As we have done before, so shall we do again.
Here’s the very, very serious trailer for Warner Bros.’ new Superman movie, to which are pinned the hopes and futures of the studio remaining solvent with both the Harry Potter and Dark Knight series now concluded. Follow along as you like.
Open – 0:12
Corporate logo time. Our font theme this time around? “Gray, under-lit brushed metal.”
0:12 – 0:20
“Person floating underwater” used to be a universal cue for uneasy contemplation in movies. Now, it tends to mean “brief respite from large action sequence.” See also: The post-explosion silence (save for ringing ears) slow-motion “appraisal of hopeless situation” moment in every action film since Saving Private Ryan. Bonus cliché points for choirboy choral singing.
These are the times I miss seeing trailers in front of movies first, by the way – the build-up to “Oh! This is Superman!” in this is actually really well done, but since I’m watching this on a web video window with a big MAN OF STEEL title above it I’m instead distracted by trying to figure out what could be going on here (plausible guess: Clark Kent has either just finished or is about to start saving people from a fiery disaster at sea, maybe a boat or oil-rig explosion).
0:20 – 0:21
Nice to see the comic/cartoon tradition of the presence of a full beard being the indicator for “Superman is not himself today.” Also does a good job further concealing what movie this is from the tiny handful of audience members who might already know who Henry Cavill is.
0:22 – 0:30
Young Clark (has to be, yes?) runs out of a classroom, hides in a closet and covers his ears following harsh close-ups of pencils and blackboards. I’d bet money that the context of this scene is “my super-hearing just now kicked in and I’m freaking the hell out.” I’m sure it’ll be a good scene (it’s been a good scene whenever they do it in the X-Men cartoons/comics/movies, which is often) but I kind of wonder what sense it makes? Superman doesn’t “gain” his abilities, he has them because physics and physiology differ between Earth and Krypton. Traditionally, he’s already “super” as a baby (Smallville also ripped off the “powers-as-puberty metaphor” to a degree, right? I never paid much attention).
0:31 – 0:37
Introduction of Diane Lane in old(ish) age makeup as Martha “Ma” Kent.
… Huh. Y’know, it never occurred to me before, but Batman and Superman both had mothers named Martha. I don’t recall that coincidence ever being remarked upon in the comics, which is kind of odd.
Anyway, it’s Ma Kent who’s been speaking over all the clips thus far, teaching Clark some self-control techniques. Given the somber, broody tone of the piece so far and the presence of somber broody specialist Christopher Nolan as producer and story-guider make it a safe bet that “suffering the burden of tremendous power” will be a main theme here.
Random shot of shoreline rocks. The most common “pithy” observation about this trailer you’ll hear from movie-persons about the style in place here will be “it looks like Terrence Mallick made a superhero movie!” This is a Terrence Mallick movie. We should be so lucky.
0:41 – 0:49
Teenaged Clark rescues Smallville from a sequel to The Sweet Hereafter. Accusatory dialogue: “My son was in the bus. He saw what Clark did.” Hm. Okay, now you’ve got my attention. If the “modernized” hook of this new Superman is that, if a godlike superbeing actually did appear in our midst, we’d shun him out of jealousy and/or terror even if he tried to help? Okay, that could be interesting.
0:50 – 1:02 “You have to keep this part of yourself secret.” “What was I supposed to do, just let them die?” “…Maybe.”
Introduction of Kevin Costner as Jonathan “Pa” Kent, sensational casting if I ever heard it.
So, our working theme seems to be “Clark and Clark’s parents struggle with what he should actually do with his abilities.” Subtle but interesting change – usually, the fact that he happened by chance to come into the care of a completely moral, utterly decent, classically all-American Kansas farm couple is the shorthand answer to why Superman becomes a benevolent Christ figure instead of trying to conquer humanity. It’s a more “realistic” take, definitely … not sure how I feel about it.
1:05 – 1:08
Adult (?) Clark in a glowy cave. Presumably, this is The Fortress of Solitude. Oh, and look! Trendy JJ Abrams Star Trek-style lens flare. Yuck. C’mon, Zack… you’re better than that.
The beard is not a good look for him. Maybe that’s deliberate, so he’ll immediately look “right” to us when he shaves it off … but it’s still not a good look.
Hard to tell if this is a ring or some kind of key, but whatever it is has the “House of El” Crest (aka “The Superman Symbol”) on it. Wouldn’t be surprised if this is this movie’s equivalent of the green Kryptonian crystal that Clark used to create/access the Fortress and his father’s storehouse of knowledge and instruction.
Probably a good time to get this out of the way: YES, I think it’s both appropriate and necessary to tell Superman’s origin story again, especially if – as seems to be the case – this time the origin is less about how he got here/grew up than it is about why he decided to adopt a secret identity and dedicate his life to selfless super-altruism. Yes, everybody knows Superman’s origin, but most have only seen it (as performed by humans) once in the 1978 Christopher Reeve movie that casts such a long, intimidating shadow over all subsequent adaptations. Finally getting out from under that shadow is essential to Man of Steel‘s success, and establishing firmly that this is new Krypton, and new Jor-El, a new Ma & Pa Kent, etc. is a step that must be taken…
… Just not for the entire movie, hopefully.
1:14 – 1:23
Superman goes for a walk. I like how bold the reds and blues of the costume look in these shots – in a lot of the publicity material it’s looked a bit muted (the wonders of digital color-correction, folks).
1:25 – 1:29
Henry Cavill, looking more like himself. World, meet your new Superman. Gotta admit – he is one handsome dude. If the casting target was “looks like an Alex Ross painting of Superman (but a little younger because, y’know, Hollywood),” mission pretty much accomplished.
1:30 – 1:38
Superman, powering up before takeoff. I love this shot – it’s a steal from an old anime/manga trope, having rocks, dust and ambient debris vibrate and float to convey a being radiating great power – because it indicates they’ve understood that you need to sell the awesomeness of just how powerful this guy is through things other than just feats of strength.
Speaking of which …
1:38 – 1:44
Whoa. Okay. That’s how you turn “You’ll believe a man can fly” into “Holy sh*t! That guy can fly!” If nothing else, Zack Snyder knows how this stuff should look.
1:46 – 1:47
Very brief shot (unfinished FX, probably) of a massive hole being blown into a city, either by a giant laser punching into it or a giant laser erupting out of it. Hm. Okay, suffice it to say, Superman will be up against something a little bigger than Lex Luthor’s real estate schemes in this one … although isn’t this awfully similar to the big Bad Guy Weapon from the Star Trek reboot?
Actually, Lex isn’t even in this, supposedly, which means he’ll either show up or be teased at the very end to be set up as the villain of the sequel. Because that’s how Batman Begins used The Joker and that sequel made a gazillion dollars so that’s what you do now.
Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer as Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s biological parents. Zurer is an Israeli television star whose biggest previous exposure was starring in Angels & Demons as the female lead.
Here’s a shot that kills two birds with one stone: Borrowing the “here’s some beefcake for the ladies” shot that worked out so well for the Thor and Captain America trailers and reinforcing the promise to remind everyone that Superman can be cool – because what’s cooler than a guy who doesn’t mind being on fire? Easy guess, this is the beginning of the “Clark is underwater during a fire” scene from the beginning. Pulling people out of a burning building? That looks like a job for Superman!
Spaceship goes boom. Context impossible to discern, but, hey – there’s spaceships. Fun.
Spaceship arrives at what is almost definitely The Kent Farm. Hm. Hmmm.
I really, really, really hope that these are bad aliens calling Superman out for a fight and not Jor-El and/or Lara hand delivering Kal-El to the Kents. The fact that Superman came to the “right” foster family by happenstance, and that he just as easily could’ve turned out disastrously wrong, is one of the most vital things about his characterization. Superman is not Jesus – he’s Moses. It’s an important distinction.
Michael Shannon as General Zod. Michael Shannon as General Zod. You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to just that. Shannon is one of our great “crazy man” actors. You’ve seen him in lots of things, most likely … and after this people will hopefully remember his name.
Apparently, Zod will be sharing villain duties with Faora Hu-UI, who may or may not be the main antagonist. Traditionally, Faora’s “deal” is that she was a Kryptonian serial killer who wanted to wipe out the male gender. I don’t expect that to carry over, because both Snyder and Nolan already have enough “your movies have weird issues with women” baggage to deal with.
Superman knocked down. Be nice to know what that’s about.
Laurence Fishburne (playing Daily Planet editor Perry White, which I’m sure someone is going to find inexplicably infuriating) and what I don’t think is Lois Lane fleeing city destruction. Yup, the action will be big in this.
Unidentified lady in a cape watching destruction. Can’t tell if this is Lara during the end of Krypton or Faora during … something.
I have been back and forth over this frame about thirty times and I cannot tell what is going on here. Superman (maybe?) is tossing some ice around, and maybe there’s a flare? I dunno.
And here’s the shot that became the film’s now infamous teaser poster: Superman in handcuffs, being perp-walked by military personel. The question isn’t “Why can’t he break the cuffs,” folks – the question is “Why doesn’t he?” Presumably, he’s giving himself up to try and reason with the army, who would be at the forefront of the “humanity doesn’t trust Superman” issue if that’s indeed the premise. Especially if the bad Kryptonians reveal themselves first.
(That probably is the rough sketch of the story, by the way: “I dunno if I should be Superman… Oh crap! Bad guys who only I can fight! I guess I should be Superman.”)
Mid-air super-punching. Good.
Bearded Clark doing some heavy lifting amid more flames, probably all part of that watery area rescue sequence.
2:01 – 2:02
Brief shots of stuff we’ve seen from different angles (they must not have that many finished FX shots to work with) plus a quick look at Christopher Meloni as an army Colonel whose role is still a mystery. It’d be fun if he had a scene with Shannon’s Zod, since Shannon once played a memorable Law & Order: SVU villain.
Of potentially greater interest, the man standing next to Meloni is Richard Schiff, whose character is named Professor Emil Hamilton. Hamilton is a minor DC “oddball scientist” character who has more recently evolved into a villain who thinks metahumans (DC-speak for “people with superpowers”) are a threat to humanity. Justice League Unlimited fans will remember him as the Cadmus scientist behind Galatea.
Superman versus a tornado? I’ll take it.
Photo of Young Clark at a science fair. Oh, what a happy Bob I’d be if they brought back some of Superman’s scientist/tinkerer persona from the Golden Age …
Can’t tell if that’s Ma Kent or Lois Lane Superman is hugging (Hello? Goodbye?) here. I guess the takeaway is that Superman is very tall.
Superman, flying toward what I’ll bet is the business end of the city-busting laser thingee. Getting a sinking feeling that whatever this thing is, it will also turn out to be the thing that destroyed Krypton … and that said destruction will turn out to have been a deliberate act of villainy, which would be another instance of missing the point of the story.
Costume closeup. Okay, film/television costume design people? Help me out here … why does every damn piece of clothing worn by people in genre movie now need to be covered with unnecessary seams, lines, details and raised tread-patterns? Is it some kind of compensation for HD? Just a trend? Because it’s odd looking, and I don’t really care for it.
Superman smashes (gets thrown?) into a bank vault, crumpling it like a tin can. Yes. Yes. This is the kind of stuff that’s been missing from Superman movies for a long time.
2:10 – 2:17
Superman continues to face down the army (bet this comes before the handcuffs scene) and we finally get a good look at Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Spoiler: She just kinda looks like Amy Adams.
Verdict: I like the actors, like the scale, intrigued by the story … but I’m very worried about the tone. Fingers crossed.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.