We here at mxdwn Movies like our superheroes, and while personally Batman is nearer and dearer to my heart than Superman, I’ve been very excited about the upcoming Man of Steel. The early trailers looked great, the Snyder/Nolan partnership behind the camera was compelling, and early rumors about the story focusing on Superman’s motivation for being the ultimate Boy Scout signaled a compelling take on a character that can sometimes be a little bland. So why is it that this latest trailer casts a bit of a pall over the proceedings? Really it’s only half the fault of the trailer itself, but that half is so interconnected with the rest of what gives me trepidation that we’re going to dive right in. Oh, and if you haven’t yet seen the trailer in question you should probably watch it first:
At this point, even the mass audience is pretty up to speed on how you do a superhero movie, especially the first for a character or a reboot: You start with the origins story. And, truth be told, we’re too familiar with it. We’re a tired of the origins story. Audiences want more than that now, and that’s understandable, particularly given that this isn’t Superman’s first time on the big screen. Heck, I was of the opinion that The Amazing Spider-Man should have skipped most of the origins story and dove right into the main plot. (Granted, that’s something of a special case because the Sam Rami/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man is so fresh in memory.) That said, what the early trailers promised was a Superman origins story that actually mattered. Batman Begins made being Batman about more than avenging his parents for Bruce Wayne. The motivation to the service of Gotham at large informed the way Nolan’s Batman acted through the entire trilogy. Which brings us back to Superman.
Superman is a bit of an interesting case. Unlike Batman or Spider-Man, he doesn’t really have a direct motivation to be a hero outside that down home, honest to goodness country upbringing from Ma and Pa Kent. Clark grows up, and when he’s old enough he becomes Superman. There have been explorations of his adolescence in various media, of course, but that’s never been the focus of the character. And as Snyder and Nolan smartly pointed out in the first several trailers for Man of Steel, maybe it should be. When young Clark discovers his literally otherworldly powers, why shouldn’t he use them for his own personal gain?
At some point this is still going to boil down to “because he’s a good person,” but, as with much of life, the journey is more important than the destination. We in the audience want a frame of reference for why Superman is Superman and not, say, General Zod, particularly when the character involved possesses near limitless power. And we’ve arrived once more at the trailer.
The only references to Superman’s origins story in this trailer are a couple soul-searching shots of Clark out fishing. What we see is like a whole other movie. Yes we’ve seen Zod before in other trailers, but those have still focused on Clark Kent becoming Superman. This focuses on an alien takeover of Earth. We still haven’t quite arrived at scary. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that Zod’s plot function is to test Superman’s resolve for being Earth’s guardian angel. What’s scary is that, when coupled with the industry pressures discussed above to rush through the origins story, this trailer suggests a very busy film. You’ve heard of the acronym K.I.S.S.? Stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. More often than not, a movie’s problems come from excessive plot complexity at the expense of character development.
That’s why this trailer scares me. I want a Superman origins story. A long one. One that makes me believe Superman is here to protect Metropolis with every bit the commitment Batman has for Gotham when he takes the fall for Harvey Dent’s death. We can get to Zod when we’re good and ready, and while I dearly hope he’s not tacked on to the end I think worse would be to have him become the focus of the movie. (Really an irony of superheroes, isn’t it? They retain the focus only so long as they’re in their origins phase, then the focus inevitably shifts to their rogues gallery. But I digress.) I also know that the uninformed person on the street is more interested in seeing Zod, and that the studio executives are aware of that. The trick is to make the character development for the hero work in concert with the machinations of the villain. And right now, General Zod looks a little too separate for Clark Kent’s character arc.
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