There are so many things I have wanted to say about Man of Steel since seeing -- and really enjoying -- it on its opening night. Vacation and holidays have slowed me down but fear not, good citizen of Metropolis, I have not forgotten. I may yet get to all of them, but I want to make sure I share the most important.
One of the great complaints about previous Superman films, and even the entire DC universe, has been the "monochrome" appearance. Moreover, recent representations have not displayed the kind of diversity we see in our world. More succinctly, Superman's world has been almost all white when we all can plainly see that ours is not.
There have been salutary efforts. Any child of the 70s can remember the Superfriends cramming Black Vulcan, Samurai and [gag] El Dorado down our throats. Casting Sam Jones, III, as Pete Ross -- Clark Kent's boyhood best friend -- in Smallville with absolutely no explanation for the race change was a nice step forward. However, he still stuck out in the wheat fields of Kansas. More had to be done.
[Image: Man of Steel from Warner Bros. Pictures with DC Comics]
Man of Steel brought two major changes to character appearances. Oscar-nominated actor [What's Love Got to Do with It?] Laurence Fishburne was brought on to play Daily Planet Editor-in-Chief Perry White. Not only would he provide color to the newsroom but some heft to those scenes after performances in Apocalypse Now, The Color Purple, Boyz n the Hood, Othello, The Matrix and Mystic River. Fishburne told 60 Minutes that the late Ed Bradley was his inspiration for the role. Again, the shift comes with no warning nor explanation -- which is just fine with me -- and comes off fairly well.
More on that in a moment.
[Images: Buller's headshot at IMDb.com and Man of Steel from Warner Bros. Pictures with DC Comics]
The second change is significantly more nebulous. Rebecca Buller, a relatively little known actress, appears in the film for just a few scenes. The character is simply "Jenny" in the closing credits. There's a bit of putting two and two together here in noticing that there's no "Jimmy Olsen" in the picture but "Jenny" is a photographer. Though not explicitly expressed in this film, I infer that we will see more of this revamped "Jenny Olsen" in obviously intended sequels.
Aye, there's the rub...
Yes, the team of director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan and his story collaborator, screenwriter David S. Goyer, all did a laudable job in seamlessly, and rather quietly, making these updates to the tableau created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The problem is that Fishburne and Buller are given virtually nothing to do. They are shown among the victims in the destruction of Metropolis during the final battle, perhaps to strengthen the emotional ties, but they are basically bystanders to the plot rather than components within it.
What good does it do to update these characters and then not have them do anything? I have never liked the "saga mentality" in this case -- it's why I have railed against The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King winning Best Picture because it was clearly given as an achievement for the trilogy, not the single film as it is meant to be. Disney and the Marvel Universe movies have certainly understood that. The film should be able to stand entirely alone. Maybe they will put these actors to work in future films and truly develop these cameos into characters.
I hope so.
Otherwise, if an updated character falls in Metropolis, and no one sees it, did it really happen?