And so, as one Nolan-brothers-produced DC comics-based movie franchise comes to and end, another begins. Warner Bros will be hoping, naturally, that the new Man Of Steel Superman films follow in the footsteps of Christian Bale’s Batman – but with the first full trailer hitting the net this week, how is Henry Cavill looking in the role so superbly filled by predecessors Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh? And how is Zack Snyder, already famed for stylish-but-arguably-hollow adaptations of 300 and Watchmen, adjusting to the challenge of taking on the world’s first and most archetypal superhero?
The Dark Flight
Unsurprisingly – given the presence of the Nolans as producers, and the monumental success of the Dark Knight films – the tone taken by the new Superman film is somewhat darker than those before it. Everything’s a little bit moody and ominous – but, crucially, there’s a slight sense in the trailer that it’s doing so out of a sense of grandeur and reverence.
While it would be nice to see more comic book movies take a cue from The Avengers – i.e. learn the lesson that a great superhero film doesn’t have to be moody – and while the inherently hopeful nature of Superman as a character would seem ideally suited to such an approach, there’s perhaps no harm in treating the reinvention of the ‘first’ superhero with a little bit of gravitas. But let’s hope he gets to lighten up a bit at some point.
The instinct, upon seeing that the Superman origin story is going to be retold yet again, is for a fan of the comics to roll eyes and sigh: in the last decade alone, there have been at least three distinct ‘official’ interpretations of the story published (2004’s Birthright, 2010’s Secret Origin and this past year’s New 52 relaunch). But in other media it’s been significantly longer – in fact, leaving cartoons aside, the tale of baby Kal-El being rocketed to earth hasn’t been seen onscreen since the original 1978 movie.
So while there’s a general fatigue for origin stories at the moment (thanks, The Amazing Spider-Man), we reckon we can stand to see Man Of Steel put its own stamp on the story. It certainly looks like doing that, by exploring Clark’s deeds of heroism long before he gets near suiting up in blue. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take too long to send him to Metropolis – scenes of a bearded Clark apparently wandering the world feel a little too much like a potential retread of Batman Begins.
Suited And Booted
There’s no doubt that Henry Cavill looks the part physically, and the brief dialogue snippets suggest that he sounds it, too – the gruff nature of his first line is a bit distracting, but in the sequence that closes the trailer (in which we can assume he’s talking to Lois) he exudes the calm, open authority shown by his predecessors Reeve and Routh. It’s early days, of course, but it feels instinctively like the role is in safe hands.
It’s only a shame that – with the possible exception of the cape, which really does look terrific swirling around him both in close-up and during flight sequences – the costume itself just doesn’t feel like any Superman we know. It’s dark, it’s alien, it doesn’t cut an iconic figure when he’s flying. Just like the shield that closes the trailer, it takes something simple and genuinely iconic and overcomplicates it. We’ll probably get used to it, but it’s just a shame that a potentially great Superman isn’t being allowed to look like one. And that’s even before we mention the lack of a spit-curl…
Already, Michael Shannon’s General Zod looks a very different proposition from the classic Terence Stamp version, and it’s unsurprising that Snyder and co would choose to go that way. It’s tricky, though he does have a goatee beard. Which we think you’ll all agree is quite important.
Jonathan Kent, Clark’s adoptive father, is a hugely significant part of the Superman mythos, teaching the young Kryptonian all kinds of important Earthly moral lessons before shuffling off this mortal coil (usually during his son’s late adolescence, and usually leaving the last message that despite all his abilities, Superman can never save everybody). So it’s a little disconcerting to hear, when asked whether Clark should have just “let everyone die” rather than revealing his secret, the answer “Maybe”. We can only hope it’s a bad bit of trailer editing. Perhaps he goes on to say “Maybe not”, or “Maybe there’s another way”, or “Maybe you should put on a red cape and fight crime and hide your identity behind a pair of glasses, lad”.
(It’s also a really tiny nit-picky point, but with a comics nerd like writer David Goyer onboard, it’s odd to hear young Clark call his mother “mom”. Clark calls his parents “Ma” and “Pa”. That’s just a given. Anything else is downright weird.)
We also catch a glimpse of Kal-El’s real parents, confirming that his superhero outfit is a direct descendant of an outfit worn by Jor-El (Russell Crowe).
Lois And Clark
We only get the briefest of glimpses of the marvellous Amy Adams as Lois, and without any dialogue all she can really do is confirm that she hasn’t darkened her hair for the role. Which is fine, frankly, because it’s Amy Adams, and she can do anything she damned well wants.
We’re left to speculate, then, about how significant Lois’ role will be, given how much the trailer struggles to find time for her (as opposed to, say, Clark’s mum and dad) – although it’s worth bearing in mind that, despite its length, this really is still a teaser trailer rather than anything heavily plot-related. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that in what appears to be a sequence where Superman willingly allows himself to be captured by the military, Lois is present – could there be some kind of connection to her ‘army brat’ upbringing and famously Superman-hating father, General Sam Lane?
After a slow start, with long shots and ominous music, the trailer explodes into life shortly before the end, with a series of quick cuts that are hard to make out, but which do seem to imply that Snyder is holding nothing back when it comes to the big action sequences. We appear to see large (Kryptonian?) spaceships arriving on Earth, Superman being confronted by a battalion of soldiers, Metropolis being devastated (with collapsing buildings and swathes of cars being flung into the air by the exploding ground below), the destruction of Krypton (which finally seems to have shed the crystalline look of the Donner movies), a big tornado, the two Kryptonians hurtling towards one-another in a mid-air battle, and Superman flying towards… something big and shimmery and glowing. Possibly in space. Possibly the Phantom Zone?
It also looks as if the director’s instincts for terrible slow-motion action sequences may have been reined in this time – although we’re still trying to figure out what’s going on with that first, literally earth-shattering take-off Kal-El makes. Sure, it looks pretty cool, but it doesn’t seem to make any kind of physical sense, does it?
Perhaps it’s not hugely significant, but it’s interesting to note that two major elements are missing from this two-and-a-half minute trailer: firstly, while we see lots of Clark-as-Clark, he’s never shown in glasses (we don’t even know if he’ll get around to starting work at the Daily Planet, although Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White does make a fleeting appearance). And secondly, the word Superman does not actually appear at any point (at least, not until the credits make reference to its creators, Siegel and Shuster).
Some of these points, along with the general tone of the thing, seem to add up to a film that feels slightly uncomfortable that it’s even a Superman film in the first place. Certainly, while the plot points are there, it doesn’t feel at the moment like it’s drawing heavily on the iconography of the character, or anything else that makes his status in the superhero pantheon so significant.
Yet there’s also plenty to be optimistic about in this – the scale of it, the confidence of the leads, the fact that the director may be toning down his worst excesses – and so long as it doesn’t turn out to be yet another two-and-a-half-hour gloom affair, it could yet be a pretty great superhero flick.
And let’s face it, there really are few things as great as seeing brand new footage of Superman elegantly soaring through the air. That alone pretty much guarantees our ticket…
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