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‘Man of Steel’: Zack Snyder says Superman ‘must be taken seriously’

"Man of Steel" star Henry Cavill, left, and director Zack Snyder on the film's set. (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

Amy Adams as Lois Lane, left, Henry Cavill as Superman and Antje Traue as Faora in "Man of Steel." (Warner Bros.)

Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, left, and Diane Lane as Martha Kent in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, left, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

Zack Snyder at CinemaCon on April 16, 2013, in Las Vegas. (Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

Long before director Zack Snyder began making “Man of Steel,” he’d heard a little piece of comic-book trivia that stuck with him: Superman’s red-and-yellow S-shield is the second-most-recognized symbol in the world, surpassed only by the Christian cross.

“Whether that’s completely true or not, I don’t know, but you want it to be true. You feel like it could be true,” Snyder said. “And it’s intimidating to say, ‘We’re going to take on the “S” and we’re going to make it live again.’”

Reviving the world’s first comic-book superhero on the big screen — he turns 75 this year — is no small task, despite the ubiquity of that logo. The trick, says the director, was to treat the character seriously — and to have a script penned by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, major forces behind the massively successful “Dark Knight” film trilogy. The pair aimed to modernize the Last Son of Krypton and recruited Snyder (whose previous films include comic adaptations “300” and “Watchmen”) to direct the film, which flies into theaters June 14.

“In the comic-book universe, you have all these sort of minor celebrities that have been put up as the end-all, be-all,” Snyder said, including past films that have featured Green Lantern, Ghost Rider and the Punisher among others. “And then you have the fallen king who’s sadly relegated to the shadows. It’s cool to resurrect him and say, ‘Understand that this is the granddaddy of all superheroes.’”

The Clark Kent portrayed by Henry Cavill in Snyder’s film lives in today’s world, not an idyllic, sepia-tinged past nor a gleaming, glossy future.

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“It’s the most realistic movie I’ve made,” Snyder said. “There’s no tongue in anyone’s cheek. I’m not apologizing for Superman in any way. I’m saying, ‘Superman is a thing that must be taken seriously and embraced and understood.’”

The filmmakers approached “Man of Steel” as though no other Superman film had been made, referring solely to the comics as source material, said producer Charles Roven.

“We had the canon that we needed to pay homage to,” Roven said. “We need to make sure that Superman comes from Krypton. We weren’t going to change that — those kinds of touchstones. But everything else between those touchstones was fair game.”

PHOTOS: 50 images from ‘Man of Steel’

After the bleak and gritty Dark Knight films and the slick glibness of Tony Stark and his ilk, the filmmakers believe the time is ripe for a hero as earnest and sincere as Superman, the eternal advocate of “truth, justice and the American way.” But unlike previous iterations of the Big Blue Boy Scout, Cavill’s Superman isn’t always sure what that means.

“He’s not super-perfect, and he might not always make the right decision, especially as he’s growing up and trying to find himself,” said producer (and Snyder’s wife) Debbie Snyder. “I think he’s struggling to find out what is the right thing to do.”

“We tried not to make him so predictably morally black and white,” Zack Snyder added. “We gave him some shades of gray. His inherent goodness is still there, and if you really think about it, you still want him to be right and to make the right choices and to do the right thing. I think that we all hope for that in ourselves, and I think that’s what always has made him a very interesting character. He’s a Christlike figure. There’s no two ways about it.”

By couching Superman’s intrinsic goodness in the face of the human struggle in a realistic, sometimes harsh world, the filmmakers illuminated a message that’s already omnipresent on T-shirts, jewelry, backpacks and kids’ pajamas: The glyph that Superman wears on his chest doesn’t stand for Superman as many people believe; the S-shield is actually the Kryptonian symbol for hope itself.

“It is very much is a story of hope,” said Cavill, the British actor who starred in “Immortals” and Showtime’s “The Tudors.” “Hope is strength and victory against adversity, or at least the hope of victory against adversity, and that is what Superman represents.”

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark

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