MAN OF STEEL Teaser Trailers Channel Terrence Malick, and Why I’m Not a Superman Fan

Man of Steel (2013) – First U.S. and International Teaser Trailer (2012) – Movie Directed by Zack Snyder – Trailers Starring Henry Cavill, Kevin Costner, and Russell Crowe.

I’m not a huge Superman fan, but for as much grief as I like to give Superman fans (especially when it comes to him being killed in the mainstream DC by a Hulk knock-off), I don’t hate the character. He’s just not that interesting to me to read about on an ongoing basis, and I’ve argued long and hard that there’s not a single superhero who does less good with more powers than Superman, but then, the whole point of Superman isn’t about sacrifice or justice as much as it is a grand mythology about the realization of the American Dream. What Superman represents is the idea that yes, you can have it all without many complications – one great career, one great love (or two, perhaps, one for the adolescent and one for the adult), perfect parents, small town values, making it in the big city, and you get to play dress up and save the world, too. Superman often represents the kind of “pat yourself on the back liberalism” that allows you to make a small difference in the world and not feel guilty about your gorgeous downtown apartment, or your second, vacation home in the, er, Arctic. (Or wherever the Fortress of Solitude is being kept this year.)

If I was in charge of writing Superman for DC, I’d focus on that disconnect between what you want and what you can do. I’d focus on the idea that here’s a man that can do practically anything, so where do the boundaries lie? What’s acceptable and what isn’t? When do the heroic actions of one man begin to annoy the people he’s protecting? How much does nationalism play in his decisions? Can he act in a certain way inside Metropolis that he can’t outside of the city limits?

I would make him very thoughtful and I would make him feel every action he takes before, during, and after he makes it. I would make him very alien, very anachronistic, and very god-like, and these qualities would make him isolated, and he would feel less alone when he was alone in the Fortress of Solitude than when he was surrounded by people in Metropolis. I would make Lois his conduit to humanity for the important stuff, and Jimmy his conduit to the silly stuff, and they would know that Superman is Clark Kent is Kal-El because secret identities among close friends are ponderous to write about.

He would be in love with Lois, but reticent to admit these feelings, and she would intrigued by him, first as a story and then as her own feelings grew, she would be conflicted over whether she was in love with Superman or Clark Kent or Kal-El.

He would not be simply a ponderous, existential being, however. He would love humanity and would love to explore it. To overcome his guilt at not being able to stop every crime everywhere because of the importance of allowing humanity to find his own way (something he would have learned from both sets of parents), he would be the kind of man who, on a whim after watching a particularly good movie, would fly to Turkey to try shawarma, which would lead to flying to Nigeria the next night to try that nation’s version, and then to the Philippines, Israel, Mexico, wherever … he would revel in meeting new people and cultures. In short, anything he needs to learn from experience instead of from a book or documentary or Kryptonian computer.

He would work as a newspaper journalist, but he wouldn’t be covering the hard-hitting stories that Lois covers. No, he’d be the “man about town,” writing stories about the every day Metropolitan and what their life was like: unrest in the Armenian community one day, a shiny new Little League field the next.

His stories would have a consistent theme: one man or one woman or one child or one abandoned dog can make a difference.

None of this would work on a monthly basis inside the DC Universe, of course, unless you found a way to work it around having punch fights with colorful villains, and that wouldn’t be all that interesting to me, and not just because, of every major hero at Marvel and DC, Superman has, by far, the worst Rogues’ Gallery. (Of course, since I’ve only dabbled in Superman stories the past 10-15 years, maybe someone’s already done it and I’m missing out on good stuff. The only Superman stuff I’ve made a point to read in that time was the Kurt Busiek-penned material, and while I liked it, I just didn’t find Superman an interesting enough character to keep reading.)

It does partly explain, however, why I’m so taken with the first teaser trailers for next year’s MAN OF STEEL cinematic reboot from Zack Snyder. First and foremost, I’m more interested in MAN OF STEEL because it’s a Zack Snyder film than because it’s a Superman film. Whatever flaws Snyder’s films have, I love watching them because he’s a guy who – overused term alert – is a visionary filmmaker. No one else makes films like him, and because Superman is such a mythically entrenched character, I think turning him over to a visionary artist who understands comic books is the right way to go.

During Comic Con last week, DC showed the first teaser trailer, now they’ve made them available for wide release. There are two versions, an American version where the voice over is done by Kevin Costner (who will play Jonathan Kent in the film) and an international version voiced by Russell Crowe (who will play Jor-El).

They’re completely fantastic. Both of them strike a powerful, thoughtful tone, and Snyder (or the teasers, at least) are delivered in way that they remind me strongly of Terrence Malick’s best film, The Thin Red Line, with the camera’s contemplative focus on the natural world, an off-center framing of people, and the beauty of ordinary human events. (Thin Red Line also used clothes drying on a line to represent home.) They plug into the idea that one man can make a difference, yet with differing tones. Jonathan’s words of advice are more open-hearted, allowing Clark to choose his own path, while Jor-El’s are more forceful and direct, insisting that Kal-El will lead humanity into a brighter future. While neither Jonathan nor Jor-El says, “With great power comes great responsibility,” I’m pretty sure both men would recognize the wisdom in Uncle Ben’s advice to his nephew, though they would differ on the application of those words.

It is a good idea to not make too much hay about a teaser trailer, but almost everything here works. The only part of either trailer that fails for me is the one part that clearly depicts Superman. There’s just no way for me to look at that and not think, “That shot is cooler in every single trailer Iron Man has been in.” Much better is the POV of Superman flying over the cloud-covered city, which strikes a beautiful tone to match a beautiful image. I doubt Warner Brothers would let Snyder bring a Malick-like approach to the entirety of MAN OF STEEL, but maybe I’m wrong. Whatever the film turns out to be, I am more interested now that I’ve seen the teasers than I was before.

Believe me, I have two short stories and a review of X-Men: Wolverine to write, and today is the day Atomic Anxiety’s Superhero Month turns its attention to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, and writing about Batman Begins will encompass a lot more than the film after the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado. I hadn’t intended to spend an hour pondering Superman, but I’m so taken with these teasers that I felt compelled to write about a character that I neither hate nor love.

First up, the United States teaser for MAN OF STEEL:

And now the international teaser:

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8 thoughts on “MAN OF STEEL Teaser Trailers Channel Terrence Malick, and Why I’m Not a Superman Fan

  1. Definitely good trailers. I’m really interested to see how this movie turns out. The last attempt at Superman just… well, let’s just leave it at “it really didn’t work” for now… so the reboot has my attention. More-so if it is what kicks off an attempt at an Avengers style JLA movie down the line.

    I’m also really interested in how Michael Shannon’s Zod stands up to Terrance Stamp’s take on the character. For my money, Stamp’s Zod has got to be one of the finest comic book villains committed to film (along with Molina’s Doc Ock and Hiddleston’s Loki).

    Otherwise though, I tend to agree with your take on Superman (and the sorts of stories that would make him a compelling character, but would never work in the comics). He really doesn’t do anything for me. He’s too perfect. Like that short film I linked you on fb, the character does anything and everything just about perfect all the time. He is an unbeatable, perfect messiah figure who’s biggest ‘flaw’ is that sometimes he’s too good at things. That makes for great stories for children, or anyone else who just wants to sit back and see the world in black and white. For adults looking for a little nuance, however, there’s just not a lot there (in my mind). To try to make Superman stories compelling for an adult audience DC has had to come up with one convoluted plot contrivance after another, be it a rainbow sherbet of kryptonite flavors that all do something different or yanking a Hulk clone out of their @ss.

    I like my heroes a little flawed (sometimes a lot flawed). The Hulk, is basically Marvel’s version of Superman. He’s an essentially invincible force of nature who, when he puts his mind to it, can and has beaten everything in his path. Yet he’s also just about the most seriously flawed major hero in the history of comics. He’s got multiple personality disorder, parent issues, rage issues, and on occasion has no control over his actions at all… That, my friend, is entertainment.

    • Yeah, Superman is a great guy, but not a great character in a monthly, traditional superhero format. I think it was Mark Waid who said that everyone has one great Superman story in them and I’m more interested in reading everyone’s “one great Superman story” than I am reading about him on a monthly basis. He’s got enough fans, though, so I don’t expect DC to change Big Blue on my account.

  2. Well, I’m a Superman fan, always have been. But that’s because I’m attracted to pro-active characters who actually do things and I like superheroes who enjoy being superheroes and not the “woe is me, why was I cursed with these powers” brand of superheroes.

    But I have to say I love your take on Superman and you’re right, DC would never go for a regular monthly series based on your ideas. It would definitely work for a series of Superman novels where you could have the wordage to get into the themes and ideas you’d like to explore. Shame you’re not writing fan fiction anymore. If you were writing a Superman series like the one you outline, it would be a Must Read for me.

    First time I’m hearing that Zod is the villain in this and that doesn’t turn my crank at all. Aren’t we tired of Zod yet? At least I am. And yes, I’m tired of Lex Luthor as well. But as you accurately point out, Superman has the worst rogue’s gallery of any superhero.

    • Agreed, the modern trend toward high-pathos, self loathing/self-doubting heroes gets a bit stale. And I’ll admit I haven’t been following the Superman books more than passively for years (and the New Krypton story had some fine moments), so my blanket generalization may be very far from the truth at this point.

      I’ll third the weak rogues gallery sentiment. I can’t help but think this could be part of why Supes never did it for me. I am a little surprised that, at least to this point, it’s not looking like Lex will be in MoS at all. When he is re-introduced I hope it’s as the modern, loved-by-the-people philanthropist who really feels like killing Superman is the ‘right thing’ for Earth (and if he gets rich off it, so much the better). That vision of Lex is so much more compelling than the old school gangster Hackman (and Spacey playing-Hackman-playing-Lex) put on screen.

      • I’m guessing Man of Steel might follow the Batman Begins model and introduce the idea of Luthor at the end of the film, to whet people’s appetites for the sequel.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if that story pops up somewhere, Derrick. Just won’t be called “Superman.” Although, it does seem to me that the lesson of 50 SHADES OF GREY is that we can totally publish all the fanfic we’ve ever written so long as we change the names/identifiable characteristics prior to making money off it.

      I’m tired of Zod, too, but at least it’s not Luthor. And do we really want to see Parasite lumbering around?

      What I’d do – since I’m in the mood to be giving DC advice these days – is set the entire Man of Steel trilogy around an Apokolips invasion of Earth, eventually building to Darkseid vs. Superman in MoS3. But I would be totally and utterly shocked if Marvel Studios didn’t drop Thanos into Avengers in part to block or discourage DC using Darkseid in their JLA movies. That’s just how the public thinks – if one company uses a big purple guy the other company gets called a copycat for using a big purple guy. Thanos is a great villain, obviously, but at some point when they were decided which villain comes next, they had to realize if they didn’t use Thanos now there was a risk of not being able to use him once DC started using Darkseid on the big screen.

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