Trailer Tuesday: Man of Steel

Unquestionably one of the most highly anticipated films of 2013 is Man of Steel, a reboot of the cinematic Superman franchise. Delayed by 6 months from its original December 2012 release, the superhero movie is now positioned as one of the blockbuster biggies of the US Summer.

Man of Steel is intended to replicate the style, tone and (hopefully) success of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, centred on fellow iconic DC Comics character Batman. In other words, audiences should expect a  "darker," "more realistic" Superman. This said, it's not so much that Superman has had his powers toned down. Rather, he's functioning in a universe where his attitude, and that of the public, is different from what we've seen onscreen before. Instead of Supes reveling in his godlike abilities, and humanity gazing up at him in open-mouthed awe, everyone is terrified. Superman included.

There's enough evidence in this first full trailer, as well as the earlier teasers (here and here), that Man of Steel positions Superman, AKA Kal-El, AKA Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), as someone who has spent his whole life feeling like a freak. Sent by spacecraft from the doomed planet of Krypton by his parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer), Superman crash-lands on earth as a baby and is raised by a Kansas farmer and his wife.

Superman's special abilities surface in adolescence, and overwhelm him in a way that's not dissimilar to schizophrenia or other "shameful" mental illnesses. As he struggles to control his powers, his worried human parents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), encourage him to hide his potential in case the authorities find out.

Isolated and ignorant of his origins, adult Superman wanders around as a loner, striving to find his purpose while keeping a low profile. That purpose appears when fellow Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his sidekicks arrive on Earth. Superman must step out from the shadows and win the trust of humanity as he seeks to defend them against his own alien kind. No doubt instrumental in changing the public's opinion will be Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and her principled editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne).

Just as the Dark Knight trilogy pillaged Batman-related comics lore, I think we can expect Man of Steel to do the same with decades of Superman content. The film's plot synopsis, and trailer, suggest that 2 recent tales will be especially influential: Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu, and Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis. Both books examine twentysomething Superman's decision to don a cape and tights for the first time, set against a "credible" 21st Century backdrop.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see if "emo Superman" works as a concept. Psychological anguish is certainly a more natural fit with the brooding character of Batman than the Big Blue Boy Scout. I have no problem with the filmmakers striving for more realism, but you really don't want to suck all wonder from the film. Superman is one of the ultimate wish fulfillment characters for audiences after all. Making him shameful about his superpowers doesn't ring true.

For the record, it's Warner's favourite Zack (Watchmen, 300, Sucker Punch) Snyder in the director's chair although so far there's been little indication in the marketing material of his usual visual flair. With Man of Steel's muted colour palette and grim faces all round, you feel far more the influence of Christopher Nolan as producer-writer alongside his Dark Knight scripter David S. Goyer.

There's a lot riding on Man of Steel. It's success will likely determine if the Justice League film (DC's answer to Marvel's The Avengers) will go ahead. At this point I personally don't care about the Justice League though. I'm just holding thumbs that the new Superman movie is an awe-inspiring experience, and makes the character "cool" again.

Man of Steel opens in North America in 2D, converted 3D and IMAX on 14 June. The film releases in South Africa on 28 June.

Read my previous post on Man of Steel here and here.


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