When we talk about Superman, or “The Man of Steel,” we often forget about the “man” part.
Despite all his great powers — or perhaps because of them — the most important thing about depicting the iconic DC Comics hero is finding a way to make him human, to make him vulnerable.
In two new surprisingly emotional trailers for Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel, we get the same images but different voice over from the character’s two fathers — Kryptonian biological father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Kansas farmer and adoptive dad Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner.) The narration from the two men offers sharply different points of view — one based in fate, another based in choice.
You won’t see much action, but you might just get a little bit of Kryptonite in your eye.
Many will make note of the elegiac tone in these trailers, and comparisons to the visual poetry of a filmmaker such as Terrence Malick are inevitable — especially with the butterfly on the swingset, the sweeping shots of the power of nature, and the mournful, hushed voice-over.
But that’s not a bad thing. I’d far prefer a little poetry than more bombast. We know Superman is strong — but for that to matter, we need to know what makes him weak, and I’m not talking about a glowing green rock here.
In each trailer, we see Superman, Kal-El, Clark Kent (or whatever you want to call the character Henry Cavill plays) completely alone. He’s in search of himself, hitchhiking into the wilderness, working on a fishing vessel, and then we see him as a child — crafting a make-shift cape as he stands in the wind blowing across the Kansas farmland.
That loneliness is key to this character. No matter how good a guy he is, there is no one else like him.
And in every kid who straps on a cape, there is the potential for good. But it’s only potential until that kid figures out where he fits in.
The striking thing in Pa Kent’s speech is the fact that he doesn’t consider “good-guy” to be a done deal. It’s fitting that the more human of Superman’s fathers is also the one most keenly aware of the powerful draw toward selfishness. “One day, you’re gonna have to make a choice. You have decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. … Whoever that man is, good character or bad, is gonna change the world.”
In contrast, Jor-El is far more certain in his progeny’s potential for good — though he doesn’t say much about selflessness. “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They’ll 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.”
We all know Superman will do what’s right. But at least Snyder’s movie, out June 14, 2013, we see that won’t come easy.