I’ve teased you enough. After those other juicy pieces about deleted scenes, Justice League and the next Superman movie, here’s everything else David Goyer had to tell me about Man of Steel, in his own words.
I never set out to do a Superman film. Chris Nolan and I were working on the story for The Dark Knight Rises and we reached a point where we had writer’s block and I just started re-reading some original Action Comics.
I remembered seeing the old Donner films and the Marlon Brandon Jor-El and he’s talking to his wife about “There’s this other planet we can send him to” and I remember thinking “It’s weird to me that he knows about this planet.” It seemed to me that maybe Kryptonians had been to Earth before, that they’d sent some unmanned probes or something like that. I had this image in my head of Clark, as an adult, in the North, finding this Kryptonian spaceship that had been buried in the ice for tens of thousands of years.
I’m a terrible artist but I just sketched out the Kryptonian symbol but painted on a cave as though cave men had seen it. This got me looking at the Superman myth in a different way, and was the thread I started pulling.
One of the things we learned with Batman is that when you take such an iconic figure, it’s important to respect the canon, but if a character is going to remain vital you have to kill some sacred cows. You have to question things. And one of the things that Chris and I had done within the “realistic” take on Batman, we weren’t going to do anything simply because that’s the way it’s done in the comics. We had to come up with our own internal logic.
I adore the Donner films but I felt that Superman, at least cinematically, had been preserved in amber for thirty five years. He never really evolved beyond the Donner films, and the Singer film, by his own intention, was an homage, sort of a direct sequel.
I also thought that he had been stuck in this Norman Rockwell, big blue boy scout, spit-curl era. A lot of people were questioning if Superman was still relevant, whether or not he could be meaningful. It’s been interesting to see the public’s reaction over the last year ago, and just the fact that people are talking about Man of Steel as much as they are now, it makes me feel like we’ve done our job right. If he can go toe to toe with some of the Marvel films then I think we’ll have done the character justice.
The basic idea of rebooting Superman as a largely science fiction film and a first contact story was what I initially came up with. That Superman would be wandering the Earth not fully-formed with the Phantom Zone villains being sent into a black hole. Those basic ideas were something that I brought to Chris. I think I’d written two or three pages. And even when I mentioned it to Chris I wasn’t fully thinking we would just go and make this movie, I was just wasting time, as you do, saying, “What if?” but [Nolan] said, “I would produce this film. Let’s see if we can set it up. I’ll be a producer or I’ll share story credit with you if you want.” And I’m not an idiot, so I said, “Yeah, share story credit with me.”
Then we did what we did on the Batman films. We met four or five times and we sort of broke the story on cards, and expanded it. Then, from that point onwards I wrote all the scripts. It’s hard to say what part was Chris because we just sat in a room and threw out ideas. It was just a fluid process. But from the script stage on it was all me, with Chris giving notes. I did two drafts and that’s when Zack came on board.
One of the things we were hoping to depict is that Superman is not a god. We say he’s a god-like figure but he’s not omnipotent. Even in the comic books he cannot save everyone. I think people die [in Metropolis]. Clearly hundreds if not thousands of people have died while the gravity machines are going off. There were probably even people who died in Smallville.
When you’re dealing with a threat like this, there will be collateral damage. This is something that hadn’t been depicted in comic book films is what it would be like if these powerful figures did clash, if The Hulk and Thor fought, people would probably die. Particularly in this case where Zod and the Kryptonians really don’t care if people die. I think people died and I’m sure that upsets some people.
We knew that people would be upset by some of the choices we make. We got some grief when we did Batman Begins. Now people think what we did was great but when Batman Begins first came out, people were upset by some of the choices we made.
Some people have said a hero is only as good as a villain and I would extend that corollary to say a hero is only as good as his love interest. One of the things we were attempting with this was to depict a “realistic” Superman, do what we did in the Batman films which was to ask “What if they existed in our world?”
One of the conventions we had to get rid of, and it just seemed stupid, is that Lois couldn’t figure out [that Kal and Clark are] the same guy. Especially because she had met him before he was Superman. Clearly she’d be able to figure out his secret.
Initially, when we turned the script in to Warner Bros., they challenged that and I think this was just because it’s the way it had always been done. But one of the things you have to do is question some of the canon. DC Comics, DC Entertainment as they are now, were okay with it. They accepted it more easily than Warner Bros. did initially.
I love the Marvel films and they definitely have a certain tonality and continuity but the way Chris, Zack and I have evolved our take… now, the DC characters are older than the Marvel characters and ironically, the Marvel characters were created in the 60s and originally they were meant to be more realistic, and more relatable. The thing that Stan Lee and [Jack] Kirby and [Steve] Ditko did, all these characters were people that you could identify with, that had human problems.
Now, with the Batman films and the Superman films, the DC films that are being made, seem to exist in a more realistic world than the Marvel films. They’ve flipped. Moving forward, if Zack and I are to do any more films, we’ll probably continue in this manner, it’s just the way we work. And I try to make my dialogue as naturalistic as you can make an alien from another world. This seems to have been successful with Batman, and it’s a higher hurdle to jump over with Superman but I think we’ve been fairly successful in what we did.
If we can get a mainstream audience to accept this version of Superman, we will have set the tone for a shared world moving forward, a DC world that is slightly more grounded than the Donner versions or the Tim Burton Batman.
Thanks once again to David Goyer for so much of his time. Man of Steel is in cinemas now.