When it was first announced in early 2010, the idea of a new Superman movie prompted a mix of eye-rolling and excitement. On the one hand, wasn’t there just another Superman reboot in 2006? On the other, “Dark Knight’s” Christopher Nolan would be a creative force behind the project.
It’s fitting, then, that the movie it became, the Zack Snyder-directed “Man of Steel” — Nolan was a producer and co-writer — received the reaction it did last weekend: a somewhat tepid response from critics but widespread popularity among audiences, who came out to see it in massive numbers.
So what does it mean that one of the most beloved characters in the history of moviedom received this particular reception? A few nuggets worth contemplating about Superman redux, redux.
Zack is back Snyder hadn’t had a mainstream hit since 2007’s “300,” a period of futility that included commercial misfires such as “Sucker Punch,” “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” and “Watchmen.” That changed last weekend as “Man of Steel” grossed $116.7 million between Friday and Sunday — the best-ever opening for a film in June (aided, it should be said, by a super-wide 4,207 screens). The movie also garnered the highest reviews among Snyder’s last three efforts, though at a 57 percent Rotten Tomatoes score it’s hardly anything to hang on the mantle. Still, it makes sense why Snyder is on board to make a sequel, the first time in his career he’ll revisit his own material.
Christopher Nolan as Don Corleone It’s worked — sometimes — for Guillermo del Toro and J.J. Abrams. How would godfathering a movie, that squishy process of setting it on its course and steering the director but not hanging out every day on set, go for Nolan? The popularity of “Man of Steel” proves that he’s got the gene, too. To a point. It should be noted that fan affection and filmmaker involvement, at least in this case, appear correlated: “Man of Steel” didn’t generate nearly the same level or unanimity of fan excitement as the Batman series that Nolan personally stewarded.
Don’t tell them what they already know
Many superhero franchises in recent memory have begun at the beginning — that is, before or just as the hero is acquiring his superpowers. Snyder’s Superman goes in a bit of a different direction, showing his parental origins on Krypton but not his boyhood in Kansas as he learned his powers. Instead, we join Clark Kent as an adult as he’s already aware of what he can do. The start-in-the-middle idea, for characters whose back story has been well-plowed, proved a success. Expect more where that came from.
The video game action effect
As many critics regretfully noted, there’s barely a moment to breathe in “Man of Steel.” Effects-driven mayhem happens from the early minutes to the noisy finale. The movie makes even recent spectacle-fests such as “The A-Team” seem like a picnic by the lake in comparison. But the more-is-more visual approach resonated with viewers, perhaps in particular younger ones accustomed to the razzmatazz of many modern video games.
Rebooting a reboot
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is usually good advice for band auditions, not Hollywood properties. But lately it has, of course, been happening with the biggest movies, especially superhero ones. One example — a take on the Hulk after it had been tried just five years before — didn’t work. But last year “The Amazing Spider-Man” restarted a franchise just five years after it appeared to end, generating big money and a sequel. “Man of Steel” is headed in a similar direction.
Kvelling about Henry Cavill
Casting Henry Cavill as Superman was initially a gamble. Sure, after years of Brits playing villains, they’d successfully started incarnating our biggest superheroes — Christian Bale as Batman, Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man. But those actors were well-known to movie audiences before they ever whisked in to save an imperiled populace. Cavill had done little of profile in the U.S. — his best-known part was in the modestly seen “Immortals.” This time he hit a home run. Still, the question remains, did Cavill expand the reach of Superman or the other way around? After all, sometimes the cape can make the man.