SAN DIEGO - One of the last things I would have expected before the panel began would be the amount of emotional impact that Zack Snyder's 'Man Of Steel' presentation seemed to have on the fans who were assembled for their first look at this new version of one of the most famous superheroes of all time.
Warner's set-up this year featured three huge screens that created a feeling of surrounding the audience, and it was definitely one of the most impressive technical set-ups I've seen in this room in any year I've been here. As a break between the segments of the panel, the Superman logo began to fill the screens, as if the camera was rolling over different parts of it, eventually filling all of the screens with the recognizable "S" logo.
Zack Snyder, who has proven in years past that he understands exactly how to play to Hall H, took the stage, and immediately dropped his favorite word in describing why he signed on to make the film. "Superman's pretty awesome, as you know."
That made me cackle, because "awesome" is a word that Zack uses often, and in this case, it should be true. You should feel a sense of awe when you see Superman. He can't be just another superhero at this point, or the film won't work, and I think Snyder knows that. "Superman is a big responsibility," he said, "and I felt like Superman needed to be reintroduced to a new generation, and so that's why I did it. We finished shooting, and now we're working on turning what we shot into a movie."
He talked about what goal he had for himself in approaching the material. "We wanted people to feel what it would feel like to be Superman. We've all seen him as the big blue Boy Scout, up on a throne, and we wanted to try something different. We wanted to show what it's like to be a human who realizes you're something more."
Hardwick asked, "Are we going to see some footage?" Very coy. We'd heard that there will be not one but two different "Man Of Steel" trailers playing next weekend, depending on which version of "The Dark Knight Rises" you see, but even as Snyder confirmed that the trailer is about to land, he said, "I wanted to bring something a little extra for you as well."
The thing that Snyder does so well, and something I'm not sure you can argue even if you don't like his films as narrative experiences, is that he has a real flair for iconography. He knows how to capture a big image. He knows how to make something look beautiful. And with Superman, these stories have been told and retold for almost 80 years at this point. These are images that we carry around deep in our shared cultural memory. From the footage they showed us today, it appears that Snyder is aiming to bring the classic iconography of Superman to hyper-real life instead of reinventing anything.
It opened with the DC Comics logo, and then we see these lovely, lyrical shots of the house in Kansas. An abandoned wagon in the yard. A spider on a flower, dew glistening in the sun. There's a real "Tree Of Life" quality to what I assume is footage of Clark's childhood.
There's footage of Clark walking away from his life, trying to find a place he can be alone and work things out. We see him in Alaska, where he takes a job on a fishing boat. There's a bus crash, though, and during the rescue, someone sees him. A woman says, "My son was in the bus. He saw what Clark did." It seems like people in the fishing town begin to look at him different, and then we see him back in Kansas, where his father, played by Kevin Costner, says "People are afraid of what they don't understand."
Costner shows him a ship in the barn and gives him a ring, topped with that "S" logo, that seems to operate it, as he says, "It's not from this world, Clark… and neither are you."
There's a haunting image of Clark standing in front of his father, played by Russell Crowe, who is also in a uniform with the "S" logo on the chest, presumably some sort of an AI, and in a series of shots, it looks like Clark begins to sort out the question of who he is, even as Costner speaks again in voice-over. "You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whatever that man is… good… or bad… he's going to change this world."
And then there's a shot of Superman taking off, and we're definitely seeing a very different visual representation of his powers and the effect they have on his environment. Superman comes walking out of his Fortress of Solitude in the full uniform, and while I'm sure there are hardcore fans who will argue about this detail or that detail, what it looked like to me was "Superman," the ideal realization of this iconic character.
There are some shots of the destruction of Krypton, but there are also shots of destruction here on Earth on a massive scale. And yes, there was one amazing shot of General Zod as played by Michael Shannon, as well as one shot of two superpowered beings flying in different directions, one up, one down, along the mirrored surface of a skyscraper, about to collide with catastrophic force. There's a brutal quality to the quick glimpses we got of the action.
There was one great shot of Cavill, dressed only in jeans, with fire crawling over the surface of his skin, and there was a shot of Superman being thrown through a building and hitting the vault door of a bank, like in the first still that was released from the film. There were quick glimpses of Amy Adams as Lois Lane, a shot of Superman under arrest and surrounded by military guards, and then, as the last barrage of images came fast and furious, Cavill speaks in voice-over.
"My father was convinced that if people found out what I really was, they'd reject me. He was convinced the world wasn't ready. What do you think?"
I thought the footage was impressive, but of course, Snyder knows how to cut a great reel. The success of this film will come down to how much audiences buy into Cavill as the right guy, and watching him today, as well as spending time with him last year when I moderated an "Immortals" panel, there is a very open, humble quality to Cavill that could make him a perfect fit for the character. Yes, he's preposterously good looking, but there's nothing arrogant about him.
Talking about the difference between this and "Watchmen," Snyder said, "Having done that and having taken the mask so far off of superheroes, then to do this and to do something that's all about being awesome and making him cool, and then bringing it here… that's like bringing it home." He isn't looking to deconstruct Superman here. If anything, he's hoping to reconstruct him.
The Q&A with the audience was marked by a lot of emotion. It's obvious that for hardcore Superman fans who were here, the footage really meant something to them. One guy stepped up to ask a question and ended up in tears trying to articulate his point. The panel moderator, Chris Hardwick, left the stage to hug the guy and to encourage him to ask his question.
Hilariously, it was a question that Snyder couldn't answer. Several times today, Snyder dodged the issue of who the film's villain will be. Sure, we saw a quick shot of Shannon in costume, but no one said his name in the footage, and so even when the guy choked out "Can you tell us who the villain is?" while still crying, Snyder had to just smile and pretend he didn't understand the question.
Hardwick did compliment the guy for being a superfan and embodying the entire Comic-Con experience with his reaction, and then they showed the footage again for him.
The next fan asked Henry how he's handling the pressure of playing a character as iconographic as Superman, and he pointed to the "S" logo to answer. "I get to wear that on my chest," he said, "and I am very aware that I am doing it for you."
The nerdiest question of the day had to be "Between Nolan's Batman and your Superman, who would win?"
Snyder's response was 100% pure Zack Snyder, too, as he fought to contain a huge smile. "Look, I love Batman. He's awesome. Literally awesome. But like… really?"
When asked if he'll be using the John Williams theme, Snyder braced himself, knowing how important that music is for people. "The thing we decided when we started on this is that the movies and the comics are their own thing. We had to act as if no film had ever been made. We had to say, this is Superman for the first time. If you start with that logic, you can't go, 'And we can steal a little music.' That music is awesome. Yes. But Hans is going to do something awesome, too."
Henry talked about the various books he read to prepare for the part, including the "Death Of Superman" and "Rebirth" storylines, as well as the excellent graphic novel, "Red Son." Asked why he was drawn to those, he said, "They show how the core elements remain the same. They really clarify what Superman is and what length he's willing to go to."
One of the guys who asked a question was obvious a gym rat, with huge muscles, and he flexed the entire time he asked Henry about his own workout regimen and how he maintains that sort of effort while also shooting a film. "I just had to get up earlier or go to bed later," Henry said. Somehow, I doubt even the same workout routine would make me or most of the guys in Hall H look like Cavill.
One of the last questions really summed up the pressure that Snyder faces as he works on fine-tuning the film over this next year, when someone asked about the odds of seeing Cavill in a Justice League film. Snyder said, "We know that Superman is the jewel in the DC crown, and so we need to get his house in order. And then, who knows what's possible?"
"Man Of Steel" hits the theaters on June 14, 2013.
Everything: Comic-Con 2013
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