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Expert Comment: Rebooting Superman

389 Mr Andrew Cooper Friday 14 June 2013

With the new Superman film, 'Man of Steel' opening today, Liverpool Hope's Andrew Cooper looks at the Hollywood trend of 'rebooting' existing franchises.

Today sees the launch of the new Superman film Man of Steel, an example of the established trend in the film industry to ‘reboot’ movie franchises. This gives the studio, in this instance Warner Brothers, the opportunity to redevelop and rebrand a wide range of merchandising opportunities. After the unsuccessful attempt to continue the Superman franchise with Superman Returns in 2006 and the success of making a brand new ‘rebooted’ adaptation of Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy, Warner Brothers decided to start from scratch a new Superman series.

The trick with adapting and rebooting is to make something which is familiar and recognisable, but new and from a different viewpoint. Each Superman fan has their own definitive Superman, which may be from the comics, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, the Animated Series or even from Smallville. With such a complex intertext of material from comics, television and film, director Zack Snyder, screenwriter David Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan chose to pick what elements of the superhero to exhibit. Hence Superman’s powers, key characters such as Lois Lane, Superman’s secret identity, Clark Kent, remain the same. The costume has been updated, but is still recognisable as that of Superman. This then reassures the audience as it reaffirms that this film is new and is not part of any failed franchise, but at the same time familiar enough for fans to recognise its connection to similar texts and generate interest as something which they would wish to view.

Adaptors have to adapt to the audience they are creating for. Goyer and Nolan had previously worked together on the Dark Knight trilogy and tried to create a film that was believable. This influence can also be seen in Man of Steel, with a self-doubting Clark Kent and an American government fearful about an alien with Superman’s powers. Striking a balance between past Superman adventures and appealing to a contemporary audience is a difficult task and one that fans will now be discussing via forums.

Calling a new film an adaptation leads to critics comparing the film with past versions and questioning how faithful it is. By naming a film a ‘reboot’ producers are stating that there is a clean break from any past franchises. Critics are less likely to look at the film on a validity basis and hence the success of a ‘reboot’ film will be deemed on box office sales. With more superhero films soon coming out the age of ‘rebooting’ is set to continue.

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