Man of Steel
Industry Analysis at the European Premiere on 12 June 2013 at Leicester Square, London, UK
Premiere: The senior management of Alpha1Media were VIP guests at the European Premiere of “Man of Steel” on 12 June 2013 at Leicester Square, London, UK, meeting Henry Cavill, Zack Snyder and Michael Shannon. The Premiere was particularly important to the UK as it marks a return for the cinematic hero to the country. Both the new Superman, Henry Cavill, and the co-story creator and producer, Christopher Nolan, hail from the UK whilst “Superman: The Movie” was launched in 1978 with the late Christopher Reeve in the title role, following production at Pinewood Studios, Elstree, UK.
2013 marks the 75th anniversary of Superman, the world’s first and most famous superhero. He was created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two high-school students in Cleveland, USA, before becoming a global icon, the signature ‘S’on his suit recognised the world over when published by D.C. Comics.
He stands unique in the pantheon of world-famous fictional characters, when viewed from a historical context. From the 19th century, the English detective Sherlock Holmes was first launched in 1887, but has been revived for television and cinema today. From the 20th century, the jungle-dwelling Tarzan (1912) had his last cinematic outing in 1999 under film studio Disney, who have as their lead icon, Mickey Mouse (1928), the world’s first cartoon character. The British secret agent, James Bond 007, was created in 1953 but had his cinematic debut in 1962 with Sean Connery in the lead role of the film”Dr No”. Of these five world-famous fictional characters, one is a mouse and three are strictly human. Only one is superhuman.
It is for this reason that the arrival of Superman marked a critical juncture in fictional literature, giving birth to a new genre – that of the comic book superhero – which led to the creation of new icons in the genre like Batman for D.C. Comics and Spider-man for Marvel. In 1978, “Superman: The Movie” was launched to acclaim as a blockbuster, creating the superhero film genre which has become the main engine for blockbuster cinema in the 21st century. Within this context, we have the return of the cinematically real Superman, arguably for the first time since 1978, in “Man of Steel”.
“Man of Steel” marks a film (and even cultural) milestone due to the fact that auteur Christopher Nolan, the tour de force behind “The Dark Knight” trilogy of Batman and “Inception”, co-wrote the story with his colleague David Goyer and co-produced it with his wife, Emma Thomas, as well as Charles Roven. He chose Zack Snyder, the director behind the visually stunning “300″ and “Watchmen”, to helm the project. It’s a Herculean feat for all concerned, and despite a need to manage expectations, the team delivers.
There are few genuine times in a film that the hairs on the back of one’s neck stand on end – the goosebumps of cinema. In “Man of Steel” it happens several times – but most critically when Superman files to the sound of Hans Zimmer’s score. Scenes of pathos mix well with spectacular apocalyptic and cosmic action scenes during the course of the film. Homage is, indeed, paid to the Superman films of Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve – scenes of turmoil on a yellow school bus filled with children which needs saving as well as General Zod and Superman pounding one another into skyscrapers are indeed there, as they were in those films.
The film is not afraid to embrace spirituality in its key messages, and at times, celebrates them. We are informed that Superman is 33 years old – the same age as Jesus and Alexander the Great. It is also similar to the age when the legendary film producer Jake Eberts mentored auteur Kevin Costner, the Earth father of Superman, to produce the multi-Oscar-winning “Dances with Wolves”. There is discussion of God, genocide, bloodlines, eugenics and a pivotal scene set in a church, representing a sanctuary, therapeutic centre and source of counsel. The Zeitgeist elements of the film are also present, as fitting for a film in which David Goyer and Christopher Nolan are co-authors of the story. Superman has a dislike for drones that monitor and bomb from the sky, but is also once again American – in fact, all-American, having the aspirational of a true hero, but being grounded as Clark Kent from Smallville, Kansas. He is also royal – Kal-El being from the House of El, a royal bloodline of Krypton, but his name Kal-El sounding similar to the “Voice of God” in Hebrew, an allusion to God speaking to Moses in the Abrahamic traditions. The main career he chooses is that of the media, and specifically journalism as it allows him to keep close to what’s happening on the ground – so he can fly there quickly.
Standing proud and invincible as the central pillar of the film is Henry Cavill. Rarely today has there been a major cinematic debut where the main actor establishes himself in such a manner as a leading man – in fact, it would have to be the last Superman in 1978 with Christopher Reeve. This has been a long time in the making – in fact, since Cavill was a boy. Kevin Costner’s life changed after a chance meeting with Richard Burton on a flight led him to ask about a career in acting; Cavill had a similar encounter as a schoolboy extra on the set of “Proof of Life” where he, too, asked Russell Crowe about a career in acting. Whilst Hollywood is grooming certain actors to become leading men, Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder relish the coup on their hands with the casting of Cavill. Providence should be thanked that Cavill did not succeed in attaining the role of James Bond for audiences would then have missed the opportunity to see an unforgettable Superman. In fact, he’s the only actor alive today who could play Superman so convincingly. He’s certainly a forerunner for 007 now.
Cavill also manages to have gender impact in one area of masculinity – chest hair. This Superman wears his proudly over his six-pack, at a time when the term ‘manscaping’ is emerging in the West. This then is Cavill returning to the roots of the pre-Daniel Craig era of James Bond, when every Bond from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan was resolutely hirsute. No doubt such an approach was endorsed by both Snyder and Nolan.
Part of the beauty of belonging to the cinematic cannon helmed by Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder is in identifying their choice of cast members and the significance behind those casting decisions. Superman’s father on Krypton is played by Russell Crowe whilst his father on Earth is played by Kevin Costner, both Oscar-winning actors who have portrayed Robin Hood. In fact, Costner enjoys one of the most stoic performances of his career in the film. Superman’s Kryptonian mother is played by Israeli actress, Ayelet Zurer, whilst his Smallville mother is portrayed by Diane Lane, whose former husband, Christopher Lambert, is most noted for portraying Tarzan, in “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan”. Laurence Fishburne, most famous for portraying the arch-mentor Morpheus in “The Matrix” trilogy is Daily Planet newspaper editor, Perry White, whilst the journey of Amy Adams as Lois Lane is intriguing. She is the human eyes of the Superman story, and the Oscar-nominated actress competently handles the role. Michael Shannon is physically and psychologically an intimidating General Zod, an iconic role held by Terence Stamp in the original two films.
Is this the best Superman film ever made? It has to be – and it is also the main must-see film of 2013. The first two Superman films were a phenomenon upon their launch, but suffer from a lack of seriousness (even in their choice of jokes). The third’s major merit is the fight between the good and bad parts of Superman and the less said about the fourth, the better. Bryan Singer’s 2006 “Superman Returns” was simply too nostalgic to allow present-day audiences to connect with it.
But more is yearned for. We see LexCorp twice in the film, and wonder where the arch-villain Lex Luthor is amid all of this destruction? It may even mean audiences wait to see if there is a post-credits sequence to the film – there isn’t. The vision of Krypton feels too alien, whilst the Crystal Universe of Krypton in the Donner films represents its best and most definitive representation. We also don’t see the brilliant green Achilles’ heel of Kryptonite, but there are indications it may appear in the forthcoming installments.
Where will it all lead? At least a trilogy with Cavill at the helm, with the best yet to come – especially in Act 2/ Part 2 as “The Dark Knight.” What then follows could potentially be The World’s Finest, bringing The Dark Knight, played by Christian Bale once more, against The Man of Tomorrow, played by Cavill, before a Justice League film. Cavill would then square off against Bale for the role of James Bond, helmed by Christopher Nolan – with Cavill looking as if he may win that duel – at least once.