Oh boy, here we go! :)
First I’ll remind people that I am horribly picky when it comes to Superman and I have pretty strong opinions on how he should be and what interpretation of him is best and most interesting. Unfortunately, the Superman I prefer tends to run against the grain of what DC has been doing as of late, and in a lot of ways, the Man of Steel trailer is no different.
I also keep my expectations very low, because then in the worst case scenario, my concerns are confirmed, and in the best case scenario, I am pleasantly surprised (even if it’s still not everything I would want.) This is what allowed me to really like The Dark Knight Rises, even if it was rife with problems: I went in with no expectations, and it was at least better than The Dark Knight, which I knew I disliked.
The first trailer/teaser/whatever you want to call it was kind of “eh.” In this day and age, great special effects are more or less a given, and even horribly written movies like 2012 and Transformers have great special effects. This can sort of save a movie in some cases, like James Cameron’s Avatar, at least rendering it a visual treat if nothing else, but for a source material like Superman (which we all know I adore endlessly) it needs to be more than just looks.
I couldn’t stand the second.
I don’t know. I can see some merits — it certainly looks like it’ll reach a grand scale, which is Superman enough, but it also doesn’t really have the visual I would associate with Superman. Maybe they’re trying to take it away from the Reeves’ era, but the dark, dingy tones, Superman almost constantly being cast in shadow, the repeated imagery of him alone in wastelands (farmland, the sky, the arctic) doesn’t click with me. I associate Superman with his family, co-workers, friends, and the general grandiosity and richness of his life. Seeing him alone is almost exhausting; he’s not alone and he’s never really been alone in his “canon”, he might be the last Kryptonian (barring the endless survivors that pop up) but he’s never been alone in the sense that he’s had his parents, his extended family, his coworkers… you get the idea. Having Superman actually have an moment of aloneness only works if it’s not happening all the fricking time, and by constantly showing us how ALOOOOOOONEEEEE he is not only takes all the impact out of that, but also discounts all the people he loves and relies on, and the people who rely on him. This is a guy who just about everyone (barring Lex Luthor, haha) would want to invite in for dinner if he dropped by their neighbourhood. The reason why it’s called the “Fortress of Solitude” is practically because it’s the only hangout on Earth that Superman can go and not be surrounded by living creatures. If they want me to feel or sympathize with how alone Superman is, they should probably stop making that the status-quo.
Aloneness worked for Batman in the Nolan trilogy because he was either forcing solitude upon himself by running around the world and keeping people at arm’s length because of his relentless work ethic, or because he actively drove people away from him. That doesn’t work for Superman because he is not a character who pushes away others: when he has a problem he visits his parents and talks to them. He opens up to his wife. He goes to Jor-El in the fortress. I think this effort to make him more like Batman is out of a misdirected attempt to not only make Superman more popular by using Batman’s formula, but also the childish fear of Superman not being taken seriously because being kind or caring about his family and company is supposedly weak in a muscle-bound male character.
And, granted, a lot of those things are problems I have noticed in the past bit with Superman as a franchise (but specifically the comics) but they seem to be playing out yet again in the new movie. Additionally, it’s almost like removing Superman’s desire to be with other people wasn’t enough; instead, they had to present Jonathan almost as an antagonist to his son. It stunned me when Jonathan told Clark that the world wouldn’t accept him or wasn’t ready for him, and that Clark maybe should have let a whole busload of children drown. What the fuck! My jaw dropped when I saw it; Jonathan obviously wants to protect his son and doesn’t want to see him abused or hurt by a fearful public or a defensive government, but I do not think that Jonathan would ever advocate that Clark walk away from people in need, much less his peers. I hate saying this, especially given what happened yesterday in Connecticut, but this whole “Clark maybe should have let a busload of children drown” suggestion is horrifying to me –– you’re talking about kids dying in fear and panic, kids not going home to their parents. I am more than a little appalled that Jonathan could say that, given the extreme repercussions of it. Was Clark supposed to watch his classmates die and go home the lone survivor? Was Clark supposed to live knowing he could have done something (with zero risk to himself!) and now there are dozens of grieving families? It makes me shudder, it really does.
Say what you want about Smallville, but that same scene with Schneider’s Jonathan Kent would have been Jonathan putting his hand on Clark’s shoulder and saying, “We can deal with the consequences later. For now, all that matters is that those kids survived and got to go home to their families.” Schneider’s Jonathan Kent feared what would happen if people found out the truth about Clark, but he never, ever would have advocated Clark stand back and do nothing when literally no one else could do what he could do, and that is precisely how it should be. Superman should be drawing strength from his family, not paranoia and grief, and Jonathan Kent should absolutely not be trapping his son like that. He and Martha should be Clark’s rock, someone he can turn to for advice and support. I absolutely cannot stand it when this idea of Superman as some idealized, god-level being extends to depicting him as lording over even his parents: “Superman and his well-intended but ultimately out-of-their-league parents” is nowhere near as interesting to me as “Superman and the amazing parents who shaped who he is today”.
This all culminates in one basic fact: I think this trailer tells me that they’re going to completely miss out on how human Clark is in favour of reminding us how alien he is. I get that people fear characters with strong principles and unwavering commitment when it’s not like, some Liam Neeson character, but this “I’M ALL ALONE, MY LIFE IS SUFFERING, WHAT IS MY PLACE IN THIS WORLD” Superman has far outstayed its welcome. I want a Superman with conviction, who will be like “Hey, people of Metropolis, I am here for you, if you’ll accept me,” not a Superman who stalks through lonely ice-fields feeling utterly out of touch with a world he has lived in for his entire life. Yes, he should question where he comes from, yes, he should question what it means to be an alien in a world of humans, but that should never change the fact that Earth is his home and he feels connected to it regardless of whether he wants to make more connections. His quest for answers about his alien self shouldn’t automatically trump his connection to Earth and its people. The depth of thinking in this project seems pretty shallow, as far as they’ve demonstrated so far, and I’m not entirely unsurprised; it’s easier for audiences to connect with a cipher. It’s like, I dunno, the 2009 Star Trek movie; the fastest way for them to tell you about a character like Kirk is to exaggerate particular traits (foolhardy, womanizing, etc) and even if you throw subtlety out the window most of the time, it does its job and the audience is happy. I see that coming from a mile away with this Superman movie, and the traits they’ve chosen to define Superman are “alone” and “troubled” or something. Maybe even “DARK!!!!!! EDGY!!!!!!!!” given this absurd fixation with making Superman more like Batman.
Even little bits like that shot of Superman walking down the hall flanked by guards, all stern-looking and handcuffed (?) seems extraordinarily strange to me, and doesn’t demonstrate much critical thought to how Superman would act in that kind of situation. Sure, I’m missing context, but strictly as it is: if Superman is trying to gain the public’s trust (as he should be) there is no reason for him to be looking surly, dangerous or otherwise threatening. I f he needs an escort to talk to some military higher-up or director of security or blah blah, he’s going to go willingly and he’s going to be somewhat candid about it. Serious, sure, but not like a dour prisoner being marched. If Superman wants to be trusted, he has to give them no reason to doubt his intentions, no reason to question his motives, no reason to think he’s a threat. Just the fact that they fuck up something that is so obvious as a part of Superman’s character (or any character who is trying to gain the trust of a wary military/political body) tells me they don’t have a tone that makes sense for Superman. It’s just this shady Batman thing. Batman operates on fear and intimidation because he has no intention of being party to a law enforcement body he sees as corrupt, and because his image is generally for the purpose of scaring the shit out of criminals. Superman operates on open honesty because he believes first and foremost in having the support of the people and open communication with them, as they benefit more from living in safety knowing Superman is watching over them and COMFORT than they do in fear of this god-like alien with suspicious motives.
I don’t care if the general public thinks it’s sappy; Superman will, as Grant Morrison aptly put it, always stop to save a drowning puppy or dry the tears of a child. This Man of Steel Superman looks intimidating and unfriendly in basically every picture and still I have seen of him so far. Nothing in this trailer is visually distinctive as Superman aside from the Superman suit. There’s no sense of fun, no sense of adventure. It’s just the Sufferings Of An Alien Bemoaning His “Destiny.” It’s just frustrating and nihilistic to me, because I don’t think Superman should ever be a dreary art film.
People have said to me, re: my opinions on this, that it doesn’t matter: they’re “re-imagining” Superman, so it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t match up to previous interpretations of the character. To that I respond with this: let’s re-imagine James Bond as a goofy Michael Cera type, and make the plot of his next movie, oh, I don’t know… something out of a Spy Kids movie. How well do you think that will go over with James Bond fans? You have to remember that Superman is STILL best-known by the general public for the Christopher Reeves days, and the majority of Superman fans I know (including my dad) still consider that to be “classic” Superman. I don’t know many people my age who care about Superman, and most that do are fans of Smallville, which has ALWAYS grounded Superman as not only a human character, but also as a character intensely connected to his loved ones. Even in Smallville’s darkest days, he was never remotely close to this dark Batman thing they have going… so I guess this new movie is aimed at my age group (but male) trying to make new fans out of guys who prefer Batman… but are still going to look at Superman as not being good enough to be Batman. I don’t know, it just seems like they’re trying to remake Superman into something he’s not. I’ve seen people excited over this movie because it looks like a Superman movie they would watch, but Superman Returns was fucktons of dreary self-pitying and whipping and nobody liked that. Are people going to be won over by actual fight scenes? I dunno. Maybe. Maybe this movie will have tremendous success. Who knows! (Not that financial success isn’t an indicator of quality, if you look at all the top selling movies of the past year or something.)
And all that said, I’m still going to go see it. Despite my laborious and long complaints, I might be surprised (and I hope I am.)
But on a slightly different note, I will tell you what would have made me jump out of my seat with joy:
If this was a trailer for SuperGIRL, not Superman.
Talking on the phone with Emmy about the trailer last night, it occurred to me that the tone and mood of the trailer would have been fucking phenomenal if it was Supergirl, and now I’m internally rolling with frustration at the lost potential.
Think about it: In Supergirl you’ve got a protagonist who wants to be a heroine for the public, wants to do the right thing and wants to be liked and have the same relationship with the public that her cousin enjoys. She is also someone who makes mistakes and grows from it, someone who is trying to find her way in the world and find out where she belongs, someone who is often told the world isn’t ready for her. And she is alone: she came to Earth looking for a baby cousin only to find herself with a grown-up Kal-El who doesn’t know much about his own people, and instead is just as human as the rest of these strange new people. She has to be someone she isn’t under a secret identity, unlike Clark, who just shows different sides of himself when he switches between Superman, Kal-El and Clark Kent and has been Clark Kent his entire life. There is not a single other person in the world who has the life experiences she has, not even Kal. She is alone.
Hell, that entire quote by Jonathan about how THE WURLD JUST ISNT READY 4 U CLARKKKK would work perfectly from Kal to Kara: “I don’t think the world is ready for a Supergirl.” She doesn’t have decades of experience with her abilities or with human culture: can she really go public when she’s a newcomer to the planet and her own new abilities?
This is a girl who hasn’t grown up amongst humans, and is more alien than human, unlike Superman, who is, for all intents and purposes, human. Not that Superman didn’t work to be accepted and find his way and come to terms with himself and all, but that’s a story that’s been done to death in the recent decade (most notably with Smallville) and it’s such wasted potential to tell it again with Superman when you have Supergirl basically untapped on the big screen. (Barring that old Slater movie, haha, but who knows that one?)
You’ve also got a fighting style that is a lot more fun than Superman as far as “big screen action scenes” go! It’s ludicrous for Superman to be throwing enemies through buildings and beating people with cars and causing fucktons of unnecessary collateral damage and further risking civilian lives when he’s had his powers for ALL HIS LIFE and has basically no excuse for not being able to control them. He’s also got an immense, immense amount of self-control and patience, even in the face of his worst enemies and horrible cruelty and all that. But Supergirl can be spontaneous, let loose, go wild much easier than Superman can. Her temper is short. She can do a lot more damage, seeing stopping the bad guy by whatever means necessary as a bigger priority than not fucking up Metropolis in the process.
She is infinitely more suited to the thing they have going for Man of Steel and they’re wasting it on Superman, a character who isn’t even like that.
Supergirl is the beautiful bridge between Batman’s darkness and alienation from a normal human life, Superman’s open honesty and personableness, and Wonder Woman’s balance between peace and violence. I love her so dearly and she is one of my favourite characters and if this was Supergirl: Girl of Steel, I would be screaming with joy with every new bit of news.
But sadly, this ain’t that world.
Sorry this got so long :) And sorry about the formatting! Hopefully I’ve fixed that now.
P.S. ALSO WHAT WAS WITH THE MUSIC????? IS THIS LORD OF THE RINGS: SUPERMAN OR SOMETHING?????????? STOP THAAAAT.