Quick, ask yourself: what’s the greatest Superman movie? The answer is most likely Superman or Superman II, depending on your love for awkward time travel rules or monosyllabic villains with awesome facial hair. After these two movies, it’s a steep decline. It’s best not to talk about the rest of the Christopher Reeve movies, and Brandon Routh's rendition Superman was embarrassing for all of us. Despite the fact there hasn’t been a good Superman movie for two decades, Warner Brothers and DC are pressing forward with yet another one. But they are missing the main problem that has plagued every single Superman movie in existence: setting. Superman movies should be set in 1938.
Superman is a character of iconic images. What do you see when you think of him? You see a car held aloft as onlookers look equal parts amazed and terrified. You see a man running along side the churning power of a locomotive. You see a blur in a telephone booth. You see nebbishy journalist Clark Kent. How many of these things fit today? The American train system is a joke, and the average Mini Cooper can go faster than a train. Telephone booths don’t exist anymore. Journalism is dead. The only image that would hold today is Superman hoisting the car. Yet movies insist on showing him in modern day.
Superman is a simpler hero from a simpler time. He’s never had the edginess of Batman. You can still boil down his values to the classic trio of truth, justice, and the American way. He’s so simple, his suit consists of the three primary colors: blue, red, and yellow. The nuances and shades of gray of today don’t need someone like Superman. They need flawed heroes such as Iron Man, the Hulk, or even Kick-Ass.
Actually, in today’s environment, supervillain Lex Luthor wouldn’t even be considered a villain. He would be celebrated by the Wall Street Journal and Fox News as a tireless job creator and innovator. He’s one of the world’s top scientific minds, and his work has turned Metropolis into the City of Tomorrow. He has privatized the enforcement of immigration laws, and he has battled against illegal alien interests bent on stealing the jobs of hard-working American vigilantes and journalists.
Superman is a product of 1938, and that’s where he belongs. His values would match perfectly to the time, as he fights the evil corporate forces that created the Great Depression. The absence of the power of the internet and video would make his terrible disguise slightly more believable. The Art Deco design mixed with the combined gadgetry of dieselpunk and raygun gothic would give it an innovative setting not witnessed on film since the woefully underseen Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Superman needs 1938, and we need Superman in 1938.
Most of all, Superman needs to run into a telephone booth again.
Would you see a Superman movie set in 1938?