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Superman: Deconstructed but still strong

| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

If Batman suddenly gave up crime-fighting to join a rock band, that band probably would be the dark-and-menacing Rolling Stones.

Superman would be a Beatle.

Everybody loves the Beatles, and everybody loves Superman. The Beatles started the British Invasion, and Superman introduced the superhero era. He is not a cult favorite — he is an inspirational and universally admired superhero for men and women of all ages. Superman serves truth, justice and the American way, and he does it faster than a speeding bullet and more powerfully than a locomotive. It is rumored that he can leap tall buildings with a single bound.

Since his debut in a 1938 comic book, Superman has stood for everything good in our society. That may explain his many incarnations on radio, television and in the movies through the years, and it, no doubt, goes a long way to understanding why a cool Hollywood A-list director like Zack Snyder wanted to bring “Man of Steel” to the big screen this weekend.

Starring a handsome, but relatively unknown, British actor (Henry Cavill of Showtime's “The Tudors”), the new film promises a somewhat-edgier and more-realistic Superman origins story than what has been seen previously.

This isn't the first time that Snyder has put his own spin on someone else's comic-book creations (“Watchmen” and “300”), but he has never faced such a formidable task.

With a budget estimated at between $175 million and $225 million, “Man of Steel” is an expensive wager by a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros.) in search of a new blockbuster franchise to replace the “Harry Potter” and “Dark Knight” films.

To that end, Snyder's film was produced by “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan and written by “Dark Knight” screenwriter David S. Goyer.

The filmmakers have fashioned an angst-ridden, soul-searching Superman trying to find his place in a strange new world. In his deconstruction of the legend, Snyder has said that the superhero's greatest threat is not kryptonite, but his own perfection.

Of course, a superhero movie is only as good as its villain, and “Boardwalk Empire's” Michael Shannon plays the villainous General Zod (portrayed originally by Terrence Stamp in “Superman II”). Superman also has his fair share of difficulties with the tenacious reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). She is both the love of Superman's life, and the inquisitive bane of his existence.

Russell Crowe plays Superman's biological father Jor-El (played by Marlon Brando in the 1978 film), who masterminds his young son's escape before the destruction of their home planet Krypton. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play Jonathan and Martha Kent, the Earth couple who adopt the alien child and raise him as Clark Kent.

The Superman character was invented by teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who, after many rejections, finally got their superhero introduced in Action Comics No. 1. The next year (1939), the character starred in a syndicated newspaper comic strip that patrolled the skies over Metropolis for 28 years.

Superman also headlined his own radio show for 11 years, and was the subject of various animated projects and film serials. In 1951, “Superman and the Mole Men” was released in theaters, and later was shown during the syndicated television series “The Adventures of Superman.” That TV show boasted 104 episodes in the early 1950s and starred George Reeves, who later committed suicide.

In 1978, director Richard Donner returned Superman to his former glory with the popular film “Superman.” It was followed by three sequels.

Small-screen Superman made a comeback on the series “Smallville” and “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures.”

In 2004, a new big-screen project was planned with director Joseph McGinty “McG” Nichol at the helm. The leading contender for the title role was a young British actor named Henry Cavill. The McG movie fell through, and evolved two years later into “Superman Returns,” directed by Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh.

Barry Koltnow is a staff writer for The Orange County Register.

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