It’s hard to believe that the character of Superman has been around for 75 years. First appearing in a DC Comics book, we’ve seen the superhero in movies, TV shows, artworks, and in costume form on both small kids and adult-sized ones. With a character this iconic, everyone knows about him, the origins of his story and his pop-cultural reign as a globally-recognisable do-gooder.
When director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) was approached by producer royalty Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) and writer David S. Goyer to steer the ship on Man Of Steel, he was quite naturally nervous. “We said ‘OK let’s do it!’ and then I sat there like, oh shoot, I have to make a Superman movie!” he says, laughing, “It’s scary. More because I’m a fan and I want him to work, I want him to be awesome. He’s the first, the most powerful, and the most mythological. He has all this power in pop culture, whether it’s Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol, everyone has done Superman. And so I guess for me, that was the most nerve-racking point, to say, how do I honour that. And I think the way we did it was just to try and make the most awesome movie we could, one that’s emotional, that’s epic, cinematic,” says Snyder.
When it came to the kind of tone Man Of Steel was to have, Snyder was on the same page as Nolan and Goyer. Just as they had done with the character of Batman in their trilogy, the producing/writing pair wanted to ground Superman within the reality of today’s world. “We tried to pretend that we’d never seen a Superman movie, that we were starting from scratch, as if we’d just found these comic books and thought ‘This would be a great character for a superhero movie!’
“When Chris and David pitched me the movie, the take immediately was grounding him. Finding the why of him and his place in the world. What does it mean to be Superman in our world? What would he change? How would it affect politics or religion if suddenly there was a guy from another planet who could do amazing impossible things? We made a naturalistic Superman, so in that way he’s just more complicated and complex, and by being more complex he becomes slightly darker. He’s not just black and white, he’s got some grey in there. He’s trying to figure out his place in the world. And I think with Superman, the smallest amount of that goes a long way because people have never seen him in that way. To make him real, there has to be nuances,” says Snyder.
But despite the ultra realistic take on the character, Snyder insists fans will still recognize the familiar alien superhero. “It’s an origin story done in a way that you’ve never seen, but the mythology is consistent. It is 75 years in the making, so we were not going to say ‘ah whatever, the mythology doesn’t matter.’ We endeavor to make it respectable.”
With such a well known story and iconic characters, it wasn’t hard for Snyder to attract big name stars to the film. Man Of Steel’s blue chip cast comprises Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Clark’s adoptive parents, Pa and Ma Kent, Russell Crowe as Superman’s biological father Jor-El, Michael Shannon as the villain General Zod and Amy Adams as Clark’s love interest Lois Lane. “Superman is strong enough so I can say to Kevin Costner ‘OK, you’re going to play Pa Kent’ and he’s like ‘OK that’s cool!’ Or I could say to Russell Crowe ‘You’re going to play Jor-El’ and he says ‘Wow, Jor-El, that’s awesome.’ Or, ‘Hey Amy you’re going to play Lois Lane.’ I don’t have to explain who they are, even though we have a different take than they’re used to seeing, they’re still like ‘OK I’m in, how do I make it as cool as I can?’ That’s fun,” says Snyder.
The most important casting, of course, was the title role of Superman. Snyder auditioned many actors using an old Superman spandex suit from Christopher Reeve as the ultimate test. When the virtually unknown Henry Cavill walked in wearing it, the director knew he had found his man. “We didn’t care whether the actor was unknown or not. When he put on that suit it was the difference between someone dressing up like Superman, and someone just feeling like Superman. Henry came into the room in his Superman costume and we knew… it was Superman.”
Man Of Steel has already been released in the US, to massive box office takings of over $100 million. But reviews of the film have been mixed, some critics praising the realistic take on the character, while others disliking the serious tone, saying Superman is not supposed to be this grim. Snyder doesn’t worry too much about reviews though, as long as his audience is entertained.
And, he says, that’s all he wants them to be. “The thing I want people to remember is that we made a giant movie, that’s all things – it’s emotional, it’s a spectacle, it’s also about character – in a story that hopefully honors who he is, the king daddy, the top of the pyramid of all superheroes.”
BY ALICIA MALONE
Alicia Malone is BRAG’s LA Correspondent. Read more of Alicia’s film stories at malonesmovieminute.com
Man Of Steel opens in cinemas on Thursday June 27.