Amid the plethora of Hollywood reboots, Superman might seem the most difficult. After all, how do you not only take on the iconic DC Comics superhero but also fill the huge void left by the late Christopher Reeve, who so memorably flew across our screens as him in the 1970s and 1980s? “You know what? I chose not to focus on any prospect of it being daunting or large boots to fill. I just tried to relish the opportunity,” says Henry Cavill, the man charged with the task.
The 30-year-old British actor, best known for his roles in Immortals and the BBC drama The Tudors, had been a leading contender to play the character in Superman: Flyby several years earlier. But the project fell apart, and Bryan Singer came along with 2006’s Superman Returns, casting the little-known Brandon Routh in the role. While that film underperformed, Warner Brothers turned to the Watchmen director Zack Snyder to relaunch one of its most prized assets.
The result is Man of Steel, a film that looks to approach Superman’s origin story in the way Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins did for that other classic DC Comics character. With Nolan on board as a producer, Cavill notes that the more cartoonish elements of the Reeve movies have been jettisoned. “I believe the one thing that is the most different,” he says, “is that it’s very much grounded in reality. It’s very much based in a world that we exist in.”
Retelling Superman’s story – sent as a baby from the faraway planet of Krypton to be raised on a Kansas farm as the mild-mannered Clark Kent – Cavill assures that this will be a more philosophical approach to the character, who must come to terms with his awesome abilities and his need to keep them secret from the world. “It’s asking questions such as: ‘How would we feel if we discovered there was an invulnerable alien living among us and there had been for years?’”
While even John Williams’ classic soaring score has been set aside in favour of the Batman composer Hans Zimmer’s new music, it’s not all change. Superman will be facing one of his oldest – and most deadly – enemies, his fellow Krypton native General Zod. Played so memorably in Superman II by Terence Stamp, Snyder cast the 38-year-old US actor Michael Shannon, who was initially sceptical of the idea. “I thought it was ridiculous,” he admits. “The whole notion of me being General Zod!”
It’s understandable. An Oscar-nominee for Revolutionary Road and a regular on Boardwalk Empire, Shannon is not your usual go-to guy when it comes to blockbusters. But, like Cavill – who Shannon says was “born to play Superman” – he’s bullish enough to think he will succeed. “At the end of the day, somebody has to do it – and if it’s not me, then it’s somebody else. I don’t think Terence Stamp is going to do it again.”
With Superman forced to protect his adopted home against Zod, Shannon makes a good case for why Man of Steel went for his character and not any other well-known DC Comics foe – such as the criminal mastermind Lex Luthor. “It’s hard to find villains for Superman because he’s very powerful. Even in the comic book series, there are not many people who can mess with him. Zod is one of those people. He’s a warrior. He’s been training ever since he was born to be a warrior.”
Both Shannon and Cavill also seem certain as to why – just seven years -after Singer’s Superman Returns – now is the perfect time to see the franchise take flight once again. “I look at Man of Steel and think it’s a very relevant movie,” says Shannon. “The fact of the matter is, it’s a very delicate time right now on Earth and there is a lot going on that is pretty frightening. It would be nice to believe that there was somebody who could protect us from that.”
Cavill believes Superman, a godlike figure, offers hope to humanity. “He represents so much that is good,” he says. “He’s more of an ideal – and it’s an ideal which is always nice to strive towards. And I think in that ideal it creates a hope that we all want for. Especially in the real world where things aren’t always so great, there’s that beautiful, utopian hope and ideal that Superman represents.” Now they just have to hope the fans will agree.
• Man of Steel opens across UAE cinemas today
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