The last son of a doomed planet, sent to Earth by his parents hoping that he could escape their fate, Superman possesses powers far beyond mortal humans and has vowed to use them to protect the innocent, right that which is wrong and uphold a high moral code. Superman is the dream of the depression era, a hero who can stand up for the little guy in the face of adversity. Over the decades since his creation, his abilities and background have become more influenced by fantasy and science fiction. He can emit heat rays from his eyes, freeze the very air with his breath, see through any barrier (except for lead), bend time as easily as steel and fly faster than any man made craft into unknown dimensions.
After being adapted as a highly successful radio show, animated feature and TV program, Warner Bros. has attempted to adapt Superman for the big screen several times. Next year Superman will be making his biggest leap of all into a realm that he should dominate, the modern motion picture. Movie goers adore Batman, are excited over Spider-Man, wait with baited breath for the next Iron Man, Thor and Captain America flick… but Superman is the biggest and the best of them all.
But will Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel movie place Superman atop the pile of superheroic icons that crowd the screen?
Of course most fans of superheroes in film are familiar with the Richard Donner Superman film. His movie in many ways introduced the character to audiences who thought of him as a childhood novelty. Over the course of the three sequels that followed Donner’s movie, the reputation of Superman faded into unintentional comedy. Not long ago, Bryan Singer directed his homage to Donner’s film (and a special Superman II director’s cut that was closer to Donner’s vision was released on DVD). Singer’s film had plenty of skill and heart, but brought nothing new to the table aside from the idea that Superman was a a deadbeat father (awkward). Even so, it’s a good film, but it could have been a GREAT one. Work on a sequel which would introduce Brainiac fell through as a legal battle with the heirs of Superman creator Jerry Seigel got heated.
Comic book creators Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar (and thankfully not Kevin Smith) were brought in to pitch ideas about how to properly revamp Superman, but the studio was handed an ultimatum from the courts in 2009 to go into production by 2011 or pay the Seigel estate.
Desperate to make up for lost time, Warner Bros. contacted Chris Nolan and David Goyer to spearhead a new approach to Superman. The notion was that Nolan would prep the film for the as-yet undecided director. Zack Snyder was drafted for the director’s chair in 2010. Snyder has two visually compelling comic book movies to his service, Frank Miller’s 300 and Watchmen. Composer Hans Zimmer, who was responsible for scoring the Chris Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy will be lending his services to Man of Steel.
The film stars Henry Cavill as Superman and Michael Shannon as the evil General Zod (from the highly popular Superman II) who no doubt leads an armada of spacecraft in an attack on the Earth (seen in the trailer). The theme of the film seems to be to find the humanity in the hero, as emphasized by the emotional scenes where a young Clark Kent wrestles over helping others or remaining a recluse.
To date, the publicity material has given a dark and moody feel to the Superman franchise that fans are unfamiliar with. In fact, this is precisely what many (myself included) were worried about when Nolan, Goyer and Snyder were announced as the architects of this 21st Century version of Superman. The character has been around since 1938 and is viewed by most (if not all) as the epitome of the superhero. However, that concept has gone through many revisions in the past 20 odd years and continues to change with the times. Compare the Richard Donner Superman of 1978 to the X-Men of 2000 and you can witness the studio’s dedication to sell the legitimacy and realism of the superhero to a sophisticated audience. Then you have projects like Blade and the Punisher which hammer the character into an accepted genre. Most recently, Marvel’s Avengers has shown that the superhero film is actually its own genre (at last), so the trepidation to create such a movie should be a thing of the past.
So… why are we seeing a version of Superman who looks more like Batman? Perhaps these are just early glimpses and the finished product will embrace the fantastic origins of Superman. We can but hope.
Superman: The Man of Steel has a 14th of June 2013 premiere date.