Clay Enos/Warner Brothers Pictures
Henry Cavill stars as Superman in the new Warner Brothers movie, which will be released on June 14. More Photos »
BURBANK, Calif. — In a dimly lighted editing suite here on the Warner Brothers lot, blinds drawn for maximum secrecy and walls decorated with signs and posters celebrating “Star Wars,” Indiana Jones and “Game of Thrones,” Zack Snyder was discussing his philosophy on the totemic character who arguably gave rise to every fantasy series of the last 75 years: Superman.
For too long, said Mr. Snyder, the director of “Man of Steel,” a new Superman movie that Warner Brothers will release on June 14, modern-day interpretations of this DC Comics superhero had been apologizing for the outdatedness of his origins; they sought to conceal him in contemporary trappings instead of embracing an essential mythology that, he said, was as bulletproof as the character himself.
“When they try to dress him up,” Mr. Snyder said here a few weeks ago, “put him in jeans and a T-shirt or a leather jacket with an S on it, I go: ‘What? Guys, it’s O.K. It’s Superman. He’s the king daddy. You should all be bowing down to him.’ ”
What his film tries to do, he said, is “respect the S.”
At this point, Deborah Snyder, Mr. Snyder’s wife and producing partner, had to correct him on one fundamental detail they had updated for “Man of Steel.” “It’s not an S,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a symbol of hope.”
Warner Brothers Pictures
Mr. Cavill in “Man of Steel.”
Hope is a quality that Mr. Snyder, a director of comic-book adaptations like “Watchmen” and “300,” and his colleagues have been clinging to as they finish work on “Man of Steel,” an entrant in the crowded summer-movie arms race more than two years and $ 175 million or more in the making.
Yes, “Man of Steel” is the latest effort to rejuvenate a decades-old pop-culture franchise and, in doing so, renew both the fortunes of Warner Brothers as it searches for new blockbusters and the career of Mr. Snyder after recent misfires. But it is being built on the back of a character who, for as often as writers and filmmakers have lately tried to reinvent him, has proved particularly unsusceptible to attempts to make him more relatable. Audiences seem to want him to be grounded, at the same time that they want to believe he can fly.
It is strange that Superman, the smiling, soaring Moses-Jesus hybrid who ushered in the era of superhero comics, should be struggling at the multiplexes in an age when every other studio movie seems to feature a man in a cape, a mask with pointy bat-ears or a high-tech suit of iron. The qualities that have made Superman timeless have not necessarily made him relevant to this particular time, with its roster of ironic and loudly violent protagonists, but it was this paradox that made Mr. Snyder eager to take him on in “Man of Steel.”
Zack Snyder, the director of “Man of Steel.”
“He’s a really cool mythological contradiction,” said Mr. Snyder, who is still boyish and scruffy at 47. “He’s incredibly familiar Americana and alien, exotic, bizarroland, but beautifully woven together.”
He added: “All of us, in a weird way, are that same kind of contradiction — no one’s that simple.”
His film stars Henry Cavill of “The Tudors” as Kal-El, a survivor of the destroyed planet Krypton who on earth becomes the costumed champion Superman but disguises himself as the all-too-human Clark Kent.
“Man of Steel” retains traditional elements, like Superman’s tension between his natural Kryptonian father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his adopted earth dad,Jonathan Kent(Kevin Costner), and his attraction to the perpetually imperiled Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams).
The film also emphasizes the world of Krypton before its annihilation — a bleak, utilitarian planet with sophisticated if downright creepy technology — and the treachery of the Kryptonian villain Zod (Michael Shannon), who finds Kal-El on earth. The result is an unapologetic science-fiction spin on Superman, and while that may shatter audiences’ expectations for pure, unalloyed realism in “Man of Steel,” Mr. Snyder said this approach was built into the DNA of the character.
“If you follow him back logically and try to understand him,” he said, “you end up at a sci-fi solution.”
This was the same conclusion reached by Christopher Nolan, the director whose hit “Dark Knight” films have modernized Batman for the paranoid post-Sept. 11 era, and the screenwriterDavid S. Goyer when they first conceived of “Man of Steel” while puzzling over the plot of”The Dark Knight Rises.”
Though Mr. Goyer grew up admiring the Norman Rockwell-esque charm of the 1978 “Superman” movie, directed byRichard Donner and starringChristopher Reeve, he never felt much connection to its hero.
“I used to imagine that I was Batman,” Mr. Goyer said, “but not Superman.”
His thinking changed when he looked at Superman in his earliest incarnation, written and illustrated by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the late 1930s. Here was a character whose fundamental mythology was still in flux — even his signature power of flight was not yet established, and he instead leapt great distances — and whose most transformative quality had seemingly never been seized upon.