comic books


Fans of the Man of Steel are no longer waiting for Superman to be cast in the next movie for the legendary superhero, as 27-year-old British actor Henry Cavill has gotten the nod to fill the role, Entertainment Weekly reported today.

Cavill, best known for his role as Charles Brandon on Showtime’s “The Tudors,” will portray the Man of Steel in the new movie, a reboot of the Superman movie franchise that is due to hit theaters in December 2012. The new movie reportedly will be a contemporary take on the superhero, based on a story written by David S. Goyer, who is writing the script, and Christopher Nolan, who has successfully helmed the rebooted Batman movie franchise starring Christian Bale as the Dark Knight.

Nolan’s involvement gives me hope that the new Superman movie will do the Man of Steel more justice than 2006’s “Superman Returns,” which starred Brandon Routh in the title role. Superman is one of my all-time favorite superheroes, and he deserves a rebooted movie franchise as good as the new Batman movies and the first two Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve.

To refresh my memory regarding my initial reaction to “Superman Returns,” I reread my film review of it that I wrote for The Times. Here it is, as it was published June 29, 2006:

I don’t understand why filmmakers insist on messing with the source material when bringing comic-book characters to the movie screen.

Script artists who stay true to the background of beloved characters are more likely to have a hit on their hands, especially in the cases of comic book adaptations and remakes of old TV shows. The first two “Superman” movies starring Christopher Reeve, the two recent “Spider-Man” movies, and last year’s relaunch of the “Batman” franchise, “Batman Begins,” are examples of this in action.

“Superman Returns,” the first movie in 19 years to star the Man of Steel, walks the line between being reverent to its source material and muddling up the Metropolis status quo.

The result? “Superman Returns” is a decent, mostly enjoyable movie, though it certainly falls short of the standard set in those first two Reeve movies.

But at least it’s not “Superman III,” that atrocious sequel that doubled as a vehicle for the long-past-funny Richard Pryor, or the equally bad “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.”

“Superman Returns” has a lot of good things going for it. The opening credits roll out to the familiar John Williams theme music from the Reeve movies (though the once-graphically impressive wavy blue lettering from that era looks terribly out-of-date now). Director Bryan Singer uses a lot of set design elements from the Reeve movies, and employs Marlon Brando’s image and voice so the late actor can return in a cameo as Superman’s father, Jor-El.

And it helps that the new Man of Steel, Brandon Routh, bears more than a passing resemblance to Reeve, to whom the movie is dedicated. Kevin Spacey sort of facially resembles Gene Hackman, too, but that’s where the similarities between their portrayals of villain Lex Luthor end. Spacey’s Luthor is much more vicious than Hackman’s, in some ways that small children likely would find disturbing.

Singer also throws fans a few insider bones, finding time for cameo roles by the actors who played Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson in the old 1950s television series and squeezing in Perry White’s signature exclamation, “Great Caesar’s ghost!”

The film’s plot — Superman returns to Earth after a five-year absence searching for the remains of his homeworld, Krypton — gives the movie series the new spin its producers were looking for. It’s fun watching Superman fly through the skies of Metropolis again, and the romantic triangle between him, Lois and her fiance might be the best thing about the movie. But Reeve and Margot Kidder were so good in their roles, it’s almost impossible for Routh and Kate Bosworth to live up to their standards. (And Bosworth looks so young in comparison to Kidder, you might think the new movie takes place five years prior to “Superman II,” not five years after it.)

Routh doesn’t play the klutzy aspect of Clark Kent well, though he doesn’t get much scene time as Clark anyway. Most of the time, Routh is playing a weakened Superman, either because he was exposed to Kryptonite, crashlanded on Earth or some other reason. The makers of this film clearly wanted to “humanize” Superman to the point where he was constantly vulnerable, yet much of the appeal of Superman — to many, at least — is the great feats of strength he performs (in addition to the attraction between him and Lois).

Fans will want to see “Superman Returns,” though they should be cautioned that for their admission fee, they won’t get what the Reeve movies gave us at their best. But they won’t get what the Reeve movies gave us at their worst, either.

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite comic books was the “What if …?” series. Each issue posed a different question, such as “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?” These were important, alternate-reality comic-book questions for which every teenage boy wanted to know the answers.

I remembered this last Sunday while reading Peter Gammons’ baseball column on MLB.com. Gammons wrote an entire column playing the “What if …?” game with baseball, theorizing what might have transpired had, for instance, the Boston Red Sox traded for Alex Rodriguez or signed Mark Teixeira.

Gammons’ column got me thinking about playing the “What if …?” game with politics. There are so many different directions to take that game, but the one that popped into my head first was this: What if Broadway Bank had failed before the Feb. 2 primary election?

Broadway Bank, of course, was the financial institution owned by the family of Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate in Illinois’ U.S. Senate race. It is my opinion that unless his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, makes a major mistake, the failure of Broadway Bank has sunk Giannoulias’ campaign. That may not be fair, but I figure the bank’s failure is one of those campaign points Kirk will make last effectively until the Nov. 2 general election.

The Democrats could have put up a tougher fight for the president’s former Senate seat than this. Had the primary election been held a month later – in March as had been the case before 2008 – former Chicago Inspector David Hoffman probably would have won the Democratic primary. Giannoulias was losing serious ground to Hoffman in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 2 primary election, and barring a major misstep by Hoffman, there was a good chance Giannoulias wouldn’t have won had the vote taken place a few weeks later.

That doesn’t mean Hoffman would necessarily beat Kirk in the November election – especially when voting against incumbent politicians/parties seems to be in vogue – but at least the Democrats wouldn’t be saddled with the Giannoulias problem.

But because of Giannoulias’ troubles, Kirk can now afford to ignore Sarah Palin, too. According to published reports, Kirk reached out to the former Republican vice-presidential candidate for support before the primary election, but Palin snubbed him. Now, as Palin prepares to return to Illinois next month for a GOP fundraiser, Kirk says he won’t attend the event. Kirk says he isn’t going because he needs to be in Washington, D.C., for scheduled House votes, but in reality, he probably would’ve skipped those votes if he believed he really needed to be at that fundraiser to get Palin’s support. He wouldn’t be the first – or the last – politician to do such a thing during election season.

And you don’t need to play the “What if …?” game to know that.