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Five rules for making ''Superman'' work

What kind of Bizarro world is this where nobody wants to be ”Superman”? Scott Brown offers five ideas for getting the franchise off the ground

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Christopher Reeve, Superman
Superman: Everett Collection

Five rules for making ”Superman” work

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Jude Law? Sorry. Josh Hartnett? Nope. Paul Walker? Pass. Um… Charles Durning? Brian Dennehy? Pat Morita?

At this point, Warner Bros. seems ready to consider almost any carbon-based life-form for what would once have seemed the role of a lifetime: Superman, the most iconic of American superheroes. And that’s just the trouble, according to agents and industry watchers: No actor wants to sign over his image — and devote up to a decade of his time, once all the sequelry is said and done — to a franchise that will mark him for life.

The tremendous fan backlash against ”Alias” creator J.J. Abrams’ leaked first draft demonstrates just how picky people are when it comes to how they take their Supe. In fact, rumors swirled last week that Warner Bros.’ inability to launch the franchise may soon cost some key execs their jobs. So in this, Kal-El’s darkest hour, EW.com gallantly offers to step in with some unsolicited advice on forging a plan of steel.

GET A REAL DIRECTOR ”Superman” demands a visionary — or, at the very least, a little passion. Even much-derided ”Daredevil” helmer Mark Steven Johnson had that going for him. (Though I’m not suggesting Warners take a meeting with him.) Now that Brett Ratner has backed out — mercifully — it’s time to find someone who’s not such a company man. Mavericks like ”X-Men”’s Bryan Singer and ”Pitch Black”’s David Twohy always get stylish results, even though the birth is often bloody. An up-and-coming genre wizard like Paul Anderson (”Resident Evil”) might also make a good choice. I’m guessing the job has already been offered to Robert Rodriguez (”Spy Kids”), who likely turned it down for the same reasons Hartnett and Walker turned down the tights: No sense staking a whole career on one franchise. But Rodriguez is a confirmed comic-book geek — part of him must really WANT this gig. Enticed with the right salary and paired with the right writer, the One-Man Show From Austin could be a perfect fit.

DON’T RUSH, DON’T PUSH It’s not critical to get a Superman movie into the marketplace by next year, or even the one after that. The current superhero boom is fueling the renewed interest in all things Kryptonian, but the fact is, the boom will go bust long before the Clark Kent flick hits the screen. (And I’m not saying that just because ”The Hulk” looks dorky — it’s simply the way of all things Hollywood.) Rushing into production won’t position ”Supe” for anything but herd-mentality mediocrity. This franchise has been on the shelf for a while, and it can wait a while longer. What’s to lose? No one’s going to forget who the guy with the big S on his chest is.

PULL A VADER — GO WITH AN UNKNOWN Some actors actually WANT to be identified with Superman for the rest of their lives. And a few of those might actually be talented, charismatic individuals. So why settle for a so-so ”name” when you could launch a new career AND build your character with minimal actorly baggage? Additional note: What’s with all these SuperBOYS? Walker? Hartnett? C’mon! Consider some grown-ups. Perhaps Colin Farrell could be wooed back to the project — if the script and director were solid.

SEED INTEREST WITH ANIMATED SHORT FILMS Superman’s always in fashion, but Warner needs to lay the groundwork for a Kryptonian comeback. Why not try licensing some Supe-themed shorts, along the lines of ”The Animatrix”? This could get people excited again about the character and the franchise, and make the decision to revive the series seem less arbitrary and corporate. Also, it’s a nice way to audition story and concept ideas.

FORGET SUPERMAN — SUPERGIRL IS THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE We here at EW are guessing — guessing, mind you — that Helen Slater and Hart Bochner are ready, willing, and able to reprise their roles from the criminally overlooked 1984 film. Working title: ”Supergirl vs. Menopause!”