By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 31, 2011 at 6:26AM
With the news that British actor, and perpetual nearly-man Henry Cavill has been cast as Clark Kent/Superman in the Christopher Nolan-produced, David Goyer-penned, Zack Snyder-helmed reboot of "Superman," things are moving full steam ahead on the last of 2012's big trio of superhero movies.
Filming's set to begin in the Summer, so we've got a few months of speculation still to come (particularly with the surprise announcement proving that the Nolan camp is as secretive as ever). While the female lead, Lois Lane, is still up in the air (and we ran down our list of candidates some time ago; again, Aubrey Plaza FTW...), the other big question is; who will serve as the villain?
The general feeling is that Superman's most well-known adversary, Lex Luthor, probably won't be the principle antagonist this time out, having been the villain in Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns"; it's possible that Luthor will be in the film, but it seems unlikely that he'll be the big bad this time out. Or at least that's our guess and seems to be the conventional wisdom recently. With that in mind, we've taken a look at a few of the rumored candidates, as well as some suggestions of our own, for who could go up against Cavill in Snyder's Untitled "Superman" picture
As the principal villain in easily the best "Superman" film to date, "Superman II" (as immortally played by Terence "Kneel before Zod" Stamp), the general is perhaps the most recognizable foe outside of Lex Luthor to the general public, and early reports following Snyder's appointment suggested that Zod was a likely candidate. Although, as usual, the character's been through any number of incarnations, the traditional one, used in "Superman II," is that Zod was the semi-fascistic military leader on Superman's home planet of Krypton, who escaped the planet's destruction when he was trapped in the Phantom Zone (a prison dimension) along with his cohorts. He later escapes and takes over Earth in an attempt to transform it into a New Krypton. With many of the same powers as Superman, he's certainly a more worthy adversary than the human Luthor, and would be able to deliver on the slam-bang action that we're surely destined for with Zack Snyder at the helm. Plenty of actors would surely be tempted to follow in Stamp's footsteps -- it's a far better, more scenery-chewing role than most of the Superman rogue's gallery. And the character's been successfully reinvented in the modern age: the "New Krypton" arc sees Zod as the military leader of the bottled Kryptonian city of Kandor, which has been moved to the North Pole with 100,000 survivors. Zod becomes a more ambivalent figure, and the story, a kind of superpowered "Yiddish Policeman's Union," could have all kind of resonances. Alternatively, a contemporary take on the character as a Bin Laden-type figure could be interesting too.
However: For one thing, Snyder's shed doubt on reports of Zod playing the villain, dismissing them as "just rumors" -- not an outright denial, for sure, but definitely a black mark against the character. Perhaps more importantly, Zod's probably a character best served by being built up to -- as one of Superman's most formidable foes, it doesn't necessarily give a young Clark Kent anywhere else to go in the franchise once defeated. It's entirely plausible that he'll appear somewhere in the newborn franchise (and may, like in the Donner film, appear briefly in the opener), but we're not sure he'll be the principle villain first time out.
Who Could Play Them: We did run this before, when it looked like Zod was a lock for the villain role, and while one candidate, Tom Hardy, is presumably out after being cast as Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises," we maintain that any of Ralph Fiennes, Karl Urban, Jude Law or Jason Isaacs could be good choices. Alternatively, "Carlos" star Edgar Ramirez could be a fun shout (although he's already on villain duties in "Wrath of the Titans," and what about fast-rising "Boardwalk Empire" star Jack Huston, or fan-pick Rufus Sewell?
Another name that was linked to the Goyer script when it was originally announced (as a high-action packed film no less), Brainiac is another long-running Superman adversary, having originally debuted way back in 1958. Again, the character's history is so torturous it'd give us a headache to recap it all, but generally speaking, the character is a green-skinned android from the planet Colu, whose principal aim is to travel the universe, shrinking cities for their knowledge, and then destroying their planet to increase the value. As a '12th level intellect' with psychic powers and strength to match Superman, he's certainly a formidable adversary, and the cosmic scope of "Green Lantern" may make a green-skinned foe a little more palatable to modern audiences, although there are ways around that: one version of the character saw the him project his consciousness into a sideshow mentalist, Milton Fine, while "Smallville" saw him in human form, played by "Buffy" grad James Marsters. Plus, he's come close to appearing on screen once before, linked to Jim Carrey and Tim Allen, of all people, as the principle villain in the thank-Christ-it-didn't-happen Tim Burton/Kevin Smith collaboration "Superman Lives."
However: We know the character's a fan-favorite, and a longtime part of Superman lore, but it can't just be us that finds him kind of lame. Rarely more than your standard-issue megalomaniac, he brings scope, for sure, but he also brings the potential for silliness, and considering how shoddy "Green Lantern" looks so far, it's entirely possible that swollen-headed Peter Sarsgaard could be the death nail for the more outre supervillains for some time. (Although, at the same time, a Superman movie that embraces the extraterrestrial aspect of the character at least ensures it'll stand apart from the earthbound "Superman Returns"). It also doesn't really match with the rumored, year-out-after-college version of Superman (seemingly confirmed by a press release that declared filming in Europe, Asia and the Middle-East); we think it's fairly unlikely that Brainiac will turn up, although we wouldn't count him out in later films necessarily.
Who Could Play Them: Hmm, tricky. Assuming it's someone different from the comic route that Burton seemed to be heading down, Mark Strong could have been a good choice, if predictable, but he's playing the not-dissimilar Sinestro in "Green Lantern" already. Jackie Earle Haley's already been mentioned by some, but we'd be surprised if he was picked. Liev Schreiber and Vincent Cassel could be possibilities, although we can't imagine them looking anything other than silly in the get-up, while "Superman" runner-up Matthew Goode might be a good call. Our pick? Someone who's shown again and again that he can project a fierce intelligence while also being a total badass: Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Arguably the biggest of the big bads in the D.C. universe, Jack Kirby creation Darkseid is the despotic ruler of Apokolips, tranformed into a rock-like creature (designed to resemble Jack Palance), after murdering his brother to take the throne, and the Omega Force. Essentially a god, with fearsome powers, he's spent most of his time in pursuit of the Anti-Life Equation, which would give him control over all thoughts and emotions in the universe, elminating all free-will, and his quest has seen him cross swords with most D.C. heroes, most frequently Superman. He's genuinely scary, one of the few villains who can give Supes a run for his money, and otherworldly without being ridiculous (although he's recently been reborn on Earth in human form, as Boss Dark Side, where he served as the primary antagonist in the Final Crisis series, so that's always an option). As a god and a king, he seems suited to the Wagnerian sensibilities that Snyder displayed in "300" and "Watchmen," and he's not been as widely exposed to the mainstream as Lex or Zod, which means he could enable the films to stand apart from their predecessors. Plus, using the character opens up a whole host of potential spin-offs, from the New Gods (led by Darkseid's son Orion) to escape artist Mister Miracle, which franchise-hungry Warners surely wouldn't see as a disadvantage. In our view, he's kind of the best choice out there, but...
However: All the evidence so far suggests that this is unlikely, from the lack of any mention of the character in rumors, to the globetrotting, Earthbound origin story that's heavily rumored. Bringing in Darkseid and Apokolips would be a gigantic (extremely expensive and space operatic) task for a film that also has to reintroduce Superman, Metropolis and all the other characters, and he seems a little out there and too sci-fi for a story co-conceived by Christopher Nolan: even if the "Inception" helmer's now taking a back seat on the project. Plus, there's no guarantee that the character would translate visually to the screen well.
Who Could Play Them?: Ideally, you want a modern-day Palance, someone craggy and imposing enough to pull off a man made by rock. Names like Brendan Gleeson, Paddy Considine, Ray Winstone and (maybe) Dominic West could all work, while we're sure, if this is the route they go down, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Russell Crowe would be high on the wish-list, even if none are likely to be tempted unless they really need the money. But let's face it. For film #1 in this WB, there's almost no chance of the Darkseid character showing his face.
Bruno Mannheim/Morgan Edge
Ok, so here's what this writer would do, if he were writing and starting from scratch. The crime syndicate Intergang has been a foe of Superman since the 1970s. Led most notably by Bruno "Ugly" Mannheim, a giant, powerful mobster, and later by media mogul Morgan Edge, the head of the Galaxy Broadcasting System (who buy the Daily Planet at one stage), they've been able to go head to head with Superman thanks to technology and instructions from Darkseid, who enlists them in his search for the Anti-Life Equation, enabling the character to be set up in future films. Both Mannheim and Edge are interesting characters: the former's become akin to a cult leader in recent years, and has indulged in cannibalism, while Edge ties into Clark Kent's life and work neatly, and has recently been reimagined as a Glenn Beck-style media pundit, which could be a topical take. The first film could see the fledgling Superman come up against this international crime gang, led by either character, and then take on their backer Darkseid in a later film; it certainly seems closer to a Nolan/Goyer version of the Superman universe than someone like Brainiac, while still playing to Snyder's big action strengths, feels far more contemporary than Singer's old-fashioned take, and could tie into the rumored gap-year plot-line nicely.
However: As much as Goyer seems to be aping his own "Batman Begins" structure for the project, this idea seems a little to close to the Ra's Al Ghul villainy of that film; surely Goyer wouldn't want to repeat himself to that degree? Plus, both characters seem a little mundane for Superman -- neither are really physical matches for the man of steel, and the idea of going up against a crime gang seems more suited for, say, The Punisher or Daredevil. It's unlikely that this is the way that Snyder & co are going, but like we said, it's what this writer would do if somehow impossibly placed in charge.
Who Could Play Them: Mannheim's a fairly stereotypical mob-boss type: James Gandolfini leaps immediately to mind, although he's probably too old. Young British actor Daniel Mays ("Red Riding") could be a good fit, or "Animal Kingdom" graduates Joel Edgerton or Ben Mendelsohn, who'd have very different takes on the character. Or, if you're going for very different physical types from the comic version, how about David Thewlis, Barry Pepper, or recently-minted Academy Award nominee John Hawkes, who's bound to get a villain offer for a tentpole any day now. Edge is a more complex figure: what about "Mad Men"'s John Slattery, or regular villain Ciaran Hinds?
Ok, so this one's relatively obscure, but Nolan hasn't shied away from the quieter corners of the Batman rogue's gallery, and that could well continue here, at least at first. Kenny Braverman was a fellow inhabitant of Smallville, born on the same night that Kal-El arrived on earth, and poisoned by Kryptonian radiation from his ship, which led to him becoming a sickly child. He soon developed into a star athlete, however, although consistently placing behind his friend Clark Kent. When he grew into adulthood, the radiation gave Braverman superpowers, focused by a high-tech suit, and following a brief career with the CIA, he becomes obsessed with destroying his old rival Clark Kent, eventually discovering his true identity as Superman. Considering the likelihood of an origin story in the first film, a character with a background similar to Superman's could work well, bridging the early and later years, while Kal-El's role in Braverman's fate could prove emotionally resonant. Plus, again, Kryptonian superpowers means that Conduit could go toe-to-toe with Superman.
However: For one, the character is very obscure, appearing in a single storyline. Furthermore, the age range of the actors being looked at, and the casting of the 28-year-old Cavill in the lead, suggests that a character like this is unlikely: it all feels a bit "Smallville" to be honest. If he does show up, we'll be stunned. And possibly suing Goyer.
Who Could Play Them: As a character not dissimilar to Clark Kent, you could pick and choose from any of the runners-up; Goode, Matthew Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Colin O'Donoghue or Armie Hammer could all work. Or what about Hammer's "Social Network" co-star Max Minghella, or our original pick for Superman, James Wolk of "Lone Star"?
A mindless, unstoppable killing machine, created as a genetic experiment in prehistoric times on Krypton, Doomsday turns up on Earth after laying waste to the galaxy, where he famously killed Superman in the early 90s. Another villain set for Burton's "Superman Lives," we can't see a mindless creature on a rampage finding a place in this story, unless you count Snyder's direction... Imperiex is perhaps the only creature more powerful than Doomsday, a living embodiment of entropy, but he's also a shameless rip-off of Fantastic Four villain Galactus, and is thus pretty unlikely. Jax-Ur was an amoral villain from Krypton, another Phantom Zone escapee, who in current continuity is a sleeper agent for General Zod, and could again be used to set up Zod, but if you're going to go for an evil Kryptonian, you might as well use the big dog.
Guy Ritchie was briefly attached to direct a film starring gonzo bounty hunter Lobo, and Warners may still be keen to set the character up for his own franchise, but he would seem like an odd choice, tonally, for what the team on "Superman" seem to be going for. More plausible choices are Parasite and Metallo: the former's a janitor who gains the ability, through Darkseid, to absorb powers, including Superman's, and is one of the character's longest-running foes, while the latter is a cyborg, powered by Kryptonite, created by a scientist terrified that Superman was the first in a series of superpowered avengers. They could both work, certainly, but they're also both a little low-rent. Honestly? Even after all this and some kind of quasi denial, by Snyder, we're pretty sure the villain is going to be Zod and or some kind of Kryptonian. In a Christopher Nolan-godfathered "Superman" film (which we hope is still the focus here), traditional super villains seem lame, and plausible realistic antagonists seem the way to go. So if you're going to suspend audience belief with an alien character who grows up to be Superman/Clark Kent, it would seem logical to us that the filmmakers wouldn't mess with that suspension too much and bring in yet another alien force. But hell, that's just our thinking and all of this is of course, speculation.
Don't like these choices, or Cavill for "Superman" or even Zack Snyder and what's the rush? Don't forget. Warner Bros. is under a deadline to get a "Superman" film into production by 2011. The heirs of co-creators Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster may own the entire Superman copyright in 2013. An ongoing court battle still wages to see who will own full rights to the character. Warner Bros. had to put a film into production so they could capitalize on the character once more in case 2013 comes around and the Siegel and Shuster heirs indeed do win their case. If that happens and WB want to continue making "Superman" films or sequels they will have to play a very pretty penny to license those rights.