By Adam B. Vary
Updated July 14, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
  • Movie

The Project: Man of Steel

The Panel: Henry Cavill, director Zack Snyder. Moderated by Chris Hardwick.

Footage Screened: Before the footage began, Snyder noted that a teaser trailer will be playing in front of The Dark Knight Rises next weekend, but he would be screening a longer version just for Comic-Con. His operating thesis: Making people feel like they could put themselves in Superman’s shoes, instead of seeing him as “this kind of big blue boy scout up on a throne.”

The footage began with idyllic shots from the Kansas homestead of the Kent family (interesting fact — it played underneath a Hans Zimmer track from Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line). Intercut with scenes from Clark Kent’s childhood, we see Clark as a bearded adult (Henry Cavill), working, it seems, as a fisherman or longshoreman (perhaps off the coast of Alaska?). As a school bus plunges into a river, we hear a woman say “my son was in the bus — he saw what Clark did,” before we cut to a young Clark, who appears to have lifted the bus out of the water. We hear, then see, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) warn Clark that “people are afraid of what they don’t understand,” before showing him the ship that delivered Clark to the Kents. “It’s not from this world, Clark,” says Pa Kent. “And neither are you.”

The second half of the footage depicted Clark becoming Superman: Meeting his biological father, Jor-El, (Russell Crowe) who bares his chest, revealing the iconic “S” seal; wearing the iconic Superman costume (uniform? raiment?); exploding into the sky with such force, a visible shockwave forms around him; embracing Lois Lane (Amy Adams). We saw a giant blue energy ray tearing into Metropolis, and General Zod (Michael Shannon) racing into an impact with Superman. At least, it’s almost certainly Zod — but more on that in a bit.

The footage ended with Superman/Clark/Kal-El saying that his father (i.e. Pa Kent) “was convinced that the world wasn’t ready [for Superman]. What do you think?”

Snap Judgment: Major. Goosebumps. Snyder appears to have crafted a rich, regal, deeply serious, and quite emotional cinematic canvas for this iteration of Superman’s story, and the footage struck just the right balance between grand spectacle and human-scaled feeling. I was most struck by what appears to be a newish twist on how to tell an “origin story” — instead of moving in a linear, from cradle to cape fashion, it looks like Man of Steel will trace Clark as an adult as he thinks back on his life and childhood, comes to terms with the vast powers he possesses, and decides what to do with them. Also, best that I could see, there were no extensive slo-mo action sequences; it’s nice to see Snyder expanding his visual vocabulary.

The Big Revelations: Very few. Snyder was oddly tight-lipped about one of the key elements of the film: That the villain, played by Michael Shannon, is General Zod. That’s been widely reported, but Snyder had two opportunities to confirm it and instead played it coy.

He did make clear that Man of Steel doesn’t draw from any one particular arc in the comic book canon, though Henry Cavill did say that he drew his inspiration for the character mostly from The Death of Superman, as well as the multiple issues about his return.

The closest Snyder came to discussing the Bryan Singer/Brandon Routh Superman Returns was when he was asked whether he’d use John Williams’ memorable score from the 1978 Richard Donner Superman film with Christopher Reeve. Whereas Singer deliberately opened his film with that score, and made no secret of using Donner’s film as direct inspiration for his film, Snyder made clear he was charting his own path. “Even though we love the films that have been made, we had to approach it as this is the first Superman movie,” he said. “If you approach it that way, you can’t then say, ‘oh, let’s steal a little music.'”

And as for those rumors that Man of Steel was DC Comics’ first volley at launching their own cinema universe a la Marvel Studios, Snyder did nothing to lay them to rest. “We know that Superman is the jewel in the DC crown, and what we’re trying to do is get his house in order,” he said. “And then, who knows what’s possible.”

UPDATE: Snyder also debuted the new Comic-Con teaser poster for Man of Steel, which you can check out below:

Most Touching Audience Questioner: A man wearing a bright jacket festooned with Superman iconography took to the mic with his face drenched in tears, barely able to get his words out amid his sobs. Moderator Chris Hardwick raced down to hug him, but when the fan finally asked his question — who is the main villain — Snyder grimaced. As I noted before, this was clearly something he was not prepared to talk about, but as recompense to the fan, Snyder ran the Man of Steel footage a second time.

Most Controversial Audience Question: Knowing that The Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan produced Man of Steel, a fan asked Snyder who would win in a fight: Nolan’s Batman or Snyder’s Superman?

Snyder smiled. “That’s, like, not…”

“…fair,” said Cavill, to wide laughter. They could have left it there, but Snyder decided to risk poking the fanboy beehive. “I love Batman,” said the director. “Batman’s awesome. But…really?”

I should note that when I tweeted this quote during the panel, I noticed that many Batman partisans have some very strong feelings on the matter. So let me just say here that I am merely the messenger, and will leave (for now) this likely un-resolvable debate to what I’m sure will be an elevated, erudite discussion in the comments below. Have at it!

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Man of Steel

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 144 minutes
  • Zack Snyder