June 20, 2013

Movie Review: A new Man

Superman is revisited and reimagined — yet again — for a new generation in 'Man of Steel'

By Rene Rodriguez/McClatchy Newspapers

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Henry Cavill as Superman in "Man of Steel."

Warner Bros.

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PREVIEW

"MAN OF STEEL" starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Laurence Fishburne. Directed by Zach Snyder. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language. Running time: 2:23

A critical part of making Superman relatable was casting. The actor who would portray Kal-El, son of Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe), needed to be a relatively fresh face with little baggage from other films, but charismatic and sympathetic enough to make the audience care about the woes of a being who can do practically anything.

The U.K.-born Henry Cavill, who had acted in a few movies (“Immortals,” “Whatever Works”) but was best known for his recurring role on the cable-TV drama “The Tudors,” landed the part.

“I made a point not to think of any of the other movies when it came to my performance,” Cavill says. “I wanted to feel like were telling this story for the first time. And I could relate to the loneliness and estrangement of the character. That was something quite personal to me. When I was at boarding school, I didn’t have many buddies, and when I’ve traveled, I’ve often been in strange cities by myself. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting down just watching people behave the way they behave. That’s what I think Kal-El does – he’s watching the world and trying to make sense of it. That gives him a sense of an outsider.”

Although Snyder is known primarily for visually stunning movies – and “Man of Steel” has more building-flattening action than the rest of the Superman movies combined – he says that wasn’t the aspect of the project that lured him in.

“I’m a huge comic-book fan, but I had already made a comic-book movie (“Watchmen”),” he says. “I wanted the opportunity to make a superhero movie in a way that people could appreciate the way I appreciated the comics as a kid. For me, it was about figuring out the character. If I were Superman, how would I feel? He’s like a god up on a hill. I wanted to really get inside him and figure out what makes him tick.”

But tinkering with such a renowned figure is not without peril. Choose a creative path the audience rejects and the entire movie collapses.

“You can’t ask for a more commercial character than Superman,” says Larry Tye, author of “Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero.” “Everyone knows who he is. And yet everyone also has expectations we’re going in with, and it’s really tough to meet all of those. It’s a huge challenge when you’re dealing with a character who is this much of an icon. You mess with him too much and you’re going to anger people who have known him for a lifetime. One of the assets – and one of the liabilities – of Superman is that he hasn’t changed that much in 75 years. You need to be able to bring your kids and your grandparents to the movie, and everyone recognizes him the way they know him.”

“Man of Steel,” which also co-stars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Kal-El’s adoptive parents, strikes all the requisite notes while adding some fresh wrinkles. And the movie has a super-charged villain in Michael Shannon as the maniacal General Zod, who shares all of Superman’s powers but not his sense of duty and honor.

Still, despite all its 3-D visuals and cutting-edge special effects, there’s something refreshingly old-fashioned about “Man of Steel”.

“Superman has been relevant to a lot of generations, but the core of the character is still there,” Goyer says. “He’s a savior figure, a stepping stone between humans and the gods, so he’s like Hercules in that regard. He also comes from a long line of stories where a stranger shows us our own humanity.”

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