Man Of Steel: trailer analysis

Feature James Peaty 23 Jul 2012 - 05:44

As the first trailers for Man Of Steel arrive, with their sober vision of Superman and fishing boats, James takes an analytical look at what it all means...

With Batman’s cinematic future somewhat unclear after the conclusion of the Dark Knight trilogy, Warner Bros are wasting no time in trying to find its next lucrative franchise.

The release of the first teaser for next year’s Superman revamp, Man Of Steel, gives us an early look at what the team who successfully revitalised the Caped Crusader, Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer, have planned for the Last Son of Krypton.

DOWN TO EARTH

Much like the teaser to Batman Begins back in 2004, this short trailer is clearly designed to undercut audience expectation of a movie featuring this character. As with the original Begins clip, what we get here is in effect much more of a mood piece than any sort of indication of what the story is likely to be.  

Initially eschewing the bucolic Norman Rockwell tones of Superman’s earlier incarnations, the teaser opens with a number of defiantly non-heroic shots.

There’s water crashing against rocks, washing fluttering on a line, a gull circling a wind-swept cliff-top home and a fishing boat safely moored in dry dock. It’s here that we get our first glimpse of Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). Bearded, tired and scruffily dressed, the proto-Superman is shown feeding a dog in a back alley before we cut to Clark working a shift on the same fishing boat from earlier. Struggling with casting nets and soaked by the crashing waves, this version of Kent is clearly being framed as far more ‘human’ than any previous onscreen incarnation. 

While this may be new territory for movie-goers, there are clear recent precedents in the comic-book world, with John Byrne’s Man Of Steel, Mark Waid’s Birthright, Geoff Johns’ Secret Origin and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics all playing with similar ideas.

FATHERS AND SONS

It wouldn’t be a trailer for a Christopher Nolan production if there wasn’t a portentous voice-over, and this Man Of Steel clip is no different. However, there are two versions of this voice over which end up having very different effects on the footage.

The first version features a voice over by Clark’s adopted human father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), who says:

“You’re not just anyone. One day you’re going to have to make a choice. You’re going to have to decide what kind of a man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, he’s gonna change the world.” 

The second version features Superman’s Kryptonian father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and it’s his dulcet tones that intone the following.

“You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time they will join you in the sun. In time you will help them accomplish wonders.”

As either of these monologues play, we get quick shots of: a faded photograph of young Clark and Jonathan, a young Clark (we assume) running around with a blanket for a cape and then another glimpse of the bearded Clark hitchhiking.

From there, we cut to dawn breaking over Smallville before settling on an image of a butterfly suspended in the chain of a garden swing. Finally, we cut back to young Clark as he adopts the classic ‘fists on hips’ Superman pose from the comic books. 

Rounding out the trailer is an effective FX shot of Superman flying up into the air, gaining in velocity and eventually heading towards the upper atmosphere before we cut to a shot of the legendary Superman ‘S’ logo. 

THOUGHTS

From the footage in this teaser and the extra snippets screened at Comic-Con, it appears that any suggestions (or fears) that director Snyder would play up his trademark speed-ramped visuals seem wide of the mark. 

After the box-office underperformance of his last few films, Snyder is seemingly back on the studio leash, and the visual style on display here is far more evocative of Terrence Malick and David Gordon Green than the director of Watchmen or Suckerpunch

The shots of the kid in the blanket cape in particular are reminiscent of Gordon Green’s George Washington, while the image of the suspended butterfly could quite easily have been lifted from Malick’s The Tree Of Life.

Of the two versions of the trailer, I have to say I prefer the version with Costner’s voice over, as it perfectly complements the mood of the footage. A warm and humane speech, it draws you towards Clark and makes you interested in his journey.

In contrast, the Crowe version sounds pompous and cold, and seems to jar with footage. It also has the effect of making Clark seem aloof and remote, which I’m not sure works that well as a first impression of the character.

Clearly, the release of these two different trailers means that the dilemma of Clark’s dual heritage will be a key theme in the film. This idea was explored in some detail during the 10 year run of Smallville, but with the right handling, there’s no doubt it could work well again. 

So, despite not being a total home run, the Man Of Steel is still looking a strong bet for box office success in 2013. Nolan, Goyer and Snyder all have a solid track record with this type of material, while the preview reel shown in San Diego hinted at the story playing out on a much bigger canvas than this teaser suggests.

Here’s hoping we get to see more of that type of footage sooner rather than later.

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