This week I saw The Dark Knight Rises on the second day it opened in the UK and absolutely loved it. I think it was a great finish to the Nolan/ Goyer trilogy. One of the more interesting rumours was that there would be a Man of Steel preview trailer before the film for the Superman movie which comes out next year. And there was one, but it was unlike any Superman trailer I’ve seen before.
When the WB and DC logos first came up I thought I had made a mistake and that this was for a different film, for something I didn’t know about, but I was right the first time. Now, pretty much all of what I’ll mention below is speculation, based on a very short trailer, but I believe I’m on the right lines based on the tone and approach.
There has already been some negativity towards this trailer saying that it looks as if the new Superman film is going to be boring, but I completely disagree for several reasons. Going back a few steps, Bryan Singer, acclaimed film director, rebooted the Superman franchise with Superman Returns and unfortunately it didn’t work. There is a lot I like about Superman Returns, and overall I think it’s a good movie, but it followed in the shadow of the Reeve / Donner juggernaut and rather than try to go in a different direction, Singer’s movie felt like a me-too product and it owed too much to them. It did move the story forward in some ways, which I won’t spoil here for those who haven’t seen it, but it didn’t sit right with a modern audience.
Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer worked on all three of the Christopher Nolan directed Batman movies and as a result they made WB a lot of money because they are all damn good movies. Some might disagree but a lot more agree which is why The Dark Knight made somewhere in the region of half a billion dollars at the box office. So to their credit, WB asked Nolan and the others if they would be involved in rebooting the Superman franchise, who is DC comics other flagship character. Christopher Nolan declined to direct, but he is producing the movie and the screenplay for Man of Steel is written by David Goyer. So behind the scenes you have a lot of the right people already, people that not only have done well in the recent past, but in the case of Goyer here is someone who is a huge comic book fan. Most people forget he brought Blade to the big screen, a character no one outside of comics had ever heard of before and it spawned 3 films and a short lived TV series. Goyer has even written comics himself, so he knows his comics. Zack Synder is directing the movie, and there again, whether you like his movies or not, he knows how to direct action (Watchmen, Sucker Punch, 300).
Looking at the content and the character, Superman is a character I’ve always liked and always admired for what he represents and the ideals he upholds, but in my spare moments I always thought even if given the rare chance to write a Superman story for DC comics, I don’t know that I could. Batman is someone I think I understand, someone I can get behind and I think I could write a Batman story and do it reasonable justice. But Superman always bothered me and part of it is because here is a being that has the power of a God and yet he chooses to use his powers to help people. Why? Why help people? Why not set himself up as a God and rule the planet and live a life of utterly luxury? There are weapons that could harm him and it’s possible human beings would eventually find a way to kill him, but why did he make the choice to inspire, to create hope where none sometimes exists and to set an example that others will hopefully follow?
We’ve seen his origin story a couple of times now in the films, the crashed spacecraft, the cornfields, the childless couple who take him in and raise him as a normal boy until the moment when they can’t anymore. But the movies have always then jumped to him as an adult, coming to Metropolis, joining the Daily Planet, becoming the bumbling reporter Clark Kent. The first Donner movie did touch on some of what went on in between those moments, and the TV series Smallville explored the whole period in school, but sticking to the original material in the comics, we know Clark travelled before coming to Metropolis. Those few years, that time exploring the world is what it looks as if part of Man of Steel will focus on.
I think this is a Superman Begins movie, if you will, in a similar mould to Batman Begins. The boy leaves home and goes on a quest to find himself and a purpose that he will pursue for the rest of his life. An ideal that he will dedicate himself to until either he succeeds or dies trying. The difference here being that Batman works from the shadows, he starts as an urban myth, something to scare criminals and inspire fear in the lawless before becoming a legend. Superman is the other side of the coin. He lives in the sunlight and works in the day, he saves people and he inspires them to greatness. He is also so much more powerful in many ways than Batman, but in order to want to protect humanity, he must also believe in them and see something worth saving. Hence the quest and the quiet, thoughtful moments we’ve seen in the new trailer. I’m sure there will be lots of fighting and flying and punching things, but I’m 35 years old now and I need more than epic fights to keep me entertained. I realise the film has to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, so there will be moments that the 8 year old will find amazing and other parts they find dull with too much talking, but that’s ok, because those are the moments I will probably enjoy the most.
The two short Man of Steel trailers (links below) focus on this quest element. In one Clark’s father, Jonathan Kent, lays it all out for him and tells him that it is up to him to decide who he wants to be and whatever he chooses will affect the entire world. In some ways that’s a terrible thing to say to a child, but Clark is not an ordinary boy, no matter how he might want to be. And to answer my earlier question as to why, why choose to do the right thing with his power? Part of it comes from his parents, Jonathan and Martha, and part of it is because of what he finds when he goes on this epic quest. The Kents raised him to respect life, to treat people fairly and with kindness, regardless of their skin colour, religion, sexuality, etc. There have been countless What If Superman stories where Clark was raised by someone else, and in those stories he chose differently and became the dictator or world leader that ruled through fear, but we are all more like the original than those darker stories, which is why they’re fun, but ultimately don’t resonate.
In the comics Lex Luthor sees himself as the hero and saviour of humanity and in his mind Superman is an alien invader and a ticking time bomb. He knows that it is only a matter of time before Superman decides to change his mind and rule us instead of hiding among us and saving people. What he doesn’t understand and doesn’t know, because his own upbringing was such a mess, is that Clark’s moral core is pretty unshakable because of how he was raised. As much as they could Jonathan and Martha raised their son like any other boy, but there was always the extra aspect to any lesson where they had to tell him just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Clark could have run faster than any other boy and won every medal and award. He could easily punch out the school bully and be adored, but they never told him that might was right.
Coming back to the trailers again, Jonathan knows that despite everything he and Martha taught their son (because to me they are his parents) it is ultimately his choice. Just like any other person on the cusp of becoming an adult and taking those first solo steps into the wider world, Clark must decide who he wants to be and what path he will take. The difference is the impact of his decision is one that will change the entire world, for good or bad. He could do nothing, live as a human, never use his powers overtly and just be a reporter or farmer or fisherman, but beneath his impregnable skin is a human heart, one that doesn’t like to see people suffering and in pain. If you saw a plane falling out of the sky and you had the power to stop it happening, would you really let it fall or would you stop it?
I think in the Man of Steel we’ll see flashbacks to his childhood or a short section focused on it, and thereafter it will be Clark’s quest to understand humanity, to live among them as an anonymous traveller, to find his place in the world before he ultimately puts on the suit. I have no idea if he will even reach Metropolis and become a reporter or not, but that’s actually not that important. What is important is that when a terrible and powerful creature, one equally as powerful as him, finds its way to Earth and decides to take the darker road and rule, he steps forward from the crowd to stop them.
The other trailer focuses on Jor-El, and his view of what Clark will achieve as a figure to inspire humanity to greatness. Clark looks completely human so most people simply assume that Superman is one of them, a man who can fly, a man who can accomplish great and powerful and wonderful things and that the power to do the same is in them. Ok, that’s actually built on a white lie, as Clark is an alien who just happens to look human, but the message is true and although humans may never have his powers, there are many paths to greatness and he represents an ideal to which everyone can aspire. Greatness can be achieved in art, science, mathematics, medicine, music, diplomacy, politics, law and a thousand other ways. A law to ban slavery, an injection to prevent a plague that killed thousands, a formula that allows men to walk on the moon, a law that brings peace and prosperity to a worn-torn nation.
My favourite part of the trailers is not actually what happens at the end, but the other part where he is just an anonymous John Doe, a regular guy trying to find work, to find a purpose, to find something to which he can dedicate his life. I guess that’s because it’s a moment which many of us have faced, or are about to face, or are even facing now as we contemplate the future and the years we have left.
The other great thing about this trailer is that it is different and hopefully it means the movie will be different and approach the source material in a different way. They’ve tried to do a copy of what came before and it didn’t work, so something new is definitely good and overdue. Overall I’m excited, inspired and hopeful about the Man of Steel movie. So, all I have to do now is try to avoid any major spoilers for the next year and hold onto this feeling until the film comes out.