What we’re looking for in Man Of Steel

News Shahid Khan
3 Apr 2012 - 15:16
Superman: Man Of Steel

With the new Superman logo now unveiled, Shahid takes a look ahead to next year’s Man Of Steel, and what he hopes it will bring...

The new Man Of Steel logo was made public last week, reminding us that of all the superhero movies being released this year, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, what's glaringly, obviously missing is the superhero who started the whole superhero business both in the comics and the movies in the first place. But no matter, there's one being released next year - and Henry Cavill has huge red boots to fill as Superman in 2013’s Man Of Steel.

However, given the lukewarm reaction to Superman Returns, with noted film critics and fans criticising the movie for being too much of an homage to the original Donner versions with not enough action, what can the new movie do to reignite the franchise?
Let him speak!

If there was one thing that really bugged me about Superman Returns, it was that Brandon Routh really wasn't given much to say at all. I wasn't the only one - Roger Ebert noted that as Clark Kent, Routh was monosyllabic, and as Superman, was microsyllabic. I don't know if it was a conscious choice to limit his dialogue, but it certainly didn't help, as Routh made even less of an impression than he otherwise could have done.

There were many shots of Routh as Superman flying, lifting, fighting, and standing  authoritatively with arms folded. Nowhere near enough of him just saying something. Anything.

Strong, silent leads do have their place in cinema. Clint Eastwood did it; Kevin Costner gave it a shot in Waterworld, and more recently Ryan Gosling did it much more successfully in Drive. Hell, even Arnold Schwarzenegger had fewer than 90 words in the entire running time of The Terminator, and 30 years later, it’s still arguably his most memorable character. My argument, though, is that this shouldn't apply to superheroes, because it just doesn't work.

Spider-Man wisecracks, Batman moralises on his actions, Robert Downey Jr reinvented Tony Stark to be much more talkative than he ever was in the comics. Because in the movies, we don't have thought bubbles above the character's head telling us what they’re thinking. (The exception, of course, is The Spirit, which unsuccessfully substituted narration instead, with unintentionally hilarious results).

Unless the hero in question is being portrayed by a truly exceptional actor who can emote everything their character's thinking and feeling so we need no verbal exposition to tell us what's going on in their mind, we're going to need some dialogue.

The only hero-type character I'll let get away with little to no speech is the Hulk. And even he still has an alter ego who's able to say a few words (just don’t get him angry).

Even with the best will in the world, any actor even of Shakespearian calibre will be hard put to convey any subtle emotion or inner turmoil when asked to do so wearing a costume in front of a green screen which later places them in the middle of shit being blown up real good.

So please Mr Snyder, let Henry Cavill polish up his midwestern American accent and give him some dialogue – Superman doesn’t need to be the strong, silent type.
Don't be afraid to have fun

Another mistake that Returns made was that it was just so po-faced. Only Kevin Spacey seemed like he was enjoying himself. I guess he didn't realise he was the only one at the party.

Superhero movies need to have some element of humour somewhere. Even The Dark Knight managed a couple of lines for goodness’ sake. And Brandon Routh proved he does have some comedic ability with his rather good performance in Scott Pilgrim.

I'm not saying the new movie should be completely self-aware, but when you're living in a universe in which a grown man wearing blue tights and a red cape is flying around shooting fire from his eyes, you don't need to play it completely straight.

Donner managed it in the original movies, and The New Adventure Of Superman and Smallville were confident enough to realise the potential for humour in their versions. But I haven't seen much humour from Zack Snyder in any of his films (although I haven't seen Legend Of The Guardians - his only family film to date). Everything I've seen of Snyder's work is all very stylised, very pretty but oh, so very serious.

All I ask is that Clark and Superman are given some levity. As the Man of Tomorrow, he doesn't need to be Batman, all brooding and guilt-ridden, compelled to continue on an impossible quest due to severe childhood trauma.

Let him crack a joke or give a knowing glance now and then, that's all.
Show the mythology, but don't let it dominate the story

Everyone knows the Superman story - Krypton exploding, Jor-El sending his only son to be the hope of mankind and so on. Even my Dad knows the story.

I'm perfectly happy for elements of the origin to be worked into the new film -  after all, it is essentially a new universe and they should be allowed to do their own take on it. But because the story is so well known, we don't need to see all of it recreated again, surely? For my money, Smallville has given the best interpretation on screen thus far, but that's only because it had 10 years to create a rich tapestry of back-story that could add to what had gone before.

Doing something similar for 15 or 20 minutes of a possible two-hour movie? Just show the basics and then get on with it, I say.

Mind you, if the synopsis is anything to go by, then it'll probably just be flashbacks interspersed throughout the film. I don’t think many people would have a problem with that. Especially as they've got Kevin Costner to play Jor-El.
Action, please!

And again we come back to Returns. Even Bryan Singer admitted he'd called it wrong and should have put more action in. No kidding - it says something when there was more action in the relatively low-budget Smallville than a big budget blockbuster movie with the same character.

Another thing that struck me was that Returns also put me in mind of the classic Fleischer cartoons at times. Specifically, the scene with the falling jumbo jet which Superman prevents from crashing into a baseball park. As Superman whizzed between falling pieces of aeroplane to try and catch it, the clear use of a CGI stand-in meant that Supes might as well have just been hand-drawn and animated – the character had no appearance of weight or presence (the first Spider-Man movie also suffered from the same problem). Hopefully, this will be less of an issue with the advancements in CGI in the last few years.

And if there's one thing I'm sure of after 300 and Sucker Punch is that Snyder is happy to direct over-the-top action sequences and make them look very, very pretty.

Let just hope that’s not all we get.

Romance? If you must...

The Clark/Superman/Lois saga is now 80 years old. I don’t know how many more versions they can do of Lois Lane where she’s smart enough to be a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist but can’t recognize a superhero once he puts on a pair of glasses. 

Good luck to Amy Adams with that challenge.
Make Zod a true badass

I think one of the missteps that Smallville made was casting Callum Blue as Zod. No disrespect to Callum - but I never envisaged Zod with a London accent (it was bordering on Cockney at times). Unfortunately, to me, he seemed like more of a thug or a low-level henchman than portraying the gravitas of a general. Mind you, the previous Zod was played by Terence Stamp. That was a pretty tough act to follow by any stretch.

But Callum did at least manage to exude menace, and with some deft storylines he did end up appearing as a viable opponent for Clark in the show.

Michael Shannon is an inspired choice for the role – Oscar nominated for best supporting actor for Revolutionary Road and leading man of 2011’s well received Take Shelter.

So please, Mr Snyder, make Zod really mean, really tough and really intelligent – someone who can truly be a rival to Superman.
Let Richard Donner's version go

It was brilliant. It’s been done. Let’s move on...
Please have a decent story

The synopsis for the new movie is all that I expected it could be. If not exciting, it does at least allow for the new version of Superman to be introduced in a new way without retreading too much old ground. The weak link may not be so much the story itself but rather, how it’s portrayed. Which brings us to the director.

How many of us felt our hearts sink after Sucker Punch? I wanted to like it. I really, really wanted to like it. I didn't hate it.

The visuals were fantastic, the action was at times mesmerising if overblown, and the premise was intriguing. But the delivery of what is an unusual idea on a fairly big budget didn't work for me in the end. It was just too stylised, the story a tad too ridiculous. I went in watching Sucker Punch knowing Snyder had been given the Superman gig and hoped against hope I could walk out knowing it was in safe hands. When I did walk out, I wasn’t so sure it would be.

Only the involvement of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan in the production of Man Of Steel has kept my hopes up. So please Mr Snyder, don't mess this up for us.

Because one thing's for sure, with all of the issues, expense and drama that has plagued the development of Superman movies for nearly 20 years, if this one doesn't work, then it could well be a very long time before Superman really does return.

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