Thursday, May 30, 2013

'Man of Steel' must escape Reeve's shadow

Christopher Reeve
Ruth recently wrote a marvelous and deeply personal post about what Superman means to her, which you absolutely must read. Yesterday, I was chatting with an old friend about movies in general and we spent a few minutes on the upcoming Superman flick Man of Steel (another movie title that's missing the 'the'), so I've had the big blue Boy Scout on my mind recently. Ruth's love for Superman is partly based in the concept of the character, but I think it's safe to say that a large part of that love is also the result of Christopher Reeve's iconic portrayal over the course of four movies. 

This is entirely understandable and perfectly natural. Reeve had the looks, but more importantly, under Richard Donner's able direction, he was the embodiment of not only the selfless champion of all that's good and right, but he nailed the dual identity aspect between Supes and Clark Kent so well that one could almost believe that a pair of glasses was indeed enough of a disguise. Reeve and Donner's vision of the Man of Steel has been the standard-bearer for superhero films in general for many years and it has inspired millions of moviegoers just like Ruth. It certainly inspired me

Dean Cain
(w/Teri Hatcher)
Subsequent live-action incarnations of the character, however, have had a hard time living up to Reeve's portrayal. The 90s TV show Lois and Clark is fondly remembered by some, but lacked the grandeur of the movies, favoring a more soap opera-like approach. The successive TV show, Smallville, had more of a sense of grandeur and scope, but the fact that it was conceived as Clark Kent before he actually dons the blue tights makes it inherently on a level below the movies. (Plus, some would argue, it lasted far too long.) And the 2006 film Superman Returns was criticized for, among other things, paying too much homage to the Reeve/Donner template. The cartoon incarnations of Superman, in both Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League probably come closest to establishing its own identity. If Man of Steel is to be not only a box office success, but a lasting, memorable experience, perhaps this is where it should take its cue from.

Brandon Routh
The potential is there. Producer Christopher Nolan redefined Batman for the 21st century after almost a decade of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films, injecting the franchise with a grittier, real-world feel that gave his Batman trilogy the feel of crime drama, comparable to the films of Michael Mann or Martin Scorsese. Combined with the sensibilities of director Zack Snyder, whose visual pizzazz in films like 300 and Watchmen is a far cry from the comparatively traditional look of Donner, Man of Steel is bound to have a different visual identity, and if this trailer is any indication, I'd say that's a safe bet indeed.

Henry Cavill
The big test, though, will be with the star. Henry Cavill has been in a few other things, but nothing on this scale. How will he pull off the dual identity aspect? What will his chemistry with Amy Adams (as Lois Lane) be like? Will his fight scenes be convincing? The trick will be staying true to the spirit of Superman without overtly evoking Reeve. Unlike Brandon Routh in Superman Returns, Cavill doesn't bear a resemblance to Reeve, on screen or off, which is encouraging. As much as I, and millions of others worldwide, love and revere the memory of Reeve, Cavill's performance as Superman needs to be something not only new, but compelling enough to stand on its own, and that's what I'll be looking for in this new movie.

There have been enough superhero films ever since Reeve and Donner's milestone to fend off a dozen alien invasions and an entire battalion of super-villains, but Superman remains the one character in the genre that all others look up to, and for generations, Reeve's version has been the defining portrayal of that character... but that needs to change. Hopefully Cavill's incarnation, as realized by Nolan and Snyder, will provide that change.


Man of Steel
The Dark Knight Rises


  1. Thanks so much for the link, Rich. What a super post! You are absolutely right that in order for this reboot to come out fresh and new, more than anything else the protagonist himself would have to be able to stand on his own two feet. It's true that Cavill doesn't bear a resemblance to Reeve, which I think is key but most importantly, as you surely agree, it's the screen charisma and how he comes across beyond the physical stuff is crucial as well. Of course most of these actors (w/ the exception of Dean Cain which I don't think fits my 'idea' of Superman) have the physical credibility for the role, but to me, it takes more than that to make Superman not only believable but worth rooting for.

    I'm VERY optimistic that Cavill would indeed to that in Man of Steel. It seems that from everything I've seen from the trailers/tv spots, etc. as well as interviews w/ the actor himself, he seems to have a pretty good grasp of the character and realize that he has to inject his own interpretation for the role.

    Less than 14 days to go to see Superman flies again!! :D

  2. If you say it, I believe it... though the trailer alone makes me think this will indeed be different.

  3. Henry Cavill I think will actually portray a Superman more invoking the one of comics then any previous.

    While Christopher and therefore Routh and even Cain seemed to be invoking George Reeves more than anything, I get the feeling that while also trying to put his own real touch on the character he is also borrowing from the one actor I personally was ever Superman. Kirk Alyn. I feel he may also have tried to make a Superman who would be a counterpoint to Nolan's Batman... just in case somehow WB makes that happen.

    Oh and Amy Adams is the first actress I think that makes you go "Okay, if she was tugging on my cape and I was Superman, meaning I could probably get any woman I wanted, but I choose her".

  4. "A counterpoint to Nolan's Batman..." Yeah, the more I read about the new movie, the more I wonder whether they've gone too far in the other direction. I don't want a Superman made in Batman's image. The fact that they're different is what makes them cool.

    I would totally give up my powers as Superman for Amy Adams.


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