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Today, with Suicide Squad still in the cinema, we got a tantalizing rumor about the future of the DC Expanded Universe; it seems that a sequel to 2013's Man of Steel - which launched the DCEU - is now in active development! If the rumors are correct, the film is a long way from production stage, so now's an ideal time to ask: what can we expect from a Man of Steel sequel?
The Superman we know and love.
Henry Cavill's Superman has been heavily criticized. So far, the DCEU has given us a Superman very different to the one we know and love; this version of Superman has been lacking in confidence and charisma, brooding and hesitant, not yet sure quite what he stands for.
Deborah Snyder (Zack Snyder's wife, and co-producer of Justice League) gave a fan-pleasing response to this issue:
“I think what’s really great is where we’re going is kind of what the audience is wanting. We just had to take the characters from somewhere to bring them up to where they are and that was our journey.”
Man of Steel set Superman up on a Messianic arc, one that was continued through his death in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It's a certainty that Justice League will complete this Messianic theme with Superman's resurrection - and Deborah Snyder's comment indicates that resurrection experience will be what makes the DCEU Superman "what the audience is wanting". The DCEU Superman will return as a symbol of life and hope, with a confident vision of the good he can do as he soars through the Earth's skies.
A Dramatic Tonal Shift
This fits rather well with the rumors that the top priority for the film is getting Superman's character right. Resurrecting Superman gives DC Film a chance to reinvent him, to present him as a whole new character. Significantly, though, it also gives them an opportunity to make a sequel that's of a very different tone to Man of Steel.
The tone for the Man of Steel sequel will need to be one of optimism and hope, representing the ideas that this resurrected Superman stands for. Whereas Henry Cavill's Superman in Man of Steel feared humanity's reaction to him, the sequel will show him as a superhero who points the way for the human race. Over in the comics, one of Superman's many descriptions is the 'Man of Tomorrow' - and not just because, in an early draft, he was envisioned as a time-traveller from the future!
The nickname was first applied to Superman at the famous New York World's Fair in 1939, a tremendous celebration of optimism that attempted to portray the future of the human race. Superman - a man who champions the oppressed, who saves those in need, and who stands resolutely against evil - was just one powerful character in this utopian vision. The idea is that Superman stands for the best of humanity, and that his very existence points the way ahead to what the human race can be.
Within six months of the World Fair, the Second World War began. That flickering light of optimism was tragically overshadowed by the horrific global events that followed, and by the deaths of over 50 million people. Today's world has lost all trace of that optimism; although a few positive visions of the future remain (as seen in Star Trek Beyond), the majority of our science-fiction films are now dystopias. We look to the future, not with anticipation, but with fear.
Superman - the Man of Tomorrow - should stand in opposition to that. Rather than give us a glum and downbeat vision of human nature, the Man of Steel sequel should embrace the hope and optimism that Superman at his best embodies. Although most sequels are an attempt to recreate the magic of the original, this sequel should stand in stark - and deliberate - contrast, revealing once and for all the thematic structure that the DCEU has been building for this newest incarnation of Superman.
We don't know much about this Man of Steel sequel. It's not even official; although The Wrap is reporting it as an exclusive, I tend to go by a 'rule of three' - I believe a rumor when three separate sources have presented it independently. Warner Bros. does have two dates set aside for untitled DC films - October 5th, 2018, and November 1st, 2019. It's possible the Man of Steel sequel will be one of those. Whatever the case, I think I know what I'd title it.
We've had Superman as the Man of Steel. Now it's time to see Superman as the Man of Tomorrow.