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Immersed in Movies: Snyder, Cavill and More Talk Unapologetic 'Man of Steel,' a Father's Day Superman Gift

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood June 14, 2013 at 2:41PM

I couldn't help thinking about my late father when watching "Man of Steel." He adored Superman and I still remember asking him as a child what the difference was between Batman and Superman. He said Batman was about darkness and Superman was about light -- a perfect complement. In later years, though, he bemoaned the prevailing cynicism and nihilism that led to Superman going out of fashion.
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Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent in 'Man of Steel'
Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent in 'Man of Steel'

I couldn't help thinking about my late father when watching "Man of Steel." He adored Superman and I still remember asking him as a child what the difference was between Batman and Superman. He said Batman was about darkness and Superman was about light -- a perfect complement. In later years, though, he bemoaned the prevailing cynicism and nihilism that led to Superman going out of fashion. 

But while struggling with concluding "The Dark Knight Rises," David Goyer found a way to make Superman relatable again through a compelling father/son story that helps humanize the Man of Steel. And this was the key that hooked Zack Snyder, who liked the strategy of passing through darkness into the light.

"For me it was very simple: It's a story about two fathers," Goyer admits. "And while I was writing the script, I became a step dad and a dad and my own dad died, and so I never thought my own experiences would find their way into something like this. But if you boil it down to that, a man with two fathers, you have to decide which kind of lineage you want to choose: my Kryptonian father or my Earth father? And in the end, they both make him the man that he becomes."

Henry Cavill in "Man of Steel"
Henry Cavill in "Man of Steel"

That's what resonated for me: the tug-of-war between Clark Kent and Kal-El (Henry Cavill) and the relationships with his two fathers, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Jor-El (Russell Crowe). They represent the soul of the movie and are a fascinating study in contrast: While Jor displays unfailing confidence that humanity will embrace his son's strength and goodness (he pops in and out like the ghost of Hamlet's father to dispense sagely advice), Jonathan fears that his son will be rejected as an outsider so he encourages him to hide his identity.

Yet the pain and intimacy Clark and Jonathan share is deeply moving. It's also enhanced by the non-linear structure as we're introduced to Clark as an angst-ridden 33-year-old loner, who anonymously drifts from town to town like a traveling angel.

"I don't think it necessarily speaks to the outsider alone," Cavill suggests. "He speaks to everyone or that ideal speaks to everyone. We all need hope, no matter what century we're in, whatever state of life we're in, whether we're going through tragedy or not. Its just hope that everything will be okay."

For Diane Lane, who plays Martha Kent, the parenting theme beautifully extends to Clark's relationship with his mother. Indeed, one of the highlights is when she guides him through an early crisis at school by helping him see the world as smaller and more manageable.

"The backstory that we discussed that isn't part of the script is imagining what it would be like to temper a young person's attitude adjustment that's required in the rearing of children when they have the powers that Clark has," Lane explains. "So it was fun having those conversations and filling in the blanks. Once you fall in love with a being that needs you, you imprint and you want it to represent your belief system. And that winds up being conveyed eventually when you're not there to see it. That's the hope of parenting."

This article is related to: Man Of Steel, Zack Snyder, Immersed In Movies


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.