Are Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer the best thing to ever happen to filmmaker Zack Snyder? An amazing visual stylist that deserves full credit there, Snyder’s films like “Watchmen” and “300” look fantastic, but… how do we put it? They’re often lacking real characters, heart and soul (or in the case of “Sucker Punch” just look like a bad video game meets a music video with little substance). But last night’s “Man Of Steel” trailer looks as though Snyder may have turned a corner, perhaps thanks to the script, tones and world set up by Nolan and Goyer. Yes, it’s only a trailer, but as far as mainstream tentpoles go, it’s certainly the most impressive one in recent memory (perhaps since “Prometheus” last year, and yes, we realize that one didn’t turn out the way we hoped).
Simply put, “Man Of Steel” looks rather epic — a mix of deep-rooted character development and incredible action that points to full-on war on Earth. Also, Henry Cavill, something of a question mark as he’s never quite impressed, doesn’t seem completely out of place here, thankfully. The world and context of “Man Of Steel” is unfolding, and much like Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” films, it seems to be rooted in a pragmatic reality, with plausible reasons for elements of the Superman cannon to appear while less plausible lore seems to have been jettisoned completely. We thought we’d take a deeper look, so here are five key elements from the trailer. Note, some minor spoilers are ahead, but it’s stuff that’s already out there if you’ve been paying attention.
1. An Epic War On Krypton Brings Superman To Earth?
In previous iterations of the “Superman” movies (and many of the comic origins), Krypton is seen exploding as a result of a nuclear chain reaction caused by the planet’s unstable radioactive core. Knowing their planet will be destroyed, Superman’s parents send him to Earth in a type of escape pod ship. However, one iteration of the Superman origin features what is known as the Clone Wars (no, they have nothing to do with “Star Wars”) during which Kryptonian science was turned to warfare and several super-weapons were developed and used. And this appears to be exactly what Nolan, Snyder and Goyer went for. A recent issue of Entertainment Weekly reveals that children are not born — “they’re engineered.” Goyer said, “People were bred to be warriors, or scientists or what have you and there’s a whole element of the movie about nature versus nurture.” While it’s not spelled out, based on Goyer’s comments and the trailer, the Clone Wars do break out and create a war that destroys the planet.
And so, much like the original Superman narrative Jor-El (portrayed by Russell Crowe) saves his infant son and sends him to Earth. His mother (Ayelet Zurer) worries that Kal-El will be “an outcast, they will kill him” but the more confident Jor-El says, “No, he’ll be a god to them.” Later on, Jor-El says, “What if a child dreams of becoming something other than society intended?” hinting towards Goyer’s earlier comments. “What if a child aspired to something greater?”
2. Thematic Noise — “You’re the answer to ‘are we alone in the universe?'”
We’ve already discussed the themes of “Man Of Steel” thanks to that awesome Entertainment Weekly article. They include, among many others, alienation, wondering where one belongs, fear of being discovered, reluctant heroism, and a world not ready for super humans. Zack Snyder described it all as “emotional kryptonite” (as the radioactive element won’t be present in these films). Previous trailers had Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) warning his son that he should never reveal his powers because the world would fear him, and while that theme is once again expressed, there’s also inspirational themes of discovery and eventually blossoming into the hero Superman was born to be. “I have to believe you were sent here for a reason,” Pa Kent says. “And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.”
Jor-El adds, “You will give the people of earth an ideal to strive for. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time you will help them accomplish wonders.”
One must add….is this Hans Zimmer’s score? Because whatever it is, it’s wondrous, inspirational and crescendoing (and it does seem like his score). Also, like Zimmer has said, it sounds nothing like his work on “The Dark Knight” films.
3. Emotional Character Building Vs. Action
There’s a lot of incredible looking action in the trailer in its final third, but what’s encouraging throughout is the time spent on character building and emotional depth. There’s a pretty devastating moment where Pa Kent reveals that Clark is not his biological son and he comes from another planet. Clark looks brutally pained and afraid. “Can’t I go on pretending I’m your son?” he says, voice quivering. Pa holds him close. “You are my son,” he says. It’s a brief but excellent moment demonstrating that Goyer, Snyder and Nolan have put in the work — just like they did with the Batman films — to make you invest emotionally and care about the characters beyond the explosions and sure-to-be astonishing visuals. Which leads us to General Zod (Michael Shannon) and the last third of the trailer (and presumably the final third of the movie).
4. General Zod’s Motivation Stems From Supremacy & Patriotism
“You believe your son is safe?” General Zod says in the first moment he is seen in this trailer. But if you look closely, he’s not saying this to Pa Kent, he’s saying it to Jor-El and Lara. Why? Well, if children on Krypton are engineered to be something and Jor-El thinks children can aspire to be something else, it stands to reason that Kal-El has bypassed this engineering, and this could make him both special to the rest of his race and highly illegal on Krypton. Snyder has described Zod as a “supremacist,” but also adds in the recent EW, “He doesn’t really have any malignant feelings towards Superman; he just wants him to be patriotic.” This would mean joining Zod and his forces instead of the people of the Earth, and presumably helping Zod conquer these puny Earthlings. It all makes sense. Zod has already issued a warning to the people of Earth to hand over Superman — presumably after he’s been revealed — and he’s given Kal-El an ultimatum: join us, be part of your true people, or suffer the consequences. “I will find him!” he roars in the trailer at one point (with more than two Kryptonian soldiers at his side, mind you).
5. Lois Lane is chasing the story of Superman
“How do you find someone who has spent a lifetime covering his tracks,” Lois Lane (Amy Adams) says in the trailer. And what’s clear — and confirmed in the recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, is that Lois Lane is a dogged, intrepid journalist chasing reports across the country of a wandering stranger who is capable of superhuman feats of strength (described as a “guardian angel” or a “ghost”). Like a good reporter, she’s got a hunch that these elements are connected. We know that, alienated from the world around him and feeling like he doesn’t belong, Clark leads an nomadic existence working on ships in Alaska at one point. In the trailer we see Clark preventing what appears to be some kind of oil tanker disaster, and for Lois it’s one more lead in a long line of reports of an individual reported to demonstrate superhuman skills and powers.
This also backs up a previous posit of ours. Clark Kent is likely not a Daily Planet reporter in this movie. If Lois Lane is chasing this character and his feats around the country, how could Clark also be one of her colleagues at the newspaper? It’s a bold and radical reinvention of the Superman canonical narrative, but it suggests Nolan, Snyder and Goyer are willing to kill some significant elements of historical lore in order to tell their story. If this is the case, and it truly looks that way, it also jettisons Superman’s nerdy, nebbish Clark Kent alter ego and the traditional Clark and Lois dynamic, and again, these are bold choices that, frankly, we applaud. Getting the Superman character right for a modern setting is difficult — something all the principal parties involved have acknowledged — so ditching anything that can possibly strain or break credulity is a wise decision. The purists may not like it, but that’s tough. Clearly the fractious Lois and Clark dynamic will now become the Lois and Superman dynamic, and to us, the entire concept sounds totally fresh — recontextualizing the Superman narrative without ruining the foundations that make the character who he is.
Extra credit: “S” stands for hope.
Yep, everyone’s noticed it. It’s perhaps the biggest talking point of the trailer. Superman reveals that the “S” on his chest is not an “S” at all, but means hope on Krypton. However, this is not a Nolan/Goyer invention — it’s culled from various elements of the comic, mostly 2004’s “Superman: Birthright” by Mark Wade — but it speaks to the creative team’s desire to keep things as plausible as possible. He doesn’t make a corny suit and dub himself Superman, Lois does, and the suit … Well that’s not totally revealed, but it seems to be some sort of birthright costume his father has given him, and the “hope” may be a Kal-El embellishment.
Bonus extra credit: LexCorp — clever tease for fans or something more?
Nolan and co. tend not to engage in winking at fans without purpose or just for the sake of it, so what can we make of the brief glimpse of the LexCorp building at 2:18 of the trailer? Is this just a throwaway thing for fanboys, for world building, or does it tie into some (very spoilery) rumors that have been kicking around? We’ll find out soon enough.
However the movie lands, “Man Of Steel” seems to have its heart and intentions in the right place, and we’re very cautiously optimistic. How will “Man of Steel” work with a “Justice League” movie and does this movie hint towards that larger universe? Does it set up a world where that super hero universe can coexist? That’s a conversation for another time, but we hope all nods are subtle with no tacked-on closing credits scene that isn’t in character with the rest of the movie. “Man Of Steel” opens on June 14th.