The producers of 1978’s Superman: The Movie famously hired a Marlon Brando — an Oscar-winning actor as famous for his offscreen shenanigans as for his indelible onscreen performances — to play Superman’s father Jor-El. Though Brando got top billing, his role in the film is really little more than a flashy cameo. Still, he’s a pivotal part of the movie — leftover footage of Brando was resurrected in Bryan Singer’s seriously-watch-it-again gem Superman Returns — and Brando’s participation in the original Superman gives some added resonance to the news, reported by Variety, that Oscar-winning Russell Crowe is currently in talks to play Jor-El in Man of Steel, next year’s Supes reboot.
Warner Bros., producer Christopher Nolan, and director Zack Snyder had no comment on the casting news, but it’s worth exploring what the news might mean for the movie. It certainly seems possible: Nolan is a particular fan of getting great actors to play supporting roles — think of Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon — and the small-but-pivotal role of Superman’s father might appeal to Crowe, who hasn’t taken a supporting role in anything in over a decade. Given that Jor-El classically appears only in Krypton-set prologues and then as a zombie hologram, it’s a role that could be shot entirely on a greenscreen, several continents away from the production.
As for the larger implications of this news: The mere fact that Jor-El will be in the movie indicates that Man of Steel will probably feature a Superman origin story. And it’s hard to imagine the producers hiring Russell Crowe just to imitate Brando’s voice-from-beyond stylings. One wonders if the film will more prominently feature the interaction between Crowe’s Jor-El and the character’s comic-book nemesis, General Zod. We already know that Zod is being played by Michael Shannon, and it’s hard to imagine that the producers wouldn’t feature at least a couple scenes of Crowe and Shannon staring each other down in a looming-powerhouse-actor face-off. Undoubtedly, Zod/Crowe enmity will become a more prominent part of the movie — similar, perhaps, to how Nolan’s Batman Begins connected Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins to the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
PopWatchers, are you intrigued by the news that Russell Crowe might be taking the Big Daddy role in Superman?
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich