At the stroke of 8pm PT last night, reviews for Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” hit the internet like a speeding bullet. The verdict? Mostly positive, in some corners, breathlessly so. HitFix’s Drew McWeeny gave the film a glowing A+ review, calling it the Superman movie he’s waited his whole life to see, “a winner top to bottom.” Some will find the spectacle overwhelming, others will warm to its exciting vision, but few can argue that it’s not a unique entry in the franchise to date.
All eyes are on the Father’s Day weekend, when this first contact story of an alien with two dads crashes onto screens nationwide, bringing with it the hopes for a new DC universe on screen. It enters a long legacy of screen incarnations that stretches back to 1951’s “Superman and the Mole Men” and features a bold new take on a legendary icon and myth. So how does it stack up in that legacy, and what can be expected as it soars into theaters? In another “3 on 3” installment, a trio of HitFix’s staffers ponders that and more.
1. Where does Henry Cavill’s “Man of Steel” fit into the legacy left by George Reeves, Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh?
Gregory Ellwood: Even as a kid, George Reeves never seemed anything like the Superman I read in the comic books. So, personally, I have little affection and don’t understand his appeal to old school Man of Steel fans. For comparison’s sake to the other three, Cavill is certainly light years ahead of Routh, but it’s hard to imagine anyone outshining Reeve with one movie. Then again, it took Christian Bale two films to appear fully comfortable in Batman’s cloak. Ask me again in three years. By then he might be much closer to Reeve than anyone would expect.
Drew McWeeny: Cavill brings a very different physical approach to the role. While obviously Reeve and Routh were well-defined guys, they were not bulky, and Cavill is a giant slab of holy crap in his first shirtless scenes in the movie. There is also a strong difference in that there’s no sense of a secret identity in this movie. Clark, Kal-El, Superman… they’re all different names for the same person, still trying to figure himself out in this film and sort out where he belongs in this world. I think Cavill benefits from the script taking such a different approach because you really can’t compare him to the guys who came before, something which hurt Routh right out of the gate.
Kristopher Tapley: To some extent, I’ve always felt that Superman is, you know, Superman. It doesn’t call on a lot of actorly faculties. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Reeves’s original, classic portrayal, Reeve’s humorous take on a bumbling Clark Kent or Routh’s stoic revisitation of the Reeve incarnation. Cavill, though, is the first actor to dig into the character’s split sense of loyalties in a realistic and meaningful way. He seems to take the biggest thoughtful bite out of the character to date, and that has a lot to do with the script and re-imagining of the character by Nolan and Goyer.
2. How is DC Comics distinguishing its film brand from Marvel, and is it working?
Gregory Ellwood: Arguably, Warner Bros. has allowed its filmmaker’s more creative freedom and, so far, that’s provided us with the Nolan films and the impressive “Man of Steel.” When they have tried to go “straight” commercial they have flopped with duds like “Jonah Hex” and “Green Lantern.” Marvel, on the other hand, should only be judged by the Marvel Studios films that began with “Iron Man.” As entertaining as they have been, Marvel has mostly kept the look and feel of the pictures as uniform as possible. The production design, the costumes and the cinematography have rarely strayed from one particular world. It’s allowed the studio to quickly bring its bands of heroes together, but it’s also been somewhat unimaginative. Fans and moviegoers may hold Marvel’s “The Avengers” up as a great movie, but it will never be seen as the cinematic achievement “The Dark Knight” was. That being said, if “Man of Steel” is the success many assume it will be, then it’s hard to argue that WB is that far behind.
Drew McWeeny: It’s strange. In the world of comics, Marvel was always the company that dealt with a more “real-world” approach, and DC struck me as more overtly comic book and fantasy oriented. Now, looking at the way the Marvel movies feel as a whole and then looking at the Nolan Batman films and now “Man Of Steel,” it’s DC that has tried to create a world that feels real, like this could be happening in cities we live in, to people we know. It sounds crass to say it, but the main distinction here is that DC/Warner spent real money to bring “Man Of Steel” to life, and Marvel pinches every penny they can, squeaking their heroes onto the screen. It’s a successful model for them, but it’ll be interesting to see how they approach “Guardians Of The Galaxy” and “The Avengers 2” after audiences get a load of the scale of “Man Of Steel.”
Kristopher Tapley: It’s interesting, because the DC universe isn’t as intrinsically grounded in a hyper reality as the Marvel universe is. Which is why Batman has always been so unique in that world. So DC has to overcompensate a bit on the gritty/realism angle. I had doubts that the tactic would work for “Man of Steel,” and indeed, we’re still talking about a Superman movie full of fantasy. But the grounding of the material, that Nolan edict, has worked in a way I didn’t expect, so I’d say DC is doing a good job of building its own world and distinguishing it from the colorful Marvel universe on film.
3. Given the early tracking and a likely ceiling on opening weekend expectations, what kind of box office should be seen as a win?
Gregory Ellwood: Box office is always in the eye of the beholder. Warner Bros. would love to hit the $100 million mark (and may), but a likely $90 million opening should still be viewed as a big success. “Superman Returns” debuted to just $52 million seven years ago. Even with 3D ticket prices and inflation that’s still a much larger impact on moviegoers than “Returns” and proves there is much life in the last son of Krypton’s cinematic fortunes.
Drew McWeeny: Hard to tell. Last time around, there was a lot of affection being played on with the ad campaign, and Warner did everything they could to make sure audiences knew they were getting something familiar. This time, they’re trying to sell this as a brand-new take on the myth, and that’s always a little scary for a studio. They know they’ve got the epic imagery, though, and they’ve cut one of the most aggressive and masterful campaigns of the summer. I’d say anything less than $90 million by Monday would be a frustrating start for the studio, but I think word of mouth could send them into orbit very, very quickly.
Kristopher Tapley: Box office isn’t my forte but I think anything that trumps the woeful showing of “Superman Returns” would be welcome. Sights are probably set on north of $300 million total, which the film may or may not reach, but look at “Batman Begins,” which barely made $200 million stateside and was seen as a modest success. Audiences have to warm up to the new depiction, and they will. The sequel will be huge. But starting around $100 million and trusting word of mouth to give the film solid legs (I imagine there will be lots of repeat business) shouldn’t be seen as weak in a marketplace that has increasingly seen that number become the norm since “Spider-Man” reached the milestone over a decade ago. You have to build something here. And if you build it, they will come.