New Trailers Compared – Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The last couple of days has given us trailers for two heavily anticipated films that fellow Star Wars and superhero film genre nerdlings are eagerly awaiting: Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Here are the trailers side-by-side:

As to which trailer piques my interest more and gets me more excited, personally I give the nod to Bats versus Supes. In a big way, actually, as I’ll explain.

First, a bit of context for both films:

The DC Comics Shared Universe (DCSU) of films commences with 2013’s Man of Steel, and its development is slated through 2020 with a total of eleven films planned. DCSU is basically DC Comics’ answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Outside the recently launched shared universe body of films, there is of course a past body of 24 movies featuring DC Comics characters, mostly featuring Superman and Batman (all told now, including Man of Steel, between the two characters a total of 15 films ).

As we know, the Star Wars franchise (SWF) centers around the film series, with the original 1977 Star Wars film situated in the middle of the timeline for the fictional universe’s chronology. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is episode 7 of the space opera, and it is set at a time when Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbaca, et al, have reached their late middle-age (as the actors are today). The Force Awakens  is actually the first of a trio of films, with the next two (as yet untitled) scheduled for release in 2017 and 2019. There is also a scheduled standalone SWF film slated for 2016: Star Wars: Rogue One.

I’ll admit a bias that over the years I’ve grown increasingly less keen on the SWF, and by the same token I am actually very enthused by the possibilities for the emerging DCSU.

As to the reasons for my waning interest in SWF, that is of course an individual subjective experience, and should be understood as simply that. I would also expect that I am in the minority. But in short: as critics and the fanbase have noted, the three prequel films are just plain bad  (which however doesn’t seem to stop most fans from still watching again and again, and talking about them!) And while episodes 4 and 5 (Star Wars (1977) and the Empire Strikes Back ) are both very well crafted, and are truly epic tales, episode 6 Return of the Jedi  suffers from cutesy Ewoks and hardly ends the 4-5-6 trio of films on a strong, resounding note.

SWF’s Iconography Feels Outdated

More personally, some of the iconographic conventions of the SWF feel rather clumsy to me now, such as the Empire’s unintimidating segmented plastic white trooper armor, Darth Vader’s amusingly phallic helmet (“Big Helmet” as parodied by Mel Brooks), and to some extent even the light sabers. When I view these visual conventions they stand out so much in my mind as outdated that I find it hard to willingly suspend disbelief and just innocently immerse myself in the story.

A big part of the reason for that is that CGI has advanced so tremendously that filmmakers today can invent virtually anything they want from imagination. So to base the look and feel of a cinematic universe reboot (okay, technically not a reboot; but that is essentially what we’ll be getting in spirit) on a dated appearance circa late 70s to early 80s, kind of makes the whole thing suffer, imho. I would love to see this entire fictional universe sweepingly transformed into something more breathtaking, as it truly deserves. The merging of science fiction (technology) and metaphysical magic via the Force and Jedi and Sith disciplines should be set free from the clumsy visual trappings of its origins in the early films.

It Now Seems Much Clearer How Man of Steel  Sets the Stage for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The DCSU got off to a controversial start with Man of Steel, which aggravated many fans by having Superman deviate from one of the character’s core defining principles: Superman never, ever takes a life. Similarly, that Pa Kent paints a morally gray picture for teenaged Clark regarding possibly letting a bus of school kids die in order to keep his identity secret, which comic book fans argue is out of character. In terms of the film’s narrative much more attention is given to the alien invasion story than to the personal development of the Clark/Supes character. (Henry Cavill can’t be blamed for this, of course, as he isn’t given much to work with script-wise.) And finally, it is a film with a rather cold and somber mood, featuring a far more pensive Superman than we have seen in the past. He is certainly more enigmatic, I would say.

Myself, I actually liked Man of Steel  very much. I wasn’t troubled by Superman taking Zod’s life in order to save innocents (even though Supes conceivably might have found a way to protect peoples lives without killing Zod). I felt at the time that this was likely intended to set the stage for further more complex character development in the DCSU films to come. And as fond as I am of Christopher Reeves’ endearingly mensch-like portrayal of the character in the original 1978 Superman film (the only one of that series that I like–and I like it a lot), I was ready for something fresh to be done with this character, i.e., to be treated to a new vision for him.

So to finally get to the trailers, I will start with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:

Superman Viewed by Humanity as a god

First, I almost can’t overstate how much I like the premise for the story that is established by this trailer: Superman is indeed a equivalent to a god. How would that play out in our modern world? In my opinion, this premise is about as epic as there is.

My speculation from the trailer’s collage of imagery is that we will see a Superman who is vulnerable to human failings (as we have already seen with him killing Zod), and likely struggling with how to respond to the cult that apparently grows up around him as a living god. This appears to be an appropriately anxious Superman who may become uncomfortable about whether he can meet the responsibilities of caring for the welfare of an entire world that looks to him for leadership. And humankind would surely have a strongly mixed reaction to him.

Note that in Man of Steel,  Zod’s second in command, Faora-Ul, states to Superman “You are weak, Son of El, unsure of yourself. The fact that you possess a sense of morality, and we do not, gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has proven anything… It is that evolution always wins.” Kal-El has the Codex of the entire civilization of Krypton woven into his DNA. That is a lot of evolutionary force that is pressing Superman to be amoral for his socially learned human side to struggle with. Superman would be at high risk to become Zod-like. Although, that said, it seems that Kal’s parents Jor-El and Lara-El were highly prosocial, whether that is a genetic mutation, a recessive gene reappearing, or the power of reason plus personal agency (will) and choice over genetics. So Superman likely has a strong “morality” gene as well, despite Kryptonians apparently having evolved to dispense with a moral conscience.

Anyway, if this is correct then I think that makes for a very compelling story with regard to his relationship with the Caped Crusader. I think it fair to assume from the trailer that Batman is seriously pissed about whatever is going on with Superman.

The Batsuit looks frickin’ amazing. Love  the metallic-looking helmet and the glowing filtered square eye slits. He is an armored knight, by God. (The helmet is reminiscent of a Teutonic Knight’s.)

And it seems that the voice of Batman is now masked by filtering through software, which makes every bit of sense in order for Batman to protect his secret identity. The husky, raspy alter-ego human voice was beginning to feel a bit hokey.

I seem to be in the minority on this, but I’m looking forward to seeing what Ben Afleck does with Batman.  Again in the minority, I also liked Afleck’s seriously underrated performance very much in Daredevil  (and I greatly enjoyed the film as well). The clip of Bruce Wayne smoldering in anger as he gazes upon the Batsuit looked pretty damn convincing. Batfleck will do just fine, I think. Ben might even hit a home run with this performance, but of course we’ll have to wait and see.

It will also be fun to see Superman’s character developed, i.e., with Cavill now given something substantial to work with.

So anyway, I am totally psyched by this trailer. I’m normally not crazy about excessively dark and dystopian fictional worlds. But this is one in which such a forebodingly dark mood ‘just feels right’ in light of an alien god coming to earth (for all practical purposes that is what Superman would be experienced as), and what that event would do to humanity’s frail psyche. Of course Lex Luther will surely unite Bats and Supes as a common threat. And there too I’m eager to watch Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex.

Reason to Hope for a Story Mainly About Superman and Batman versus Assembling the Justice League

The trailer appears to be giving us a substantial and epic story centered on Superman and Batman. That inspires confidence that the film won’t be mostly about assembling the Justice League. Regarding the first appearances of some of the Justice League characters in this film (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg) I am beginning to have faith that it will be handled deftly enough that it won’t overshadow the main story between Superman and Batman.

In short, I am now expecting to see new life and complexity breathed into the Superman and Batman characters, within an epic and in some ways eerily and darkly compelling story. I’m on board for that.

The Trailer for The Force Awakens is Comparatively Underwhelming

In comparison, the trailer for The Force Awakens doesn’t enthuse me as much, I’m afraid. I’ve already spoken to how I feel about the SWF films. And the trailer echoes back to the visual conventions of the first six film episodes, which reminds me of what are for me shortcomings of the SWF films.

I do think that whatever the film does with Luke as an aging desert (?) hermit, following in the footsteps of his own mentor Obi Wan, feels rather promising. I expect him to grow in complexity as a character in the most interesting ways among all four of episode 4-5-6’s main characters. But that is obviously just a hunch at this point. From what I have read, the struggle between the Dark and Light sides of the Force within Luke has taken a toll. So that should be interesting to see. But I can’t say that I’m quite as excited about seeing Han Solo and Leia as late middle-agers. (It was actually a bit painful to watch Indy/Harrison Ford as an aging swashbuckler in the later Indiana Jones films.)

Anyway, there was nothing in the trailer that lit a fire under me. I think the idea, in itself, of simply getting a new trio of films to further develop the fictional world and the film series’ saga is really what has the fanbase stoked. And understandably so. But the trailer didn’t really do much for me.

Addendum: I just watched Man of Steel again this evening after reflecting as I did above on the trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; and the film makes so much more sense now. I think the film is clearly setting up the story-arc for the first set of DCSU films. Pa Kent’s references to Kal one day altering humanity’s view of itself, Supes killing Zod, the Kryptonian civilization Codex getting melded into Kal’s DNA, etc.–it all makes much more sense given what we get a glimpse of in the trailer.

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New Trailers Compared – Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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