‘Man of Steel’ at Comic-Con: Can Superman still soar?

July 12, 2012 | 5:10 p.m.

Henry Cavill dons Superman’s iconic red cape for Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” slated for a 2013 release. (Warner Bros.)

It seems strange to ask — rude even — given Superman’s long history as a bulletproof champion of American pop culture, but the question will hang in the air this weekend at Comic-Con International: Can Superman still fly as a film franchise?

Hollywood’s next Superman, a chiseled and charismatic Brit named Henry Cavill, will greet roughly 6,500 fans in the hangar-like Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center on Saturday as part of Warner Bros.’ panel at the annual pop culture expo. The director of the upcoming Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” Zack Snyder, will show the first footage from the feature film that brings the “first and greatest” superhero of them all back to the screen in June 2013.

The studio has a handy way to remind people that Superman was the first of his kind — the movie arrives the same month as the character’s 75th anniversary — but it may be harder to convince the Xbox generation that this icon of the Roosevelt era is still, in fact, great.

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He might simply be too good for these times. Movie fans today seem to prefer bad boys like Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark — the actor will be on hand for the Marvel Studios Hall H presentation to promote the upcoming “Iron Man 3.” His character is arrogant, decadent, self-possessed and has a corporate jet with a stripper pole — and that makes him a rebel with a crowd in today’s popcorn scene, where Jack Sparrow, James Bond and Captain Kirk are kindred spirits.

In addition to the bad-boy tricksters, there are also the haunted, volatile loners (Batman, Wolverine, even Jason Bourne) and the misunderstood kids who become empowered underdogs (Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Sam Witwicky in the “Transformers” films). So, where does Superman fit in?

To Larry Tye, author of “Superman,” the just-published Random House “biography” of the character and his creators, Superman’s differences make him more powerful than ever. Tye predicts that “Man of Steel” is arriving just in the nick of time.

“It’s precisely because we have so many dark heroes and fraught ones, that we’re aching for a ‘Big Blue Boy Scout’ who knows right from wrong instinctually, and never wavers from the light or is sidetracked by anxieties,” Tye said. “If we look back at history we see that Superman does best when America is doing worst, like when he came to life in 1938, in the middle of the Great Depression and on the eve of World War II. It was an era much like ours, when the economy is teetering and we can’t seem to extract ourselves from overseas conflicts.”

But John Koukoutsakis, a merchant at Comic-Con who had no buyers Thursday for his FDR-era Superman memorabilia, said: “Superman is too wholesome. He’s the character who plays by the rules. Who wants that? Everyone wants edgy heroes now.”

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the days of heavyweight heroes and global clarity about the forces of evil. In June 1938, the refugee from another planet landed at newsstands that were full of headlines about the mighty Joe Louis knocking out Max Schmeling, the German fighter who many feared would be taking the heavyweight championship home to Adolf Hitler (who would soon start a different fight in Czechoslovakia).

With all the newsprint gray, the bright yellow-and-red cover of the inaugural “Action” issue seized young eyes — as did the blue-and-red figure who looked like a circus strongman or Hercules in long johns. The concept ricocheted around the globe. The hero quickly went up, up and away with a syndicated newspaper strip starting in 1939, a radio series in 1940 and a silver-screen serial in 1941.

In the decades since there have been dozens of versions to choose from — Christopher Reeve and George Reeves, the Fleischer Bros. cartoons and “Smallville,” Kirk Alyn in serials and Bob Holiday on Broadway.

The hero’s last Hollywood mission, “Superman Returns” in 2006, was one of the most expensive films ever made (the production budget was $270 million and marketing costs pushed it well north of $325 million) but its final worldwide box office total was $392 million. That’s far less heroic than, say, “Iron Man,” which cost $140 million and flew home with $585 million.

“Superman Returns” director Bryan Singer darkened the colors of the hero’s suit and the tone of his world. The result (some fans called it “an emo Superman”) gave the movie an uncertainty at the edges and stiffness at the center. The Singer movie was also a valentine to filmmaker Richard Donner’s version of the hero, which took flight in the 1978 smash starring Christopher Reeve. That film mesmerized a young Singer, and his movie was tethered to it in startling ways (he re-used the vintage John Williams score, added a cameo by the late Marlon Brando as Jor-El, etc.).

Tye says, though, that was just one bumpy flight in a long career.

“The lesson isn’t that Superman is flawed but that somehow their film was,” Tye said. “We’ll see, of course, next summer. But Superman’s handlers have had misses in the past… and he’s always managed to make them look good by coming back stronger than ever.”

In an interview last year, Snyder made it clear that if he makes mistakes they will be new ones.

“We’re making a movie that finally goes with the approach that there’s been no other Superman movies,” Snyder said. “If you look at ‘Batman Begins,’ there’s that structure: There’s the canon that we know about and respect, but on the other hand there’s this approach that pre-supposes that there haven’t been any other movies.”

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Cavill is the first non-American to play the hero in a major live-action film or television project but, really, the character is the ultimate immigrant anyway, given his outer space origins. The native of the small island of Jersey off Normandy, France, is the muscular version of the hero, to be sure, and Snyder’s history of sinewy men of action in “300” promises that there will be nothing meek about this incarnation of the hero — except for Clark Kent, his alter ego, and even he gets something of a rugged makeover.

Grant Morrison, the Scottish comic book veteran who currently writes Superman for DC, said the character needs a little John Wayne or Rocky Balboa in his American heart.

“The noble attempts to portray him as a Christ-like, American redeemer figure in ‘Superman Returns’ had the unfortunate effect of making him a limp and wimpy punch bag,” Morrison said. “Superman is a highly principled hero, but he’s no pacifist; he’s a brawler who doesn’t give in until he’s dead or the bad guy’s down, and I’d like to see a bit more of that grit.”

Warner Bros. could use a heroic idea, especially now that Harry Potter has moved on from Hogwarts, and director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale are packing up their boxes in the Batcave with “The Dark Knight Rises,” the final installment in their Gotham trilogy due in theaters July 20.

“Man of Steel” has Nolan as a producer and he shares a story credit (with David S. Goyer). While their story is being kept under wraps, the film does begin on doomed Krypton and it adds new key elements to the mythology of that planet and baby Kal-El, who grows up to be Superman on Earth.

The cast is led by six Oscar nominees or winners: Amy Adams as Lois Lane; Michael Shannon as the ruthless General Zod; Russell Crowe as Jor-El; Laurence Fishburne as Perry White; and Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Kal-El’s adoptive parents, the Kents. Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. are bringing the movie to the screen — that’s the same tandem behind Nolan’s three Batman films, “300,” “Watchmen” and the upcoming “Pacific Rim.”

Star Cavill understands the inherent risks of wearing the cape, but he believes that the character is rich and dynamic enough to win over a new generation of fans and strong enough to inject some optimism into these gloomy times.

“People can still look into the character of Superman and have polar opposite opinions about what he is and who he is,” Cavill told The Times in an interview last year. “That’s the wonder of mythology. We make the interpretations and hear the messages we want to hear.”

– Geoff Boucher

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Comments


37 Responses to ‘Man of Steel’ at Comic-Con: Can Superman still soar?

  1. Ben says:

    I doubt this new "Superman" movie will be much better than the last. Creativity must be present, but the movie has to have Genuine HEART! That is the bottom line. That is what the previous Movies had and made them what they were / are (Great).

    • Aman John says:

      You do realize that David S Goyer and Christopher Nolan are heavily invested (screenplay, story, AND producer)….you might know them from Batman Begins, Dark Knight….Nolan also did Inception …and the music is being done by Hans Zimmer…you might know him from all of the aforementioned films, and also Lion King, Gladiator, Pearl Harbor. Pirates of the Caribbean….and you do realize that the guy who is directing directed 300….I say this is a formula for success

      • bstake says:

        Exactly…I'm glad there are other people that realize how amazing this film will be..i'm surprised that people that haven't even seen the trailer already have negative opinions…..if you haven't seen the trailer from Comic Con you will understand the direction and how amazing the film can be.

      • danigirl says:

        AND- Henry Cavill is in it. It's already starting at a B+ and I'll tell you why. Women loved Christopher Reeve. We can't pretend that looks don't matter. Henry Cavill is so perfect and beautiful that women will flock to see it because they want to see HIM. So, yeah, this film is gonna kick ASS.

  2. Mr. Kent says:

    I think you kind of broke some news, here, Bouch! I don't think WB/Snyder had yet revealed anything about the narrative or context of the film…but you do, with your Krypton musings! Did Snyder whisper something to you? Ah well, more will probably come out on Saturday…

  3. alex says:

    the budget of superman returns was actually 209 million… thinking it to be 270 million is a common mistake, actually it is 270 million only when the cash spent in all the unmade and unrelated superman movies are added…. so batman begins makes 370 million with a production budget of 150 million and super returns makes 390 million with a production budget of 209 million, but the former is considered a superhit while the latter is considered a dissappointment, how fair is that?

    • TronReader says:

      Despite the numbers you cited, I think what really labeled Superman Returns as a disappointment was its inability to muster any real enthusiasm. I recall after both movies, Batman Beyond and Superman Returns, I applauded only to be joined by practically everyone in the audience for the former and by no one in the latter. It's unfortunate, the casting for Returns was great as was the imagery and visuals, but the story was inadequate.

  4. SuperFan says:

    I've enjoyed the good fortune of meeting Henry Cavill. He IS Superman and Clark Kent.

    There's no doubt this Man of Steel will soar.

  5. Marcel Douchamp says:

    Mr. Superman no here.

  6. TronReader says:

    Diane Lane and Kevin Costner would have beautiful babies were they really a couple.

  7. Prince Kal-El son of King Jor-El shall make their grand entrance on the big screen next year.This is an alternate version of Superman and a first, seeing as how Dc comics based their entire reboot 52 on the Dc Universe being altered into an entirely new reality.(Thanks to the Flash enemy Zoom tricking the hero to change all reality, thus forming a new altered dimension.) a Green Lantern who is straight in our reality (Alan Scott)with a daughter, now is gay in this new universe.

    • PCISUNAmerican says:

      Politically correct nonsense! A gay Green Lantern? A Mexican Spiderman? Jeez, getting sick of this anti white mentality. Why should straight white males get their culture taken away rather than creating something NEW and original for the minorities…

  8. William says:

    Is it true that Christopher nolan is getting a Shot at Green lantern? Rumors Big Rumors buzzing

  9. Scott says:

    YES SUPERMAN CAN!

  10. Mario Rodas says:

    People seem to forget that the most popular superhero of the past decade was Spider-Man, which, portrayed, by Tobey Maguire, made Urkel seem like the cool kid. He was the Vanilla-est nerd ever. Not one edgy or arrogant bone in his body. But people didn't seem to mind.

    Sure, he fit the "empowered underdog" type, but Superman himself also fits several popular archetypes. He's a "chosen one", the tragic orphan who, akin to Luke Skywalker, lives a modest and mundane childhood until he embarks on a Hero's Journey, summoned by a higher calling. He's moral, sure, but which hero isn't? Harry Potter himself is as moral as it gets. An origin tale will allow us to see him make mistakes, make choices.

    Whether he's over-powered is dictated by the enemies he fights. Whether he's hard to relate to is dictated by the way he's written and portrayed. Whether he's unexciting is dictated by his action sequences. I refuse to believe that in a world where the snoozefest Transformers: Dark of the Moon makes over a billion, a Superman film done right will fizzle.

    • Crucifious says:

      Why was the young Clark Kent wearing glasses in Superman returns? Read 'Knights of the Continuum' (Amazon) that's the next great blockbuster that will leave all before coughing in it's dust.

  11. Mark says:

    Has everybody forgotton about Tom Welling? OMG!!!

    • Sharon Parker says:

      I have not, but it seems he has been swept under the rug. Though he portrayed Clark Kent for 10yrs on the small screen….he was once again passed over in favor of someone else to portray Superman in the movies. I am not sure how well Cavil will portray Superman….but i have hopes that he does a good job to offset my personal disappointment of not getting Tom Welling as Superman yet again.

  12. Paul says:

    Spot on Mario.

  13. Jeremy says:

    I have faith in this movie and Superman

  14. @fritzo2162 says:

    The problem with Superman is nobody has ever made a serious, accurate version of him on the big screen. The best portrayal of him was probably in the 90's Animated Series and the 2000's Justice League cartoons. There was no camp, there was no moodiness, there was no over-reliance on kryptonite..there was just good story-telling. All they need is a director that is a fan of the character and not a fan of the previous movies to get this right.

  15. I'm hoping that Supes still soars!!!! I grew up with Smallville and believe that it did a good job of adapting the blue boyscout to modern date.

  16. Michael says:

    Henry will make superman superman! there's no doubt about it. Sorry but Tom Welling played ck for 10 years besides he's too old to play a teenager. Just saying

  17. supermanstillrules says:

    I am not sure why they had such a high budget in superman returns, nothing happen in the movie. It was boring, saving a plane, lifting a mountain of kryptonite okay.

    I am a little disappointed rebooted superman has nothing to do with Justice League movie sometime in the future. If they keep rebooting batman and superman left and right, no one will care anymore.

    Smallville was great superman until final 2 seasons which were garbage and too off mark from comics. Sorry but Green Arrow wouldn't marry they idiot Chloe.

  18. Jason says:

    To all you naysayers out there give this movie a chance. Please give Henry Cavill a chance Christopher Nolan is Producing this and look at what he did with Batman. I'm a huge superman freak and was disappointed when Tom Welling wasn't cast as the man of steel. But I'm giving this project a chance…Henry Cavill might great as Superman who knows? But none of us will know till the movie comes out so chill out and give it a chance Damn!

  19. The Adam says:

    Superman will bomb again because, well he sucks. He’s a stupid one dimensional character that is well past his hayday.

    • addiegoart says:

      No, you suck, @$$ hole! Superman can be as three-dimesional as anyone else. It’s all in the writing. But someone like you doesn’t realize that because you’re just stupid. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, most of what you can do with Spider-Man, you can do with Superman.

      I hate… HATE… pretentious jerks like you.

  20. Jean says:

    We need now and will always need Superman.

  21. bannelee says:

    I have always loved Superman,and can't wait for the movie.I even loved the last movie,I don't know why people are so hard on it.To be fair,I was crazy about the George Reeves Superman from TV,too :p

  22. addiegoart says:

    Oh this, “derr he’s too wholesome,” crap. Superman is just as much an “empowered underdog,” as Spider-Man and just as much a “loner” as anyone else. If anything’s “outdated” it’s thinking Superman doesn’t work anymore. It’s not 1992, people.

  23. bstake says:

    I just saw the trailer that someone recorded the the Comic con…what the have done with Man of Steel, from just the trailer alone is unbelievable…truly worth the wait. Absolutely blows Superman Returns out of the water…

  24. BobVe says:

    Sups can soar if he's given a good story for a change, Smallville was great. But Superman? Everything after Sup 2 was crap. Better story equals better hero.

  25. Joey says:

    Don't copy the campy 80s movies of superman and it do fine. Keep to the 80-90 comics of Superman when he had good stories and was great character. Superman was never stupid in comics as clark kent. He just played professional quiet reporter.
    Please put in good villians in the movies. Its okay for Zod and cameo of Lex Luther in first movie. But second movie should have brainaic and Lex. Or they can do another super villian metallo, parasite, lobo etc for second. Third movie should have Doomsday. Darkseid should be in justice league movie.

  26. Lindsey says:

    Tom welling should be playing superman in man of steel

    • Tom Welling cannot act. He proved that over 10 seasons of Smallville. Also, you can see that others feel this way with the number of other film or TV projects he’s done since Smallville went off the air.

  27. Robert says:

    I think that WB Knowing they were soon to lose the rights to Superman as it reverts back to the Original creators Families went ahead and made this movie, but what kills me is that YET again Hollywood is giving us another reboot/remake because they are to lazy to write something new and fresh, I am sick to death with all the remakes and reboots and Hollywood wants us to go to the movies and spend $12 on this crap! Its been a long time that Smallville Fans want to see Tm Welling in the role and to continue the Smallville story on the big screen were Smallvilell left off after the WB gave us that crappy CGI distant shot of what was suppose to be Tom as Superman and the crappy close ups of is cape Oh and lets not forget we never saw Tom in the costume fully., But Hollywood NEVER gives the fans what they want.

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