to debate on live television, suggesting he won't attend because he doesn't believe he should be held accountable for his actions.
Clark goes to Lois' flat to find out where she went. He hacks into her computer, where her internet history suggests she booked a flight to Burma a few days earlier. As he changes to his Superman costume, he hears Lex on the television next door talking about Superman's cowardice in not showing up for the debate. Superman hesitates, then flies out the window. Hovering above the earth, he listens for Lois' voice, but cannot hear her as she and Olsen are unconscious. He returns to earth.
At the debate, Luthor is continuing to use Superman's absence as proof of his argument and to bolster his presidential campaign. Superman enters the conference hall and Luthor welcomes him on stage, questioning him about the damage caused to Metropolis in his fight with Zod and how he can call himself a hero considering the enormous loss of life. Superman begins to answer but feels woozy. Seizing the opportunity, Lex claims Superman cannot refute his claims that is a danger to Earth. They are interrupted by a televised news bulletin about two reporters being captured and sentenced to death in Burma. As the rest of the room watches in shock, Luthor subtly lets Superman know that he is behind Lois and Olsen's sentence. With Superman weakening, Luthor taunts him by showing the Kryptonite ring. Angry and confused, Superman lunges at Luthor to get the ring. Luthor cries for help and every journalist in the room begins taking photographs of Superman 'assaulting' Luthor. With security pursuing him, Superman stumbles out of the room and manages to fly away. Luthor feigns injury and claims his point is proven.
Superman flies to Burma and is attacked by soldiers with weapons firing Kryptonite-laced bullets. He succeeds in rescuing Lois and Olsen, destroying Zod's dissected body with his heat vision before leaving, but is severely injured. He returns them to Metropolis and despite Lois' pleas for him to stay and help clear his name, flies back to Smallville. As Martha cares for him, he tells her he has failed in his attempt to lead humanity to a brighter future. She tries to console him and tends to his wounds, but his condition worsens and he slips into a coma.
Luthor's newspapers and television stations are showing Superman's 'attack' on the Burmese military installation, suggesting he is causing further instability in the region and taking sides in a complex political situation to assert his will over humanity. In Washington D.C., Luthor takes a call from a scientist saying they have successfully constructed the remains of the Kryptonian world engine into a rocket, which will be sent crashing into Metropolis as final proof of Superman's betrayal. Lex sends assassins to kill Lois and Jimmy and retrieve the evidence they collected of LexCorp's wrongdoing in Burma, then gives the order to fire the rocket.
Unsure what to do for her son, Martha goes to the barn where the Kryptonian ship is hidden. Finding the key Clark left behind, she activates it. The barn is transformed into a holographic projection of the Kryptonian homeworld. Lara Lor-Van, Superman's mother, greets her and asks who she is. Martha tells her about what is happening and Lara explains she created the projection so Kal-El would know what his home planet looked like before it was devastated as a result of the Kryptonians' arrogance and in-fighting. Martha tells Lara that she doesn't know what to do to help Clark. Lara, pleased with her son's 'earth name', explains that the sun is what gives Kal-El his strength on Earth. Martha asks if Lara can set a course for the ship. Lara says she can and Martha rushes back to the farm.
In Metropolis, Lois leaves Jimmy at her flat to recover and drives to the Daily Planet to present her proof of Luthor's wrongdoing to White. She is chased by Luthor's assassins, who run her car off the road. She crawls from the wreckage and finds her evidence against Luthor destroyed. As the assassins prepare to kill her, they are distracted by the sounds of people screaming. Looking up, they see Luthor's rocket falling towards the city.
Back in Smallville, Martha hauls Clark's comatose body to the barn and places him inside the Kryptonian ship. Martha asks Lara to launch the ship into the core of the sun. Knowing it will be destroyed, Lara tells Martha she is proud her son was raised by a woman of such empathy and is the mother she prayed he would find on Earth. The two women say their farewells and Martha retreats to the house, watching as the ship is fired towards the rising sun.
As Luthor's rocket falls, Clark's ship impacts with the sun, burning up the kryptonite in his body and restoring him to full strength.
In Metropolis, Lois pleads with the assassins to speak out against Luthor, who knew they would be killed in the blast, destroying any proof of him hiring them. The assassins help her out of the wreckage, but say they do not believe there is any hope of them surviving long enough to expose Luthor. Lois tells them not to give up and shouts for Superman.
As Clark becomes stronger than ever soaking up the power of the sun, he hears Lois' cry from earth and sets himself on an intercept course with the rocket. As he catches up with it, the Kryptonite-lined fuselage begins to counteract the extra power given to him by the sun. With the last of his strength, he diverts the rocket into space, where it harmlessly detonates. As he falls back to earth, he is surrounded by police cars and fearful onlookers. Humbled, Superman asks for forgiveness, recognising his mistakes and saying one man alone cannot build a better future.
A week later. Luthor angrily scrunches up a copy of the Daily Planet with the headline 'LUTHOR FLEES COUNTRY'. He's hooked up to a drip and his hair is falling out, leaving him almost bald. A doctor enters to check how he is reacting to the chemotherapy, which we learn is to treat cancer caused by prolonged exposure to the Kryptonite ring. Luthor only asks to see 'the suit'. He stands, sickly and pale, vowing revenge against Superman as a team of scientists wheel in a suit of weaponised mechanical armour.
The main aim in writing the above was to take the main points of criticism against Man Of Steel and use them in a way that made them more justifiable. The most important of these is the enormous damage to Metropolis (in terms of property and people) as a result of Superman's battle with Zod. Since Clark/Superman didn't have much of a character arc in Steel, here his actions at the end of the movie are used to show how despite his best intentions, he has not yet grasped how widely the consequences of his actions will be felt. Luthor's rise to power in my story is entirely on the back of Superman's previous mistakes, gaining political capitol by rebuilding the devastated city and questioning whether the alien being who caused much of the damage can be trusted as a self-styled 'saviour'.
Superman's moral strength is a key part of his character, but Steel presented him as blandly infallible where it might have been more interesting to see the challenges he had to overcome in finding the maturity needed to fulfill his mission of leading the human race 'into the light'. To introduce an element of fallibility while keeping his inherent goodness intact, the Superman in my story gets a little caught up in his own hype and has yet to learn the value of humility and empathy in a good leader. (Again, the ending is a mess and doesn't really connect the dots between his 'rebirth' and the, urgh, big plea for forgiveness, but that was the intention even if it doesn't quite work in this form). Considering the complex political conflicts raging across the world these days, it seemed appropriate to throw him into a situation - the Burmese civil war - where his traditionally black and white morality cannot be so easily applied and Luthor is able to use it as a stick to beat him with.
Other than that, I tried to use the motif of 'consequences' by having as many elements of the story calling back to Man Of Steel as possible, whether it be Lois and Superman's kiss, the question of what happened to Zod's corpse, the remains of the Kryptonian world engine, Superman destroying an army drone at the end of the previous movie fuelling military distrust this time around. The other stuff was just my attempt at sketching out a superhero story, something I've never done before, and throwing in plenty of fanwanky elements (Martha meeting Lara; Lex losing his hair; the exoskeleton armour; Jimmy Olsen turning up, etc) for a laugh. As I haven't read a huge number of Superman comics, continuity blunders almost certainly abound, but hopefully fans will at least appreciate my having Lex Luthor plotting for something other than real estate.