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6 Punches Director Zack Snyder Must Land in Man of Steel (Revisited)

Will the new Superman film meet fan's sophisticated expectations?

Walter Hudson


June 13, 2013 - 2:00 pm
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Note: The following was originally published nearly a year ago upon the initial release of the first teaser trailer for Man of Steel. In the many months since, we have learned much more about director Zack Snyder’s approach to reinventing Superman for the silver screen. In celebration of this week’s long-anticipated release of the film, we’re revisiting this wishlist, adding commentary on how the trailers, interviews, and behind-the-scenes material released thusfar indicate whether Snyder and company will land these punches.

In the 2004 film Finding Neverland, playwright J.M. Barrie is depicted seeding orphaned children throughout the opening-night audience of Peter Pan. He does this to break the ice for the surrounding adults, gambling that the children’s earnest reactions will suspend disbelief in grown-ups.

I was reminded of Barrie’s strategy upon watching the teaser trailer for Man of Steel, which was attached to the recent release of The Dark Knight Rises. For those not expecting it, the teaser plays its subject close to the chest. Shots of rural America are interposed with footage of a black-bearded, blue-eyed migrant worker hitching rides between jobs. Visually, all is ordinary, even a bit mundane. Only the voice-over hints at something special about this man. In the version I saw (there are two making the rounds), Kevin Costner speaks of a moral choice ahead and states that this man, his son, will undoubtedly change the world.

It is only after that subdued montage, when our interest is piqued regarding how this seemingly ordinary person could change anything, that we get a brief glimpse of something up in the sky, a caped figure propelled without effort, zipping through the clouds at such speed that he leaves behind a sonic boom. Then, we behold the iconic S shield.

It was at that moment during my viewing that a young child among the audience gasped and cheered.


I doubt he was a J.M. Barrie plant, but the moment played as he would have intended. The whole audience took that kid’s glee as permission to get excited. After the Dark Knight legend ends, the Man of Steel’s begins.

The grounded portrayal evident in the teaser offers hope that this on-screen iteration of Superman will depart significantly from the increasingly cartoonish super-powered soap operas of the past thirty years. Lending credence to that hope is a familiar creative team. Christopher Nolan, who directed the Dark Knight trilogy, is producing Man of Steel. He also came up with the story, which was put to script by Dark Knight scribe David S. Goyer. Direction is provided by Watchman and 300 auteur Zack Snyder.

Assuming Nolan can tame Snyder’s often chaotic visual style, it seems likely that Man of Steel will revitalize the Superman mythos for a generation that’s never been properly introduced. Sure, there was Superman Returns a couple years ago, and the adventures of a young Clark Kent in television’s Smallville. But neither of those efforts effectively captured the essence of the character or his world.

Those of us with young children today grew up with the films of the late ’70s and ’80s. For us, Superman was and shall in spirit remain Christopher Reeve. The earnest humanity he brought to Clark Kent was eclipsed only by his steadfast portrayal of Superman.

Richard Donnor, director of the 1978 original, famously sought verisimilitude.

You will believe a man can fly.

So read the teaser poster. And we did believe. The film is still regarded as one of the best in the genre. But it was not without flaws, and things have slid downhill since.

Superman II was only partially shot by Donnor. It was finished by and credited to Richard Lester, who added heavy camp reminiscent of super hero parodies like the ’60s Batman television series. Though much of Donnor’s verisimilitude endured in the final cut, it was wholly absent from the absurd entries which followed. Reeve remained impeccable as Superman, but could not overcome his increasingly ludicrous surroundings.

After Donnor and Reeve, Kent and his alter-ego retreated to the small screen in various iterations until 2006’s Superman Returns. Coming off the success of the X-Men franchise, and in light of vocal reverence for Richard Donnor, it seemed the Superman property was in good hands under director Bryan Singer. Alas, what emerged in theaters was a super disappointment for reasons we shall explore.

In order to set things right, and restore Superman’s verisimilitude, there are several things next year’s reboot must do. The fact that Nolan and company are proceeding as though no previous films exist provides an opportunity to recast the godfather of all superheroes in an image long lost. Here are six punches director Zack Snyder must land in Man of Steel.

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In Superman II, Supes didn't reverse the rotation of the Earth (though that's certainly what it looks like), thus reversing time. He flies so fast that he goes back in time, thus the Earth appears to be rotating in reverse. He could just as easily have flown that fast in a long loop like Halley's Comet, with the same effect, but it's more visually dramatic this way - he also gets to peek down occasionally to see if he's at the right point to stop flying.

So why does he then fly back in the other direction to get the Earth spinning properly again? LOOK SQUIRREL!

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
By the way, I have to say something for the old TV show with George Reeves. Unless my childhood memories are completely faulty, it was the only one that showed Lois Lane as a real professional "career woman" (to use the term of the time) , a mature woman, not the usual overly young depiction in the films. AND they did it without supervillians.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And George Reeves looked like a Superman - blocky, big, lantern-jawed; he looked *tough.* Not like his metrosexual nephew or the even wimpier Brandon Routh.

I'm curious to see how Henry Cavill will do in the part. He was very good in Showtime's "The Tudors" as Henry VIII's BFF Charles Brandon, but that was a very, very different part.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Once again, no, it was the exact opposite. The comics, in their own reboot earlier on in the 80's(*), decided that Clark would reveal himself early on. It was Lois and Clark that postponed the marriage in the comics, causing DC to "kill" Superman as a replacement for the marriage.

(*) Crisis on Infinite Earths. They've since had several more reboots. The comics are now so PC that I really don't care.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The only Superman treatment to nail the romance issue perfectly was the mid-90s afternoon cartoon, "The New Batman/Superman Adventures." In that version, Lois Lane was head-over-heels in love with the awesome Superman, but treated her Midwestern-cornball colleague Clark Kent as a friend at best, a joke at worst. Meanwhile, he wanted her to love him not for the powers and uniqueness of Superman, but for the sterling character and humanity of Clark Kent - which would mean that she really did love him. An interesting wrinkle was added by a visit from Gotham City of the elegant, masterly CEO Bruce Wayne, who dazzled Lois - and the mysterious night-prowling Batman, whom she feared and thought belonged in jail. My kids and I had interesting discussions about depth vs. shallowness of character, and image vs. reality, after certain episodes...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The first Batman (1966) worked because that was pretty funny as well.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The first Superman worked because it was really, really funny.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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