Miguel Penabella | 28 July 2012
The Column is a Free Tea segment that serves as a forum with which to discuss random topics on cinema and topics outside of it in a pseudo-opinionated manner, much like your weekend newspaper column. A little more informal and more concise than your regular Free Tea feature, these pieces are meant to both inform and express personal thoughts on various issues.
Zack Snyder, love him or hate him, but his upcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel looks unlike anything this fanboy director’s ever done. I feel compelled to discuss his two teaser trailers for the film (both visually identical with only a change in the voiceover differentiating the two) because of Christopher Nolan’s involvement in the project and my ongoing Directors Series critical foray into Nolan’s filmography. Firstly, the look and tone of the film really doesn’t feel like a Snyder film at all, substituting his usual gory, slow-motion stylistic brandishing for more somber, introspective shots of rural America. DC Comics’ most powerful, iconic superhero doesn’t receive a booming introduction meant to electrify audiences for breathtaking action, but intimate personal musings on choices and morality. Version one of the teaser features Kevin Costner narrating, “You’re not just anyone. One day, you’re going to have to make a choice; you have to decide what kind of man you wanna grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, he’s going to change the world.” The alternative version has Russell Crowe offering his own voiceover, reciting, “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. 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.”
These are surprisingly contemplative voiceovers that explore issues of human responsibility and growing up, immediately casting these trailers as melancholic pieces of poetry. To add to the weightiness is the fact that both narrators play father figures in the film, with Costner as adopted father Jonathan Kent and Crowe as biological father Jor-El. Already, these teasers hint at a personal journey into the relationship between father and son and the complex, ever-changing notions of masculinity and maturity associated with this bond. Such voiceovers frame the narrative as a more developed story than the underwhelming Superman Returns back in 2006, and the fact that Christopher Nolan and his Batman writer David S. Goyer are present to guide the project only lends more hope for this film. From these teasers, it seems that the filmmakers are more interested in focusing not on Superman but on Clark Kent. Superman doesn’t have any physical weaknesses aside from Kryptonite, but Kent certainly isn’t impermeable to the distrustfulness and hatred of humanity. This hero looks more conflicted, more existentially doubtful because of his vagabond drifting as an aimless hitchhiker and even a fisherman. Yet the voiceovers almost seem to push Kent back towards moral responsibility, reminding him of his unique connection to the human race. In this way, Man of Steel looks spiritual, even directly religious in its framing of the hero as a figure similar to Christianity’s Jesus Christ: split between two distinct roles as all-powerful savior and a human being unsure why he should even help humanity not unlike Martin Scorsese’s powerful character study in The Last Temptation of Christ.
It’s unfortunate though that the marketers decided on such a well known piece of music to accompany the trailer – Howard Shore’s hauntingly beautiful piece “The Bridge of Khazad Dum” for The Fellowship of the Ring – but it’s not surprising either. Let’s not forget the countless uses of Clint Mansell’s “Lux Aeterna” (originally written for Requiem for a Dream) piece in many other promotional videos, including a trailer for none other than The Two Towers. The mood itself sounds fitting to the beautiful cinematography, with shots that evoke Terrence Malick imagery from The Tree of Life: scattershot images of childhood play, rural skies, idyllic fields, untainted nature. So despite the trailer’s mishaps – the final shot of condensation trails streaming behind a fully costumed Superman flying through the air (I honestly don’t know the science behind this) – Man of Steel looks and feels sublime. If Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan execute this film right, we can expect one of the most meditative, existentially solemn superhero adaptations ever filmed. And that’s worth getting excited for.