With Superman set to zoom back onto cinema screens in 2013 we take a look at the hero’s cinematic history as well as what we can expect from the next installment in our Man of Steel preview.
Superman was last seen in action on our screens in 2006 in Bryan Singer‘s Superman Returns, a film which is considered to be the fifth and final instalment in the original Superman film series. Serving as an alternate sequel to the original Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) films, the film ignores the events of the less well received Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).
Superman Returns tells the story of Clark Kent’s return to earth after a five year absence. He finds that the woman he loves has moved on with her life and his arch-enemy Lex Luthor has had time to plot a scheme which will ultimately lead to worldwide destruction.
The film starred Brandon Routh in the titular role alongside a supporting cast of Kate Bosworth as Louis Lane and Kevin Spacey as the films main antagonist Lex Luthor. Despite receiving positive reviews and various award nominations, the film was considered to be a financial failure by Warner Bros. as it took a modest $391million in worldwide box office sales based on a budget of $209million.
Jeff Robinov, Warner Bros. President of Production stated in 2008 that Singer’s vision ‘didn’t position Superman the way he needed to be positioned’ and confirmed that the film’s sequel was to be scrapped with the plan to ‘reintroduce’ the character of Superman in a later re-imagining of the series.
In 2008 Warner Bros. began accepting pitches from screenwriters and directors for ways in which the ailing Superman franchise could be reinvigorated. Prior to the production of Singer’s Superman Returns, various screenplays were considered by the studio and several projects received the green light. Tim Burton’s Superman Lives was set to star Nicolas Cage as Clark Kent and would have seen the hero wearing an all black suit whilst Batman vs. Superman had various directors attached including the likes of MCG and Wolfgang Peterson.
In 2002 Warner Bros. hired Brett Ratner to direct a story by J.J. Abrams called Superman: FlyBy, however as was the case with many of the previous attempts at Superman, production was shut down due to the director leaving the project.
In 2010, whilst working on the story for The Dark Knight Rises’ story, David S. Goyer suggested an idea to director Christopher Nolan of how to present Superman in a modern Context. Nolan was so impressed with what he heard that he pitched the idea to the studio. Based on the financial and critical success of Nolan’s second Batman film The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. hired Nolan in a producing role and David S. Goyer to write the story.
Potential directors included Ben Affleck, Darren Aronofsky and Tony Scott, but in late 2010 it was revealed that 300 and Suckerpunch director Zack Snyder had been hired to direct the project. Shortly after being officially announced as director, Snyder commented that in ‘the pantheon of superheroes, Superman is the most recognized and revered character of all time’ and said he was ‘honoured to be a part of Superman’s return to the big scree’”.
Warner Bros. announced at the end of 2010 that the film would have an entirely different cast to Singer’s Superman Returns and in January 2011 the studio announced that British actor Henry Cavill had been cast as Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent. It was later revealed that Michael Shannon had been cast as the villain General Zod (who was made famous by Terence Stamp in the original films) along with Russell Crowe as Superman’s biological father Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, the adoptive human father of Clark Kent. Laurence Fishburne was further added to the cast as Perry White, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet newspaper (Man of Steel will be the first film to have Perry White portrayed by an African-American actor) along with Amy Adams as the love interest Lois Lane.
Warner Bros. premiered a sizzle reel for Man of Steel at their 2012 San Diego Comic Con panel and attached the film’s first trailer to screenings of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Later released online were two versions of the initial trailer, one with a voice over from Jor-El (Crowe) and one with a voice over from Clark Kent’s adoptive father (Costner). The two different voiceovers present different perspectives on the young Clark Kent’s future and suggest that the conflict between extraterrestrial and earthly ideals and beliefs will be a prominent theme of Snyder’s film. You can watch the trailers here.
‘You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, and they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.’
Jonathan Kent voiceover:
‘You’re not just anyone. One day, you’re going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, is going to change the world.’
These two trailers give us our first glimpse of what to expect from Snyder’s Man of Steel and it is made clear that this incarnation of the character (who was first introduced in Action Comics #1 1938) will be radically different to anything we have seen before. Snyder’s visual style is apparent throughout the trailer, however, through the use of realistic texture and muted colours, it feels more grounded and gritty than his previous work given that the director has not opted for the digital polish that has tended to reside over his other comic book adaptations. Christopher Nolan’s influence is clear in the trailers which continue to show a more philosophical aspect of the Superman story and present the character in an original way.
The footage consists of clips of a rugged and dishevelled Clark travelling the world as an ordinary man, working on a fishing boat and hitch-hiking in the mountains. These short clips are woven between scenes of the traditional Kent farm and a young Clark Kent playing, shots that hark back to Superman’s status as an all-American hero. At the end of the trailer we get our first glimpse of Cavill’s Superman in full costume flying through the air and producing sonic booms as he picks up speed.
The tagline for the original 1978 film was ‘You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly’ and, with the attention to detail present and the realism shown in just this short clip, audiences may just start to believe this once again. It is clear that digital FX company WETA Digital (famous for their work on Rise of the Planet of the Apes) has spent a lot of time and effort in working out the physics involved in Superman’s flight and translating this to screen so that the audience is left with the belief that this man can really fly and presenting it in the most realistic way possible.
With these initial trailers Snyder seems to be preparing us for a less orthodox take on the Superman mythos than that of previous films, one that he hopes will rejuvenate the interest of the public in the ailing franchise and restore people’s faith in Superman as a credible comic book star. If Snyder is able to balance both the old and new Superman mythology and successfully re-boot the DC/Warner Bros. franchise then it could set a precedent and general style for any future DC projects including the heavily rumoured Justice League.
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel will be released internationally June 14th 2013.