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THE PLIGHT OF THE MAN OF STEEL
by Noel Wood
The Hollywood Machine has proven one thing in the last decade or so: it sure does like to stumble when it comes to superhero movies. It took SPIDER-MAN some five years to get off the ground, with a dozen or so names attached to the starring role and quite a few directors as well. The Batman project that's currently in the planning stages has been tossed around from potential director to potential director for what seems like eons. It took years to finally get an X-MEN movie, which turned out to be a lot better than it really deserved to be. But perhaps the biggest bump in the Superhero world that Hollywood has yet to get over is the upcoming, long-planned SUPERMAN film.
Now, personally, if I had it my way, I'd leave well enough alone. Richard "Pussy" Donner made a perfectly good SUPERMAN adaptation back in 1978 that not only adapted the source material almost flawlessly, but provided for a timeless epic adventure that still ranks up there with the great all-time films. When people think Superman, they think Christopher Reeve. Of course, that film could never be made today. After all, it spends way too much time doing silly things like establishing character and isn't chock full'o big action scenes with lots of shit blowing up. So in response, Hollywood feels the need to make a new Superman movie that will better gel with the Playstation Generation. And this project, in many forms, has been sitting on the shelf for almost a decade now.
Basically, here's the backstory, in a nutshell, of the project that has been in the works since 1995 or so:
The earliest history on this project involves a treatment originally designed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Man of Steel in 1998. Originally, Nicolas Cage was the only permanent name attached to it as the star, and Tim Burton was the original director attached to the project. Warner Bros. had the team of John Peters and Peter Guber, responsible for 1989's BATMAN, at the production helm. Kevin Smith made waves by landing a job as a screenwriter on the project, but that marriage was ill-fated. Other scripts for the project were penned by William Wisher, Jonathan Lemkin, Dan Gilroy, Alex Ford and Wesley Strick. Burton eventually dropped off the project, and other names were attached to it, most notably Oliver Stone. Script details started leaking out that turned off a lot of potential moviegoers, that included such far-fetched concepts as Superman not actually having any super powers, but rather fighting his foes with specially designed gadgets, a la Batman. The bottom eventually fell out of this project, with Cage dropping off in June of 2000, and it was back to the drawing board for the studios.
In early 2001, production began again on the movie, with some efforts being made to launch a Batman vs. Superman film. John Travolta's name is attached to the film, as well as CHARLIE'S ANGELS director McG. Later, Brendan Fraser is mentioned as a potential Superman, and the idea of the Batman/Superman movie is shot down in favor of two individual films. Later that year, Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) is assigned the role of director, there is a script in the works by J.J. Abrams, and Keanu Reeves is rumored to be the portrayer of Kal-El. The Keanu rumor goes from having a lot of steam to being shot down in a blaze of glory, and a whole new slew of young actors are rumored to be filling the Red and Blue suit. Some of those actors included Ashton Kutcher, Evan Marriott, Victor Webster, Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker, Matthew Bomer, Jude Law, and Rick Hearst. Eventually the role was offered to Josh Hartnett, who turned it down. The latest rumors, as of this writing, is that Jerry "The Fat Kid From STAND BY ME Most Recently Remembered From That Kangaroo Movie" O'Connell. Nothing, however, is set in stone, and if history is any guide, everything's bound to change.
Now, here we are, in the year 2003. SUPERMAN, as it is tentatively titled, is still being planned for a 2004 release, according to the Internet Movie Database. Apparently, they want to start shooting this puppy in May of 2003, with a Summer 2004 release. Something tells me there's gonna be a whole lotta disappointin' going on when it's all said and done. I mean, this thing has been a mess from day one.
Okay, here's the deal: Superman isn't just any old comic book hero. He's the comic book hero. This character is the most popular one ever to come out of the comic scene, and he's not to be taken lightly. Everyone can identify Superman. More than Spider-Man, or Batman, or Daredevil, or Wolverine, or any other A-list comic book character. He's part of Americana. He's baseball, apple pie, and Coca-Cola. Basically, he's a pop culture icon.
And by those standards, you don't fuck him up. Having the rights to make a Superman feature film is like being handed a nuclear waepon. As SPIDER-MAN taught us, with great power comes great responsibility. Them's some words to take to heart when you've got the power to reach millions and tell the tale of the Man of Steel. I mean, really, when you think about it, the story's pretty simple. It's not easy to fuck up. You've got Kal-El, the sole refugee from the doomed planet Krypton, who lands on Earth and is raised in Smallville as Clark Kent. He later realizes his destiny, and devotes his life to using his powers for good. And of course, by day, he masquerades as a mild-mannered reporter, working alongside love interest Lois Lane. I mean, these parts of the story are essential, and you can't change them, right? Right?
According to a report by Aint it Cool News' Moriarty from last year, they managed to do it. I mean, like, really managed to do it. Moriarty received a copy of the SUPERMAN script, and ran a full diatribe on it, that almost had me in tears. How bad can it be, you ask? Well, for starters, almost every piece of crucial canon I mentioned above have been flushed down the toilet. Here's the highlights, er, lowlights, of his report:
- Krypton doesn't explode. In fact, its existence in the present day figures strongly in to the script.
And on top of all that, they haven't even cast the fucking thing yet. You've got a major, major, major comic book adaptation, which has GOT to have a 200 million plus budget, you're hinging on it being a huge hit next year, and you don't even have a star? Jeezus. And let's look at who they have as possibilities:
Jerry O'Connell: This is the current rumored guy. And while I guess he could sort of pull the look, there's a couple things going against him. First, he will always be the fat kid from STAND BY ME. And more importantly, he's not a very good actor. Period. Point Blank.
Keanu Reeves: Sure, this rumor was shot down months ago, but let' think about what kind of thought process went in to even considering this. And then just think about Superman saying "whoa", and imagine ritualistic mass suicide.
Josh Hartnett: I guess he's not a bad actor judging by what he's done so far, but I just don't see Superman in him. At all. He's too boyish-looking. He turned down the role anyway, which was probably a good idea in the long run.
Ashton Kutcher: Dude, where's my Cape? Apparently he's one of the guys they've been seriously pursuing, proof again the people responsible for this film are crack smokers. Please. Maybe Superboy, but not Superman.
Hayden Christensen: Kal-El Skywalker? Whatever.
Jude Law: Too pretty. Superman isn't a Supermodel.
Paul Walker: I think he's one of the fucks from THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. Next.
Evan Marriott, Victor Webster, Matthew Bomer, Rick Hearst: Who? Casting unknowns isn't a good idea at all when you've got a 200 million dollar budget to pay back. Who the fuck is Eric Bana anyway, and why's he in THE HULK?
So with those out of the way, how about my own fantasy casting? First off, my choice since day one, and one that I'm shocked they haven't pursued:
Christian Bale. He can act. He's got that rugged good looking thing going on. He's got the build. He's got the chin, the all-so-important chin. He's got the hair. Oh, and did I mention he can act?
And then there's my other plea, and this is one that's grown on me over time:
Tom Welling. You know, the other Superman, from WB Network's Smallville. The show has really grown on me, and I think he's improved by leaps and bounds since the show's debut. This would be the perfect way to segue the television show and the young Clark Kent into the elder Superman. You've got your tie-in, you can make it so it's not a direct link to the television show, but shares some elements. It would generate interest in the TV show as well as give a little boost to the Box Office, plus, the kid's good. this would make more sense than anyone they've chosen so far. Please, Warner Brothers, don't fuck up a good thing.
But it's probably too late for that. SUPERMAN is truly going to be dead if any of what I mentioned happens. You see, DAREDEVIL irked comic fans, but no matter how much Bobby and Chad adore that funny book, it's not anywhere near as sacred as Superman. You just can't fuck with the Man of Steel, but it looks like Warner has finally decided to do so. They obviously haven't learned from the failures of the Schumacher BATMAN era.
Well, son of Jor-El, it was good knowing you. Have a good afterlife.
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