Superman is a test that many movie- and TV-makers don’t quite pass.
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and continually published and re-printed since Action Comics No. 1 hit the stands in early 1938 – 75 years ago – Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent, make up one of the most recognizable characters in all of popular culture.
So it’s not a surprise that DC Comics and Warner Brothers – frustrated in their efforts to create a big-screen presence since “Superman Returns” missed the mark several years ago – are trying again with “Man of Steel,” due in theaters June 14.
I’m still not sold that director Zack Snyder has the character right. But I was a little more convinced after the trailer for “Man of Steel” released a few days ago.
That’s mostly because the trailer, at least, emphasizes the “outsider” status of the character.
Make no mistake, and I’ve said it here before: Superman is not a brooding character like Batman. He’s not driven by nightmares. He’s not wracked by guilt. If Snyder’s “Man of Steel” is marked by those characteristics, the movie will fail.
But he is, for all his optimism and courage and innate knowledge of right and wrong, an outsider.
The trailer seems to acknowledge this, portraying a Kal-El/Clark/Superman who, as a young man, is uncertain about what he should do with his life and afraid of how he will seem to the world around him.
As he grows up, he appears to wander far away from Smallville, even though he continues to use his powers for good, rescuing men in a fiery accident.
The trailer shows us a Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who has been seeking this man of mystery (Henry Cavill), and it is in Lois’ words that the movie might find the best definition of the character.
“How do you find someone who has spent a lifetime covering his tracks?” Lois asks. “For some, he was a guardian angel. For others, a ghost. He never quite fit in.”
Superman is, even while he is the champion of his adopted world, an outsider. He’s the last of his kind – well, for the most part – and the first of a new kind on Earth. He feels an obligation to his new home even as he mourns the home he never knew.
Tellingly, Lois asks Superman – still unnamed to the world at large – about the “S” on his chest, and Superman tells her that the symbol stands for “hope” on his world.
Playfully, Lois notes that on this planet, it’s an “S” and begins to suggest it should stand for Superman before she is interrupted.
The trailer seems to capture the world of Superman. We can hope so, at least.
(I still don’t get the kid in the backyard with a makeshift cape on his shoulders. If that’s young Clark, it doesn’t make sense. Who is he imitating? I’m more convinced now than earlier that the boy isn’t Clark, but is a young boy play-acting as Superman after the character becomes known to the world. If so, it will be a lump-in-your-throat moment.)
Looking forward, with hope, to June 14.