By Rene Rodriguez
The Miami Herald
The Man of SteeL had gotten rusty. While his DC Comics counterpart Batman was conquering the world via the Dark Knight trilogy, and the rivals over at Marvel Comics were raking in the cash with “The Avengers” and all its spin-off films, Superman had been put into mothballs.
His last cinematic outing, 2006’s costly “Superman Returns,” was director Bryan Singer’s affectionate tribute to the 1978 Richard Donner original starring Christopher Reeve. But the movie, which grossed $390 million, felt too familiar and reverent to justify its budget of $270 million. Although Superman comics continued to sell well, and the TV series “Smallville” ran for 10 seasons depicting the adventures of a teenage Clark Kent, Hollywood had temporarily forgotten about the invulnerable do-gooder.
But with the “Batman” finale rapidly approaching, and comic-book movies showing no sign of slowing down, executives at Warner Bros. knew they needed to figure out a way to revive their most iconic — and potentially lucrative — hero.
The question was: How do you make a 75-year-old character cool and hip to modern audiences?
“It was really a case of the good Superman movies having run their course,” says Zack Snyder (“Watchmen,” “300”), who directed “Man of Steel,” which opens Friday. “They had used up all the character’s battery life, and we needed to juice him up. I have great respect for all those films, and they endure in pop culture for a reason. But when we started thinking about this one, we couldn’t think of it as any movie that had ever been made before. We couldn’t cherry-pick the stuff we liked, such as that famous John Williams score. We had to make everything new. We haven’t seen a Superman origin story since 1978. My kids have no idea where he comes from.”
The screenwriter tasked with reviving Superman was David S. Goyer, writer of the “Dark Knight” trilogy for filmmaker Christopher Nolan, who produced “Man of Steel.”
The job was one Goyer originally didn’t want.
“During the junket for ’Batman Begins,’ someone asked me if I would ever take a crack at Superman and I said no, because I didn’t have an affinity for the character,” Goyer says. “I loved the Donner films as a kid, but I didn’t read the comics growing up. I gravitated more toward Batman. And I liked Singer’s film, but I felt it was an homage to the Donner films and the depiction of the characters felt a little anachronistic.
“There was this sense that the public’s perception of Superman hadn’t really changed very much,” Goyer says. “Even though he has been reinvented several times in the comics, he never really evolved beyond those first movies. Trying to reimagine Superman for film is a much steeper hill to climb than Batman. And consequently, the script was a lot more difficult to write.”
Unlike Batman’s brooding sense of vigilante-style justice or Spider-Man’s adolescent angst, Superman — an alien sent to Earth by his father just before their home planet Krypton blew up — was a fantastical creation, bordering more on sci-fi and less on relatable human emotions. The light from our sun gives him extraordinary abilities: flying; invulnerability; immeasurable strength and speed. The guy can even shoot laser beams from his eyes — practically a Swiss Army knife of superhero powers.
“It’s hard to identify with a god,” Goyer says.
A critical part of making Superman relatable was casting. The actor who would portray Kal-El, son of Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe), needed to be a relatively fresh face.
The U.K.-born Henry Cavill, who had acted in a few movies (“Immortals,” Woody “Allen’s Whatever Works”) but was best known for his recurring role on the cable-TV drama “The Tudors,” landed the part.
“I made a point not to think of any of the other movies when it came to my performance,” Cavill says. “I wanted to feel like were telling this story for the first time.”
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