Pop Culture

The many faces of Superman

For a character who can jump tall buildings with a single bound, Hollywood has had very little luck in getting a new Superman movie off the ground. Casting the world’s most well-known superhero has proven especially difficult, and has already led one director, Brett Ratner, to withdraw from the project in favor of making a second “Rush Hour” sequel. (Who thought there needed to be a first sequel, anyway?)

It really will be tough to beat Christopher Reeve’s performance in the 1970s Superman films; he had a knack for both the larger-than-life heroism of the guy in the cape and the clumsy dorkiness of the Clark Kent alter ego. If we could choose any actor in history, we’d go with Gregory Peck — he had the physique, the hair, and he even looked like Clark Kent when he wore glasses. Most importantly, Peck’s persona — epitomized in the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird — carries the moral weight that a proper Superman needs. Who better to play the Kryptonian do-gooder than Atticus Finch? Cary Grant would also have been excellent, and considering his turn as the nebbishy professor in “Bringing Up Baby,” would have made a very funny Kent.

The rumors and gossip about who might play Superman — and who won’t — have been flying faster than speeding bullets. The most recent news suggests that producers are thinking of casting a relative unknown — a strategy that worked well for Hugh Jackman in “X-Men” and Elijah Wood in “Lord of the Rings” — but nothing is set in stone, or steel, for that matter. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the actors who’ve been suggested as possible Men of Steel.

Tom WellingMost famous for: Playing Clark Kent, the future Superman as a teenager, in the TV show Smallville.”Is he super? He makes a decent enough Superboy, but he’s too young and too puppy-like to make it as the Man of Steel. Those big eyes of his make him look like a living version of those ceramic statues in the Christmas catalogs my grandmother keeps sending me.

Paul Walker
Most famous for:
Being Vin Diesel’s costar in “The Fast and the Furious.”Is he super? Highly doubtful. In fact, we find it difficult to imagine why anyone would even have suggested him in the first place. And yet he was reportedly offered the part last year. (Maybe this is a reason to be glad Ratner left the project.) Thankfully, he turned it down.

Josh Hartnett
Most famous for:
The celibacy comedy “40 Days and 40 Nights.”Is he super? We could sort of see it, if we squint. But apparently Josh himself can’t, because like Walker, he was offered the part last year and also refused it.

Nicolas CageMost famous for: Alternating between edgy, nervous guys in movies like “Adaptation,” and muscular action dudes in ones like “Face/Off and “Con Air.”Is he super? No. Don’t get me wrong, Cage is a terrific actor, but there’s always a haggard look in his eyes. It serves him well in movies like “Vampire’s Kiss,” but Superman shouldn’t look like he’s been losing sleep and will freak out any minute now.

Patrick WarburtonMost famous for: Puddy on “Seinfeld,” he’s also been the voice of Superman in Jerry Seinfeld’s recent American Express commercials.Is he super? No. He’s pitch-perfect as a parodic version of the barrel-chested Supes, (and he was good in the short-lived series “The Tick,” too), but he wouldn’t work for a serious Superman story, because you can’t take him seriously. That’s not a jab at his acting ability, but a recognition of the baggage that his very funny comic persona would bring along. However, he would be absolutely right for Bizarro, the weirdo clone-Superman who does everything backwards.

Fred Prouser / X00224
Actor Ashton Kutcher, star of the drama film

Ashton Kutcher
Most famous for:
Being mildly amusing in “That 70s Show,” and obnoxious in MTV’s prank show “Punk’d.” Also Demi Moore’s boy toy.Is he super? Oh, please. The Man of Steel deserves better than the new millennium’s Vinnie Barbarino.

Brendan Fraser
Most famous for:
“The Mummy,” “George of the Jungle.”Is he super? Yes. At first, we were skeptical, since Fraser’s been in so many braindead comic roles. But if he had a decent script and a director who knew how to utilize his persona, Fraser’s shown he can hit all the right emotional notes to successfully inhabit Superman’s skin. First and foremost, he seems like a decent guy, but physically tough — it’s hard to imagine the typical Fraser character throwing the first punch in a fight, but you could believe he might throw the last. And Fraser can also switch gears and convincingly play a nerd like Clark Kent.

Jason Behr
Most famous for:
Playing human/alien hybrid Max in the TV series “Roswell.”Is he super?  Even at age 30, he looks too young, and would also need to put on about forty pounds of muscle mass.

Christopher Walken
Most famous for:
Won a supporting-actor Oscar for “The Deer Hunter in 1978, nominated for one in 2003 for “Catch Me If You Can.”Is he super? A friend of ours insists, tongue firmly in cheek, that Walken’s strange intensity and battery of unnerving tics and mannerisms would make him perfect for the role. We won’t argue, since we’re having too much fun imagining Walken staring balefully down on Metropolis and causing screams and general panic. And if Nic Cage was a serious candidate, why not Walken?

Christopher Bahn is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.