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Can the Man of Steel be Superman?
I still remember the very first time I ever saw the original 1978 Superman movie, perched in front of my family's old CRT after my father had hooked up the VCR we had rented for the weekend from our local "video place". I remember how the names in the opening credits swooped by, accompanied by the, now famous, John Williams theme. I remember how amazed I was watching Superman flying up along the side of the building to save Lois as she was dangling from the helicopter, and Superman pushing himself to his limits to reverse time in order to save her again. Some of the subtle nuances of the film and a bit of the humor were lost to me, but back then I didn't care, because everything was so genuine and realistic that Christopher Reeve made me believe that a man can fly.
I say this because, later this year, a new generation of children will be able to experience their own first Superman movie, the upcoming Zack Snyder directed "Man of Steel". This movie is a reboot to the Superman movie franchise, ignoring the previous movies in order to allow for new character growth without being restrained by any past works. Much like the original Superman movie, Man of Steel will be an origin movie, depicting his arrival on Earth as an infant, his upbringing by the Kents, and his eventual donning of the red cape to become history's most famous superhero.
Much like how the Christopher Nolan movie Batman Begins was compared to the Tim Burton Batman, comparisons between these two Superman movies are almost unavoidable. The original Superman movie demonstrated that superhero films could be great, and current film franchises such as Iron Man and the Avengers undoubtedly have it to thank for paving the way. How will the Man of Steel stand up to the scrutiny that it will doubtlessly be under in the shadow of its lofty ancestor?
With the story for the Man of Steel still mostly a mystery, I'll only be looking at aspects of the two movies that are already known.
The Actors Behind the S
One of the biggest things that I believe sold Christopher Reeve in the role of Superman was that he was a relative unknown prior to the movie. Though he had a brief stint in Broadway a few years prior, his only film role before donning the iconic S was in the movie Gray Lady Down. Needless to say, he wasn't a household name, so he was able to play the character without the general public developing any pre-conceived notions about him. He was an unknown, and therefore when he was playing the role, people saw him AS that role, which helped sell him as the character all the better in my opinion.
Henry Cavill, who will be taking up the mantle of Superman in the upcoming Man of Steel, will have a decidedly harder time selling himself as Superman. Like Reeve, he looks the part quite well, but I believe that his earlier television and film roles will be a bit of a hindrance to him. For those that aren't aware, Henry Cavill is best known for having played Charles Brandon in the Showtime series, The Tudors, as well having played the lead role of Theseus in the 2011 film film, Immortals. Because of this notoriety, I feel that people, watching the movie, will see Henry Cavill playing Superman rather than Superman himself. Now, it's possible that Cavill will be able to wrap himself so thoroughly in the role that people won't be able to make that separation, but I feel he'll have a decidedly uphill battle to win.
Which Origin is More Original?
With what we've seen in the trailers, a good portion of the Man of Steel will involve Clark's time before taking up the moniker of Superman, instead focusing on his upbringing by the Kents and facing the issues of using his powers. In the '78 film, Clark's decision to use his powers to better others actually took a page from the origin story of Spider-man, in that he originally used them just for personal gain and showing off, but eventually, after the death of his adopted father, Jonathan Kent, did he do some soul searching and eventually make the decision to use his powers for good.
In the Man of Steel, Clark's dilemma starts much earlier. Forced with the decision to save a bus full of children that that is sinking into the water, a very young Clark faces the question of whether he should have just let them die instead of risking exposing his capabilities. I feel this is a stronger upbringing for Superman rather than the original movie's take on it. Whereas the 1978 Superman showed Clark casually racing past trains and effortlessly jumping in front of them, this new Clark is challenged with moral issues far earlier and makes for a more complex character.
Say Goodbye to the Red Briefs!
Superman's costume is certainly one of the most iconic looks in comics, if not in the entirety of entertainment. That red cape, the blue suit, the red and yellow emblem, all are so firmly associated with Superman that a drastic change to it would almost be considered blasphemous. In the original Superman movie, the suit was very straightforward and followed the trend of the comics, with the colors being vibrant but not gaudy, the design being simplistic but effective, and sold the character as being rooted from that time.
The Man of Steel's design is well...excessive, but not without its own charm. Rather than the simplistic and smooth look of the original, this new suit is heavily textured, with every inch of the costume, even the S-emblem, being made up of diamond patterns. The colors are far more muted as well, with the bright blues and reds of the original being replaced by far darker tones, perhaps to reflect the seemingly more serious tones of the new movie in comparison to its predecessor. The most glaring difference between the two though is the omission of the trademark red briefs, in line with the new look Superman has in the current comics.
I'm honestly at a loss to say which I prefer. Each look reflects their own respective comic book look, with the 1978 suit resembling the iconic bright red, blue, and yellow, with the Cavill suit sharing more alien elements of the current Superman incarnation in the comics. The decision to abandon the red briefs might turn some people away from the new design, but it's rather difficult in my opinion to convey a darker look to a character who is wearing bright underwear on the outside of a blue costume.
Hans Zimmer vs. John Williams
Few can argue that the main theme song from Superman is one of the most iconic and recognizable theme songs of the entire film industry. The rousing melody of John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra is so endearingly linked to the character that it's nearly impossible to picture any other theme to him.
In June of 2012, it was announced that Hans Zimmer would be helming the composition of the new Man of Steel music, having finally acknowledged his involvement with the franchise after initially denying any connections to it. Zimmer, who has composed the music for such blockbusters as Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, and Inception, has went on record about his nervousness with tackling such an iconic character and the music associated with them. He also went on record that he won't simply be rehashing Williams' work, and instead will go with his own take on the character and that universe, so as to further distance this new movie with the older franchise.
Between the most recent trailer and samples of the soundtrack now available, I'm rather mixed with my opinions of the new Man of Steel music. A number of the songs so far, while good, seem very slow moving, and I can't really connect them to how I picture Superman. Obviously having the songs without the context of the scene detracts from their impact, and they might hold more weight tied to the scene, but right now it's hard to connect Superman to the music in any fashion. John Williams' theme, even if it wasn't directly tied to the Superman movie, still had a very rousing, heroic tone to it. It could still be connected to some other upbeat superhero and still work. With the tracks so far from Zimmer, I don't get that same sense of heroism, which is significant for a movie about the most famous superhero to exist.
With the Man of Steel still months away and details still relatively scarce, I can't go into as much detail with the comparisons that I'd like, but I personally feel that it has potential to be more than just another "superhero" movie. I don't feel that it will be able to surpass the brilliance that the original movie possessed, but I do feel it will be able to stand well on its own legs, and prove to be a worthy enough entry in the Superman universe.