Princeton native takes on the Man of Steel

Bryan Singer has big shoes, or rather big red boots, to fill. Not only has he abandoned the wildly successful “X-Men” film franchise, not only has he filled a position batted around by Hollywood sluggers (Kevin Smith, Tim Burton, Wolfgang Peterson), but Singer is now tackling one of the most potent American pop culture icons, the Man of Steel, as director of the new Superman film.

Singer (a Princeton-area native) appeared Nov. 18 in the hometown of another superman – actor and stem cell activist Christopher Reeve. Flying to Princeton after first-unit filming wrapped, the globe-trotting Singer was the keynote speaker at the Christopher Reeve Lecture Series. Reeve, of course, is known in the film world as a versatile actor who first embodied the persona of Clark Kent in the 1978 Richard Donner film.

Following his introduction, Singer gave the pitch of an exclusive Superman clip he was about to debut. Only the fans at San Diego ComicCon had seen this footage, and while some of the effects were still being developed, and the film was not necessarily through being manipulated, Singer assured us that this was the real deal.

The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed. Perhaps the biggest treat was being able to see newcomer Brandon Routh’s portrayal of Clark Kent. One moment in the clip showed Superman/Clark Kent’s love interest Lois Lane walking out of the Daily Planet newspaper offices, suddenly turning to ask the surprised superhero, “Have you ever been in love, Clark?” The look on Routh’s face is priceless and is real enough to placate even the most stalwart Christopher Reeve Superman fans. These visuals, combined with dialogue clips, eased my fears about having a soap opera star step into the cape and tights.

After the lecture, Singer answered several audience questions. Credit goes to Singer as the audience was not as hip to the latest movie news as some of the fans. One woman wondered if debuting a clip at a “comic books show” would “really get the word out,” to which Singer explained that the ComicCon played host to over 25 people. Of course, there were the prerequisite “duh” questions like “Where does Superman go when he disappears” (like he’d give away a plot point that big).

As for my question, I asked, “In the material I’ve seen and read, while Superman has left, the world has changed without him. In reality, the world has become a lot more cynical. Superman is a symbol of optimism and hope. Do you think the world is ready for this sort of hope, Superman’s final return, and why?”

For a moment, Singer appeared to be caught off guard and looked side to side, laughing slightly, clearing his throat (he had lost his voice on the set). Compared to the technical questions he had just fielded, he did not seem prepared for a semi-philosophical inquiry. But after a beat, he nodded his head vigorously and said, “Of course! Yes! It’s a cynical world and even I’m a cynical guy … but if Superman’s having a hard time fitting back in, then everyone can relate … he’s a breath of fresh air. I think we’re ready.”

I spoke with Singer after the discussion and was able to pick his brain about the teaser. It turns out that he was actually in the air coming back from Australia at the same time the teaser was debuting in the United States. I told him about my experience at the theater in New Jersey and how everyone cheered as they saw the Kent mailbox and the logo at the end. Like a little kid, he jumped up in his seat, his eyes lighting up and said, “Really? They were cheering?”

While I have tried to remain objective on the subject, I feel the need to give credit to Singer for being a stellar representative of the film industry. Not only did he answer every question and sign anything pushed his way, but he stayed for hours after the lecture ended, interacting with fans. Despite having doubts about the director’s choice in casting and unanswered questions, I came away from the lecture with a priceless sensation of hope and exhilaration. This was not a press junket. Singer came home to New Jersey to share what he had done. The belief in Superman and in Singer is strong.

The Man of Steel flies back to the big screen on June 30, 2006.