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British ‘Superman’ eyes soaring franchise future

Man of Steel tells the origins story of Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent

  • British actor Henry Cavill
    British actor Henry Cavill attends the 'Man Of Steel' world premiere at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln CeImage Credit: EPA
  • British actor Henry Cavill
    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Michael Shannon as General Zod in "Man of StImage Credit: AP
  • British actor Henry Cavill
    This film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Russell Crowe as Joe-El in "Man of Steel." Image Credit: AP
  • British actor Henry Cavill
    Cast member Amy Adams arrives for the world premiere of the film "Man of Steel" in New York.Image Credit: REUTERS

Briton Henry Cavill becomes the latest actor to don Superman’s famous red cape as “Man of Steel” hits theatres this week — and hopes it’s just the start of a rebooted blockbuster franchise.

The heart-throb actor co-stars with Amy Adams as plucky reporter Lois Lane and Australian Russell Crowe as his other-worldly father Jor-El in the $225 million (Dh826 million) film, aiming to soar to the top of the US summer box office.

Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play the couple who raise Superman as Clark Kent after he lands in their backyard in a space pod ejected by his real parents from the dying planet Krypton.

Cavill recalled being a Superman fan as a child growing up on Jersey, in the British Channel Islands.

“I was a kid running round the garden with a tea towel round his neck, beating up his brothers and stuff,” he told AFP ahead of the film’s release in the United States this week and around the world over the rest of June.

The 30-year-old was once dubbed “the most unlucky man in Hollywood” after losing out to Daniel Craig to become James Bond in 2005, and just failing to be cast in 2006’s “Superman Returns.”

But he finally got the call from seasoned action/sci-fi director Zach Snyder to play a character famously portrayed by Christopher Reeve in four movies from 1978 to 1987, before he was paralysed in a horse-riding accident.

“Man of Steel” tells the origins story of Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent, who was first animated into life in June 1938 by comic book artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel.

Snyder’s story chooses to begin with Superman’s birth on the planet Krypton, and as the last hope for his people’s survival, his parents send him to Earth to escape an insurrection by General Zod, played by “Boardwalk Empire” actor Michael Shannon.

Preparing for the role involved five months of gruelling physical training and specialized diets to build muscle mass while maintaining a lean physique, fully on display in the movie.

“Throughout the movie we did some fine tuning, some sculpting, and then one very intense leaning period six weeks during the movie for the shirtless stuff,” he said, referring to scenes before he dons the famous Superman suit.

Cavill said he intentionally ignored the influence of past Superman performances tugging at his cape. Instead, he focused on the original comic books as his source material, creating a database of notes on the superhero.

“(The notes) just kind of became a secondary character lurking there and I just drew from that,” Cavill said.

“There’s not really a word for it or any way to describe playing Superman,” he added. “But it’s just a feeling and you’ve got to just channel that into the character in just minute details unconsciously and instinctively.”

Perfecting the US accent also took weeks of work with a voice coach to transform his English public school vowels into Midwest twang.

“As long as I can do it convincingly, as long as I can play an American well enough, then I’m OK with that,” Cavill said, drawing a comparison to the UK’s beloved film franchise on super-spy James Bond.

“I wouldn’t mind if an American played Bond, as long as he’s good and played the role right,” Cavill added.

His Oscar-nominated co-star Adams, making her first major blockbuster movie, was impressed both with his accent — “it’s pretty close to perfect” - and his acting skills.

“He has a physical presence as Superman... but then has this beautiful vulnerability and gentleness to him,” she told AFP — while admitting that kissing Superman, near the film’s climax, was less fun than some might think.

“People are always so disappointed when they find out the truth [that] kissing scenes are always so technical. But you know, it’s all in a day’s work, for a working lady,” she joked coyly.

The movie is packed with spectacular special effects, as Superman socks it out with the evil General Zod, his dead father’s arch-foe, and his cohorts threatening to destroy the Earth.

Adams, gathered with the film’s cast for a press conference before its June 14 US release, noted that the actors actually finished shooting it two years ago, after which the Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) artists got to work.

It is the second CGI-powered superhero blockbuster of the summer so far, after Marvel’s “Iron Man 3,” and amid talk of a sequel to last year’s “The Avengers,” the third highest-grossing film in box office history.

“Man of Steel,” which was produced by Christopher Nolan who directed the recent Batman “The Dark Knight” franchise, leans heavily on action and science-fiction as a box-office draw for studio Warner Bros, a unit of Time Warner Inc.

The pre-release industry buzz for “Man of Steel” has been very positive, and the studio hopes it can re-launch a new series of Superman films after its 2006 offering, “Superman Returns” and its leading man Brandon Routh, failed to live up to box office expectations.

Cavill, for whom the role is arguably the biggest of his career so far, admitted he would be happy if there were a franchise. Indeed the contract he signed gives the film’s makers options on using him for two further movies.

“There’s nothing planned just yet that I’m aware of .. but time will tell,” he said, before adding: “As far as, if there is one, would I like it? Yeh, I’d like it very much.

“I think it would be a lot of fun to continue telling this story,” he said.