Seven years after the release of Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns,” Warner Bros. and DC Comics are taking another crack at reviving the onscreen presence of the most recognized name in the comic kingdom. “Man of Steel,” directed by Zack Snyder and starring Henry Cavill in the red and blue tights, pretends Singer’s movie never happened. The stakes for the reboot are high for many reasons, and there is a lot on the line including a big budget and the reputation of Snyder who, since 2006’s “300,” has endured various slings and arrows thanks to "The Watchmen" and "Sucker Punch." However, with Christopher Nolan’s name is attached as a producer, hopes are high that his involvement can yield some of that "The Dark Knight" magic. Finally, there’s little-known Henry Cavill stepping into a role that many consider cursed. Suffice to say, there’s a lot more riding on Superman’s shoulders than the fate of Metropolis.
Expectations were high for the film’s Hall H presentation at Comic-Con this weekend. One would expect that Snyder, no stranger to the Super Bowl of geekdom, would have every intention of presenting something big enough to pacify fans and doubters alike until the film’s June 2013 release. “Superman is a big responsibility. But Superman needed to be introduced to a new generation. We finished shooting, so we're just working on the movie now. The big challenge was if you can make people feel, what would you do if you were Superman. How would you feel?” Snyder said to the Hall H crowd, adding: “There's a little movie that comes out next weekend and we have a teaser in front of that. So I thought maybe you should see that but then I thought maybe I'd show something else too.”
The footage opens on establishing shots of rural Kansas at the Kent house, featuring temp music from Hans Zimmer’s score for “The Thin Red Line” (Zimmer will also be composing the score for “Man of Steel”). Various scenes of Clark Kent as a child, including a key origin moment in which Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) tells Clark he’s not from this world while pulling the sheet off the space pod that brought him to Earth. There’s a brief shot of a bearded adult Clark (Cavill). Other imagery includes teenage Clark saving kids in a sinking school bus; meeting up with his real father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) who reveals he also wears the “S” across his chest; Superman flying up through the clouds; Superman flying down and smashing into a bank vault.
While the overall reaction to the footage in Hall H and across the net was positive, for this viewer it left many questions unanswered. Clearly helped along by the music, the footage contains very little acting per se, but is rather a sort of fan film collage of disjointed moments. Those with some memory might recall the gushing reactions to early bits from Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns.” I guess the point is, compared to (for example) Jon Favreau’s classic footage debut from the first “Iron Man” film in Hall H, which dropped jaws and had everyone talking, Snyder’s “Man of Steel” footage is commendable primarily in the fact that it certainly doesn’t look awful and leaves the door open for the possibility that it might even come somewhere close to meeting the ridiculously high expectations. But the truth is, we don’t know a lot more than we did before seeing the footage.
We would have expected more from Snyder, who seemed almost cocky about the project as he evaded questions about who the baddie would be and appeared almost indifferent to his attendance at Comic-Con, which would actually seem like the perfect place to reveal the villain. What a great one-two punch that would have been with the footage (note the reaction to Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin reveal at the “Iron Man 3” presentation a few hours later). Instead, Snyder and Cavill’s post-footage chat was dreadfully dull. When one Superman fan was so overwhelmed to talk to the two men that he broke into tears, Snyder and Cavill just stared at the man blankly. Thankfully, moderator Chris Hardwick seized the moment and raced down to give the man a hug and coach him into coherence so he could ask his question. It’s a rare day in Hall H when the moderator is the best part of a panel.
Here are a few other highlights from the post-footage discussion:
1. The Basis For "Man Of Steel"
During the audience Q&A section, Snyder was asked whether the film draws basics from specific comic story lines. “I would say it is a mashing of stories and ideas,” says Snyder. “I just wanted to bring the modern Superman into the world. It's for you guys who've been through thick and thin and for everyone else out there. I hope to bring a version that everyone can identify with.”
2. No John Williams
As to whether the iconic John Williams score will make an appearance, Snyder said it would not. Zimmer is certainly a great choice for the film, but he’s got some big shoes to fill stacked against Williams’ classic theme. “When we started working on the movie, the thing we decided was the comic character existed. The movies are their own thing. We had to act as if no movies had been made. Hans is going to do something different and it's going to be awesome,” Snyder promised.
3. Who Would Win In A Fight Between Nolan’s Batman & Snyder’s Superman?
When one fan asked the age-old Superman vs. Batman question in regards to Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight and Snyder’s on Superman, the crowd let out a collective “Oooooh” like a group of kids egging on a potential schoolyard fight. After a pause, Snyder grinned widely. “I love Batman. He's really awesome. But, come on, really?”
"Man of Steel" opens June 14, 2013.