Superman Returns with a Malickian Makeover

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Slate's Culture Blog
July 23 2012 1:27 PM

Superman Rises in Two Teasers for Man of Steel

ManOfSteel_Superman
Superman (Henry Cavill) returns in Man of Steel.

Still from the trailer for Man of Steel.

If you’re mourning the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Superman is here to save your day. That seems to be the message of these two new teaser trailers for Man of Steel, which landed online yesterday, the same weekend that Nolan’s Dark Knight series came to a close.

In a curious marketing choice, Warner Bros. has released two versions of the teaser, so even if you saw one of them before The Dark Knight Rises, there’s still another one you haven’t watched. The only difference seems to be the voice-over: One is narrated by Superman’s earthly father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), and the other by Superman’s alien father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe). For my money the Jor-El version, with Crowe injecting some superhuman levels of gravel into his Kryptonian voice, is the one to watch.

Regardless of narrator, both seem to aim for a tone similar to the Dark Knight series. While the darkness here isn’t so thunderous as mournful (complete with the “Khazad-Dum” theme from a certain scene in The Fellowship of the Ring), the focus once again is on interrogating the role of the hero, and there’s a note of ambiguity regarding his character: “You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, is going to change the world,” says papa Kent. A title notes that Christopher Nolan produced the film, but just as relevant is the screenwriter: David S. Goyer, who penned the stories for each of the Dark Knight films.

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Not that Zack Snyder, who directed the film adaptation of Watchmen, is a stranger to dark and ambiguous superhero films. But it’s striking how the trailer departs from Snyder’s testosterone-and-slow-motion style. Instead, the teaser looks more like a Terrence Malick film, complete with meditative voice-over, lyrical handheld cinematography, lingering shots of nature, and even a shot of a swing set (a favorite subject of Malick’s). While Snyder’s work tends toward the juvenile, and I see little reason to return to the character after Bryan Singer’s admirable Superman Returns just six years ago, the new direction is at least a little intriguing.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer.