Trailer of Steel

 

OK, the new trailer released last week for Warner Bros’ upcoming Man of Steel is probably one of the most effective trailers for a super hero movie ever. I am a Marvel fan, a huge Avengers fan, and Iron Man may be my personal favorite, but for some reason none of the Iron Man 3 trailers, good as they have been, have really made me think that this movie was going to rock my world. It may yet, and I’ll definitely go see it and post a review if I find something worth digging in to, but the trailers have been pretty lackluster.

The new Man of Steel trailer couldn’t be more different. It excels on pretty much every level. I’m not a hardcore Superman fan (more on that later), but after watching this trailer, I want this movie to be the summer’s biggest hit, if for nothing other than how artfully crafted the trailer is. The team that put this trailer together really flexed their muscles in three areas: Establishing the conflict, the visuals, and the performances.

The Conflict

Each and every movie, each and every story, is about conflict. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. As many have pointed out, Superman’s nigh-unbounded power prunes out a lot of potential sources of conflict, as physical challenges are often central to stories about people with physical super-powers. However, that kind of constraint often brings out the best creative work, right? According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the Superman of MoS will be “frustrated, angry, lost.” He’ll be beset by emotional conflict.

To be specific, David S. Goyer, who also worked on the script for the Dark Knight trilogy, has said that the team is not approaching the movie as a comic book movie at all, and are instead focusing on the “first contact” themes of isolation, acceptance, and societal fear. Also at the heart of this movie will be Superman’s personal struggle to choose his destiny; it sounds like while Jor-El encourages him to be the paragon of truth, justice, and such, the Kents encourage him all his life to hide his abilities at all costs. Carrying that kind of secret, and that kind of lack of identity, around all your life will definitely weigh on you, and I’m extremely excited to see that conflict ground a Superman movie, to watch him choose the outfit (which we understand will be some kind of Kryptonian under armor), and reveal himself to a world which then feebly proceeds to try and destroy him.

The Visuals

Not to let the emotional themes outshine the fact that this is, in fact, a comic book movie, General Zod and his robot army will prove a physical threat to the Earth, if not to the Big Blue Boy Scout himself, that Superman will have to face. And if you were like me and saw Superman Returns and thought, “I guess fighting tidal waves and continents and such forces of nature are really the only appropriate physical challenges for Supes,” there was an extremely satisfying amount of punching and fighting going on!

And it looks like a significant amount of it won’t even be on Earth. There’s some definite military action going on around the time that Kal-El is sent away, and we see clips of laser-shooting spacecraft dog-fighting in the air, Zod and accomplices bound in what appears to be some kind of tribunal where he defiantly shouts that he “will find him,” supposedly referring to Kal-El, in addition to the shots of Mr. and Mrs. El sending off their infant son.

We know also that in this retelling, Kal-El is different from pretty much every other Kryptonian, in that he was born naturally, and not genetically pre-designed and born in a test tube. This apparently becomes a huge deal on Krypton, and may be what leads to the huge military conflict we see in the opening shots of the trailer. So not only would Kal-El be an alien on Earth, but also a genetic freak amongst Kryptonians. That might make him the only Kryptonian to get super powers in the light of a yellow sun, which would be a cool twist.

However that turns out, Krypton certainly looks alien, both from our world and the Krypton of yester-year, while still not being truly novel. The design that went into the structures, tech, and costumes here, though, looks pretty grand. I bet there’ll be whole featurettes on Kryptonian society and how its reflected in their stuff. One final question remains; is Krypton destroyed in this movie? It’s not clear in the trailer, since evidently Zod and presumably Jor-El exchange words after Kal-El is gone (“I WILL FIND HIM!” if memory serves). Kal-El may have just been sent away to protect him from the war, which was possibly specifically trying to kill him, and not from the planet’s total annihilation. That’s something Zod might unleash later after his court martial.

The Performances

Looking over the cast list is pretty breath-taking; Henry Cavill, the runner-up for every big part in the last half dozen or so years, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon, and more. They did not skimp on the talent for this movie, which just makes me more excited to see how they can push the envelope with the writing for a Superman story. The scene of Jonathan Kent revealing to a young Clark his origin, followed by the tear-jerking reaffirmation of paternal love was promising to me, though Costner still has to win me away from John Schneider’s character in Smallville.

But y’know who I’m hoping to be impressed by most? Amy Adams as Lois Lane. I am sincerely hoping that Lois Lane becomes a fleshed out character for this new take on Supes. I like the idea that she’s trying to track down this urban legend of Superman, but I hope she goes way deeper than that. I want her to have a story of her own, which intertwines with Superman. I don’t know how they’re going to develop a relationship, since it appears that their first meeting is in that interrogation room. Maybe they don’t need that yet? Maybe Lois is just the one who trusts who he is, when all the world is afraid of what he is, and thereby gives him the hope to keep going at some crucial moment.

And Amy Adams, I believe, can deliver that. She has shown an impressive range since her big break in Enchanted (following an appearance in the first season of Smallville, no less), and I’m hoping we can get a truly nuanced character that’s so much more than just the dogged journalist we’re all kind of seen enough of. That would be the crowning accomplishment of a modern, “realistic,” and grounded take on Superman, is make a dynamic Lois Lane.

“It Means Hope…”

This trailer has kindled within me a bright hope for Man of Steel. I grew up watching Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, I actually liked Superman Returns, but I admit I’ve never been able to really fall in love with the character. I watched Batman cartoons, Spider-Man cartoons, and X-Men cartoons, and love all of those characters. When the X-Men, Spider-Man, and new Batman movies came out, I loved those, too.  My most recent super hero love is the Avengers, because of their movies. I guess I’m saying that I – and probably many in my generation – need a Superman movie to really blow us away and speak to today’s audience. That’s what this trailer has promised; a re-imagined, relevant, riveting spectacle, both visually and dramatically. Obviously, trailers are not necessarily a reliable way to judge the movie they market for, but with the team behind this one, and the look of this trailer, the Man of Steel fills me with hope!

P.S.:  The soundtrack. Yes, this is good stuff, it backs up the action on the screen and builds everything up perfectly. But, while everyone loves to heap praise on everything Hans Zimmer puts out (which is a freaking ton), this track is little more than an interesting percussion track, a chord progression, and some non-melodic riffs in the strings. Which is most of what Zimmer’s soundtracks are. He makes one actually singable melody per movie, and the rest is just chord progressions layered on top of a driving percussion track. Inception, TDK, they all start to sound alike. I’m hoping his Man of Steel theme can go toe-to-toe with Williams’ original, and be far less subtle than his “Molossus” from Batman Begins (the only actual melody in the TDK trilogy). Gladiator was gorgeous, I just hope Zimmer will weave multiple themes in different moods through it all again.

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Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

This is my first review of an RPG book, and this time its the impressive Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game from Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd.  This is taken right from a post I made about it on a game forum, so it’s not particularly well organized.  I think, however, that it gets it all across.

MHR is extremely different from most supers RPGs. Powers and other abilities are not rated in an objective, output-measured way, but rather they are rated by their plot significance. That comes in flavors from d4 (for things that are liabilities more than assets) to d12 (for things which are truly awesome to behold, i.e. Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor). Heroes put together a dice pool made of dice from their powers, distinctions (personality quirks or background details that are relevant), etc., etc., roll, take the highest rolling two dice for their Total and take the largest remaining die (in terms of size, not number rolled) for the Effect. The breadth of things that can be put into a dice pool is quite wide, including one’s own Physical, Mental, or Emotional Stress (also from d4 to d12); the Stress of an enemy; an Asset created by an ally like Invisible Woman’s forcefields d8; a Scene Distinction like Falling Boulders d10; an enemy’s Complication like All Webbed Up d8, etc., etc.

The dicepool represents all the plot factors in play, including environment, the emotional state of the heroes, knowledge/expertise in a certain domain, the previous actions of others, and, of course, the powers. So when a hero succeeds or fails, it’s an emotional result as much as it is a purely physical one. You know why they fight, in addition to just how. Part of your character’s background and story is in every roll. That lends itself extremely well to emotive role-playing.

That being said, the lack of objectivity makes for some strange-ness. The difference between Spider-Man’s Superhuman Strength d10 and Thor’s God-like Strength d12 is much less than you might expect. The universality of the mechanics (every roll produces an Effect Die that becomes or increases an Asset/Complication or Physical/Mental/Emotional Stress, or decreases/removes one of the same) means that everything feels quite same-y (as in Teleport doesn’t really have unique mechanics, and works exactly like Superhuman Speed or Acrobatics for most purposes).

You’re Nightcrawler, right?

The Powers aren’t that differentiated in and of themselves, but what does help differentiate them is the Special Effects (SFX) you attach to them. These are discrete effects that exist outside of the above-mentioned universal rules, usually in the form of dice pool manipulation or result manipulation, and they usually cost a Plot Point to activate. Plot Points are given out by the DM constantly, or can be earned by players by using a Distinction against themselves (including it in their dice pool as a d4), similar to Aspects/Compels in FATE.

For that reason, if you are averse to “disassociated mechanics,” then you may want to steer clear. One of the important ways a player can gain PP is by activating a Limit which shuts down their powers or SFX. So Captain America’s player voluntarily has Cap lose his shield in order to get a PP, and must roll to attempt to recover it. The player is thus both actor and writer for their character.

Not always a good idea…

The game is extremely effective at hitting that somewhat overblown, somewhat melodramatic comic book style just right. People tend to get into their characters as they pursue their Milestones, little events that fit into a larger character arc which each grants XP. The largest shortcoming is that there is no point-buy character generation mini-game. There is random chargen, but it suffers from the same issues as all random chargen schemes. The default method of building chars is just by eyeballing their abilities and proficiencies and assigning a reasonable die. This works for most groups, so long as the DM trims down on excesses so everyone feels like they’re on a relatively even keel. However, even great power discrepancies are somewhat mitigated by the fact that those rolling lower dice are more likely to roll nat 1s, which are Opportunities, which bring additional PP. In practice, however, it’s better to have bigger dice, since larger Effect Dice are typically the key to handling powerful opposition.

OK, that’s the main body of the review, now time for MHR’s marks!

Rules-

  • Innovation:  Milestones, dice pools, the Doom Pool, everything about MHR is fascinating and fun, and the system is flexible and robust.  5/5
  • Execution:  Delivers an amazing comic book romp in play, but lack of mechanical variety and point-buy chargen keeps it away from a full score.  4/5

Presentation-

  • Writing:  The book is succinct, with lots of sidebars to explain things, but nothing that got me excited to play or would be good for a re-read.  3/5
  • Look:  The layout and art is classic Marvel good-ness, lots of beautiful action poses and the illustrations used in explaining dice mechanics are colorful and effective.  5/5

Overall: 4.25, and high marks for value, at just $20 for the paperback ($13.88 right now on Amazon), and $10 for the PDF on DriveThru RPG. Hm, maybe Value should be another category?