When Bryan Singer took moviegoers to Metropolis in the 2006 film “Superman Returns,” he paid careful homage to the hero’s cinematic past. Don’t expect that approach from Zack Snyder, who on Wednesday shared his guiding principle: “Respect the canon but don’t be a slave to the movies.”
Snyder’s version of the Man of Steel is scheduled to reach theaters in December 2012 with Henry Cavill in the title role, and the director said that this will be the first modern Superman feature that will truly break from Richard Donner’s landmark 1978 film, which shared its star, Christopher Reeve, with three sequels and then also deeply informed Singer’s 2006 film, which put Brandon Routh in the iconic blue tights but tapped into both style and story elements from the work of Donner and Reeve.
“Literally, the one thing that everyone can start to think about is that 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 other hand there’s this approach that pre-supposes that there haven’t been any other movies. In every aspect of design and of story, the whole thing is very much from that perspective of ‘Respect the canon but don’t be a slave to the movies.'”
I mentioned to Snyder that in hindsight the Singer film might have been boxed in by the past and too tentative — the movie seemed at times like a cautious curator trying to move around among fragile museum pieces. “Yeah, and we’re not afraid of that at all,” Snyder said. “Our Superman, he’s got things to figure out, but he’s a physical cat.”
Snyder’s next film, “Sucker Punch,” which he co-wrote with Steve Shibuya, opens in theaters on March 25. The filmmaker is in intense preparations now for the Superman revival (it will likely be titled “Man of Steel” but that decision isn’t final yet), which will begin shooting soon with a script by David S. Goyer. The cast will also include Diane Lane as Martha Kent.
[Updated at 7:23 p.m.: A previous version of this post listed Kevin Costner as a cast member, but his involvement with the project has only been rumored.]
On further casting Snyder would say only: “There’s more to come and I think it’s consistent in its … awesomeness.”
I told Snyder I was interested to see how he and his wife and producing partner, Debbie Snyder, would collaborate with the producer team of Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas — another married couple who have put themselves at the center of the Warner Bros. present and future when it comes to blockbuster ventures. Nolan, of course, directed the two most recent Batman films, which many people consider the pinnacle of superhero cinema, while Thomas has been the producer of every Nolan film, including last year’s “Inception,” which was nominated for the best picture Oscar.
“It’s been really great,” Snyder said of the collaboration so far. “Chris is awesome. He’s super-respectful but super-helpful, too. You can’t imagine a more generous [collaborator] … once he sort of got what I want to do with it, he was like, ‘OK,’ and once he said, ‘You know what, that’s awesome,’ now he’s 100%. If I say, ‘What do you think of this?’ he’s like, ‘That’s awesome,’ and then there’s a great give-and-take about it, a great conversation that we can have about it and making it better every day. And by the way, he’s hilarious too.”
Snyder said he can’t contain his excitement when he considers the paradox of Superman at this point in time — as the first signature superhero, the character has an unrivaled legacy and appeal, but as far as live-action film goes, the Donner version and Singer’s spin-off define Superman for contemporary moviegoers (although Kirk Alyn and George Reeves also flew across the silver screen in the 1940s and 1950s).
“Superman is the one constant in the universe,” Snyder said. “You know that if you do Superman right — or at least if you do him with respect — you know you end up with something great. … [but] in some ways [beyond] that is virgin territory. No one knows what that is. In some ways Superman is the most recognizable superhero on the planet but also the most unknown. Just what he can be? People have preconceived ideas about him but probably all of them are wrong.”
I asked if Snyder had anything he could share about the costume that Cavill will wear. “I can’t say — although I appreciate the question. I’d love to talk about it. We’re going to have to show it before we shoot, probably a while before that because [otherwise] someone will be on the set and get a picture of it.”
Snyder sounded a bit weary, and that’s no surprise considering the impending release of “Sucker Punch” and the world-class pressure of getting Superman off the ground for Warner Bros. I asked if he ever looks at the size of the task and gets intimidated by the sheer scale of it. “It is epic. But you just start with page 1, shot 1 and the next thing you know, you’re in it. And then you can’t go back. It’s the journey of 1,000 steps, as they say.”
— Geoff Boucher
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