Richard Donner is to the entire comic book-to-movie franchise what Robert Downey Jr. is to Marvel. The directorial prowess of Donner, already renowned in Hollywood back in the ’70s, later brought him and Christopher Reeve together. Their ensuing film, Superman (1978) would go on to make the director-actor duo legends in their own time and provide the ubiquitous formula that is, to this day, adopted in the world of comic book movies. But even the keen eye of the director who laid the foundations of the CBM industry all those years ago could not have predicted the calamity that would befall the reboot of the DC IP, approximately three and a half decades later.
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Richard Donner Finds Promise in Zack Snyder’s Vision
Richard Donner, the father of the CBM industry, who made history in 1978 with Superman proved what it meant to be an exception to the rule. The world of film and television had never quite caught on to the world of comic book adaptations well until Christopher Reeve stepped into the frame, guided by Donner’s direction and the musical genius of John Williams launching him into flight with the most electrifying Superman original score of all time. 11 years later, the CBM revolution that began with Superman was made more definitive with Tim Burton’s adaptation of Batman in 1989.
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Soon after came Kevin Conroy, Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, RDJ, Chris Evans, and Kevin Feige – but none of these actors, producers, directors, and visionaries have been able to launch the sensationalism that comes attached with the two names: Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill. With 2013’s Man of Steel, the world soared, cried, screamed, and rallied with an unending devotion to the story. And it was only fitting that Richard Donner would be one of the first people to acknowledge the potential power that Snyder held within his film, years before it was manifested on the silver screen.
Richard Donner Comments on Henry Cavill as Superman
In 2011, on the occasion of Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology‘s launch, MTV interviewed Richard Donner, the man behind it all, on what it takes to bring the Kryptonian god-hero to the screens and what makes Superman such an evergreen character capable of endless remakes and fascinating storytelling. The conversation then eventually steered toward the then-in-development Man of Steel which had already found a director and a lead in Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill. Speaking optimistically about the pair, Donner claimed:
“It’s going to be really tough on [Henry Cavill], but he’s a wonderful actor and has a great director working with him. I think they’ll do a sensational job, because I truly believe their dedication to the product is honest. That film that they’re making, they believe in it, and that’s all you need: a good director, and to believe in your project. You can’t ask for more. The only advice I have is to tell them good luck and go make a damn good movie.”
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But the same wasn’t the case 7 years later when Richard Donner was asked to comment on the more modern take on Snyder’s Man of Steel. In a 2018 interview with Den of Geek, the late director claimed:
“I don’t see Superman as the way he’s being treated today, which is in a very dark fashion […] I think we’re in strange, dark days of moviemaking, but Superman was a hero. He was a fantasy, but we believed him. He’s not treated like that anymore. I’m not happy with it.”
Although many disagreed with his views on the darker, grittier Superman, the mass consciousness still loved and remained faithfully aligned with Snyder’s adaptation. When Donner made his Superman film, the movie truly encapsulated the motto “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” – a slogan that would never find a place in the SnyderVerse storytelling.
In a way, Superman as the beacon of hope was rejected in favor of a more fatalistic take on the character who was portrayed as capable of harboring vengeance, forgiveness, love, and cruelty – all because he too was human and not a cardboard cut-out figure of an all-powerful yet all-forgiving god among men.