‘Man of Steel’ writer: Superman and Batman will always ‘have the edge’

June 12, 2013 | 7:27 p.m.
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Cooper Timberline plays 9-year-old Clark Kent in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Kevin Costner, left, as Jonathan Kent and Diane Lane as Martha Kent in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Dylan Sprayberry plays 13-year-old Clark Kent in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Dylan Sprayberry plays 13-year-old Clark Kent in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, left, and Dylan Sprayberry as 13-year-old Clark Kent in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, left, and Dylan Sprayberry as 13-year-old Clark Kent in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, left, and Dylan Sprayberry as 13-year-old Clark Kent in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Russell Crowe, left, as Jor-El and Henry Cavill as Clark Kent in "Man of Steel." (Warner Bros.)

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Amy Adams as Lois Lane, left, and Henry Cavill as Superman in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Henry Cavill as Clark Kent, left, and Diane Lane as Martha Kent in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, left, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Antje Traue as Faora-Ul, center, and Michael Shannon as General Zod in "Man of Steel." (Warner Bros.)

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Amy Adams as Lois Lane, left, Henry Cavill as Superman and Antje Traue as Faora-Ul in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Harry Lennix as Gen. Swanick, left, Christina Wren as Maj. Carrie Farris and Richard Schiff as Dr. Emil Hamilton in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, left, and Rebecca Buller as Jenny in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

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Amy Adams as Lois Lane, left, and Christopher Meloni as Col. Nathan Hardy in "Man of Steel." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros.)

“Man of Steel” flies into theaters Friday hoping to reinvent Superman for a new era, no small feat for the original superhero, a character who debuted in the pages of “Action Comics” No. 1 in 1938 and celebrates his 75th anniversary this year. Filmmaker David S. Goyer teamed with his “Dark Knight” trilogy collaborator Christopher Nolan on the story and wrote the screenplay for the Zack Snyder-directed movie, and Goyer recently spoke to Hero Complex about the project — its incredibly high stakes, his detailed approach to writing the script and why Superman matters to so many people (and maybe something about “Justice League” too).

HC: You’ve said previously that you never really understood Superman as a character. How did you ultimately find your way in to the story?

DG: I had just become a stepfather and my now wife had gotten pregnant with my son. He hadn’t been born yet. My father also died while I was writing it. All these things happened while I was writing the outline and/or writing the script, and I realized they’re all the things that Clark or Kal has to deal with in the course of that movie. It was an emotional in for me, that was my hook. I never had that hook before. I don’t know if I would have had that hook if I had not had those experiences.

HC: How quickly did the first draft of the screenplay come together?

DG: It took about six months — it’s the longest first draft I’ve ever taken. It was a really, really complicated script to write and a difficult script to write, even more so than I thought that it would be when I set out to write it. He’s a really hard character to crack, much harder than Batman. Also we’ve got the [Richard] Donner [1978] version and … that’s still really revered. He’s just been preserved in amber since then. At least with Batman, when we were reinventing Batman, people liked the Tim Burton version, but they’d really not liked “Batman & Robin” and that had been [released] relatively recently. I think we were given more of a pass in reinventing the character, whereas, for whatever reason, people just skip over “Superman III” and “IV.” They still revere the Donner films — and rightfully so — then the [Bryan] Singer film [“Superman Returns”] was kind of this homage to the Donner films. It didn’t chart new territory from the Donner films, it was an extension of the Donner films. I feel like we just had a much higher bar that we had to overcome in terms of establishing him.

David S. Goyer in 2005. (Bryan Chan/ Los Angeles Times)

David S. Goyer in 2005. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)

HC: So how did you approach trying to re-establish the granddaddy of superheroes? You really are introducing him to a generation of moviegoers in a way.

DG: I have two nieces and they saw “Superman Returns” when they were maybe 10 and 12 and they hadn’t seen the Donner films and they didn’t understand it. They were like, “Where he’s been?” For us, that was one of these initial kind of “Aha!” experiences. We just really have to pretend like none of the others existed. Zack has also said if you go down that route, which we felt like we had to do, we felt no matter what, we were going to have some detractors. Some people were going to say, unless you used the [John] Williams score, it’s heresy. Or unless he’s got the underpants, it’s heresy. Or the spit curl, it’s heresy. We just said, you know, a certain percentage of the audience is going to react that way no matter what we do, but if we’re going to reinvent him in the same way that the comic books have done, we have to act as if the other movies don’t exist. Zack has said that means you can’t just cherry-pick some things like the Williams score — as amazing as it is — because then it becomes confusing to the audience. Is it a reboot or is it not a reboot? We just said, OK, for us cinematically nothing exists prior to this film. A huge section of the audience don’t know his origin story. I also think we covered some ground that hadn’t been covered before.

PHOTOS: 75 images of Superman

HC: What new ground did you cover?

DG: I knew it was an immigrant story, but I wanted it to be a first contact story. For it to be a first contact story, I felt very strongly that we had to depict Krypton on a level of detail that had not been depicted before, even to a certain extent in the comic books. It was really important to me, and Chris was a big defender of this, that we spend a significant amount of time on Krypton, that we not just gloss over it. I even wrote an appendix of additional material about Krypton’s history, the culture and the different guilds and what had happened with the original kind of space-faring culture and why that had collapsed. That appendix got fed to the production designer and the costume designer so even stuff that wasn’t in the script proper got embedded into the movie that we were making.

HC: That’s a very detailed approach.

DG: It’s a way of working that I like anyway, but it’s a way of working that Chris espouses.  One of the things that I picked up in working with Chris is that for us at least we never just did something in the Batman films or in “Man of Steel” because that’s the way it’s done in the comic books. We always had to come up with a reason. Even if it might not be explained in dialogue in the film, it had to have its own logic. That’s why Superman’s underwear got nixed.

HC: Were you at all conscious while you were working on the film of the enormous amount of expectations that would ultimately surround its release?

DG: I think if I had known then what I know now, it would have completely paralyzed me and I couldn’t have done it. The expectations and the complications in trying to make Superman relatable in the same way that Chris and I had tried to make Batman relatable — I don’t want to say more realistic because it’s crazy to say that given that he’s from another planet and he can fly and do all of these things… Look how much debate has sprung up, good and bad, over the redesign of the “S”? I don’t think we had that kind of debate over the bat symbol or even the Batmobile. But the amount of articles that have been written about the underpants or whether or not we didn’t include the “S” shield on the back of the cape, just hundreds of pieces written about whether or not the spit curl should be there, things like that.

HC: What’s at the root of that passionate debate?

DG: Superman was the very first superhero. He’s been around 75 years. My grandmother has an emotional attachment to that character. I think “The Avengers” was a huge accomplishment but yet the Marvel heroes don’t have the same type of archetypal weight that the big three DC characters have, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. They just don’t. My grandmother has no relationship with Spider-Man or Thor or Iron Man. Maybe if those characters continue for another 40 years people will start to have that, but I think Batman and Superman will always have the edge in terms of pop culture. A lot of people say that the Superman symbol is the second most recognized symbol in the world other than the cross. A lot of people recognize the Spider-Man symbol, but it doesn’t have the same kind of weight that the Superman symbol does.

HC: How specifically did you attempt to make him more relatable to moviegoers?

DG: One of the ways I hope we made him relatable, even though he’s got these powers, it may have been hard for him to assimilate because he can hear everything, because he can see everything. It was just that moment that occurred to me, well, if he can hear everything and he is kind of odd for whatever reason — or if he’s odd because he’s trying to keep to himself because he doesn’t want to expose himself — he could hear every horrible thing that people say about him, or God forbid he could hear everything his parents say about him upstairs. I’ve got a 6-year-old and my wife and I have all sorts of conversations about him in bed at night about him or his problems. Now imagine that you’re 9 and you hear every one of those conversations which young Clark would. That was an in for me. I think that would be off-putting. You would have to learn coping mechanisms for that.

HC: What can you say at this point about sequels or a “Justice League” film?

DG: The only thing I can about subsequent films is that it would be disingenuous to say that sitting on the set Zack and I haven’t mused about things. But that was something that Chris really hammered home to Zack and I. Focus on this film, try to put all the expectations out of your head, because there’s enormous expectation on the part of the studio. If you think about all the merchandising and all the ad-supported stuff they’re doing, the sort of hopes and dreams that the stockholders have and stuff like that, it will just paralyze you. You just won’t be able to make your movie. Chris was very helpful in reminding the studio of that, let us do our thing. I think Henry [Cavill] said, “You can’t play an icon.” You can’t write a blockbuster. You just have to try to write the best movie you can. You have to take chances. You have to let the story lead you into logical directions and follow through and say, does that make sense for this story? If we had tried to write a blockbuster, we would have been screwed.

— Gina McIntyre

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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32 Responses to ‘Man of Steel’ writer: Superman and Batman will always ‘have the edge’

  1. Speak for your own grandma… My grandfather has Captain America (and Batman) comics from the 40s and my uncle has Marvel (and DC) playsets from the 60s. This rivalry is so stupid and you're perpetuating it by being condescending.

    • Don Draper says:

      Honestly the suggestion that Marvel characters don’t have the same impact on pop culture that Superman and Batman has is ridiculous. The box office of Spider-Man in 2002 speaks for itself as it easily crushed Superman Reurns box office in 2005. Honestly, who really likes Wonder Woman by the way?

      • NYJ says:

        Yeah, not really the same. That was the fifth Superman movie and the FIRST Spidey flick. Not a fair comparison. Shall we talk about TDKR vs TAS? Fact of the matter is both characters ARE more ingrained in the public's mind and in pop culture- as you note, EVERYONE knows who Wonder Woman is, whether they like her or not and she hasn't had a movie…how many people do you think know Ms. Marvel? That's called pop-culture impact.

      • @bertinio_7 says:

        Uh, me… I like Wonder Woman… so do a lot of people. Her current book is one of the best DC is releasing on a monthly basis. Just because writers and producers can't get passed the TV incarnation, doesn't mean there aren't fans out there waiting for a quality movie. If they made a Wonder WOman movie like Clash of the titans meets Thor (in the sence that WW gets trusted into the modern world like he did), that would be a killer movie.

        and BTW – kids have always loved spiderman, but that is not what Goyer meant. He meant how recognizable SUperman is compared to other characters – both in mythology and in symbolism. Not by how much it made recently.

      • Scott says:

        That's because Superman returns SUCKED…

    • Akkad Bakkad says:

      totally agree… thats why Superman has to be watered doewn from his powers in newer version of comics b'coz he had ridiculous amount of powers.

      • Joey1013 says:

        No he doesn't. Get over it Marvel fanboy. Thor has god powers, so nerf him? Lets nerf Professor X or Silver Surfer?
        I find it hard people who have no idea about comics start making comments.

  2. denny says:

    Take it easy, guy. I grew up with comics in the late '50's and was in on the maiden launches of the Marvel characters of the '60's. I love both worlds. However, I think that there is an aspect of grandeur to the Big Three DC characters that the Marvel does not have. This is not to take anything away from Captain America, Spider Man, Iron Man etc. It's just that the DC big three are established as legends bordering on mythology.

  3. Newseer says:

    What is outrageous is that such an American character is being played by a British actor, and others in the movie are also British, Australians etc. The USA has thousands of excellent actors that could played these characters successfully, but the producers have chosen actors from other countries, which is an outrageous trend since we increasingly see that our movies' main characters are from England, Australia, Ireland, Canada, Scotland, South Africa etc. Those countries barely give the chance to Americans to play in their movies even though American actors and actresses are as good and even better than those newcomers. We should change this unfair treatment of our actors, and start giving them the chance that they deserve.

    • ineffable says:

      I prefer the best actor possible regardless of country of origin. Ben Affleck failed Daredevil. Thomas Jane failed Punisher (2004). Kevin Spacey failed Lex Luther (2006 Superman Returns). George Clooney failed Batman & Robin. Halle Berry failed Catwoman. Jennifer Garner failed Elektra. Fantastic Fours sucked bad. Hulk (2003) and (2008) sucked pretty bad. Shaq as Steel. And, then America used Stallone to do Britain's famous comic book character Judge Dredd (1995…) . There' a lot more to be said about American actors in various movie remakes of comic characters…

    • International says:

      Yes, there are still a few talented actors. But thousands? I don't thinks so. The majority of actors now a days in the US are anything but excellent. This younger generation on TV and film here have no acting skills. There used to be a time when actors had skill, training, and you were happy to see them win awards and find success. Most actors in the US are given awards for no reason at all. Producers know where to find the real actors, and yes they come from other counties. Some of the best actors are from other countries. They are a breath of fresh air. They are bring to TV, and film real acting. I for one enjoy such films. Old Hollywood needs to come back, and sad to say there are only a few real US actors who have that work ethic. Your view is very narrow, and prejudice. Broaden your mind!!

    • Konkrypton says:

      Superman belongs to everyone, not just America. Don't be so mean-spirited.

    • Kaycee says:

      Trade union type issues come into play but so does acting talent – don't want to burst your bubble on that but…

    • whut says:

      uhhh… superman isn't even from earth

    • LKN says:

      Superman is Canadian. Metropolis is based on Toronto.

  4. Olivia Wilde,Mila Kunis & Kristen Stewart were some of The Actresses That Auditioned for The Lois Lane Part in MAN OF STEEL, i am GLAD Amy Adams got The Role, Amy Adams is 38 years old but she looks 27 or 28…Also i DON'T know in what World Brandon Routh looks more like SuperMan than Henry Cavill, Henry is PERFECT for That Role, Brandon DOESN'T look like SuperMan and Does NOT have Blue Eyes neither…….

    MAN OF STEEL will make Over 1 BiLLiON Dollars Worldwide,Henry Cavill is a Good Actor & Multi-Oscar-Nominated: Amy Adams is Beautiful Plus

    Multi-Oscar-Nominated: C-NOLAN is The Writer & Producer, The

    New Suit Looks Great & Better than The Old Light Blue Suit
    that Looked Like a SMURF & with The OutSide UnderWear that was NOT Good, MAN OF STEEL will be in Theaters in 2D, 3D, IMAX & IMAX 3D,i'm Going To See it in 3D

    • MOS says:

      Amy Adams is too old to play Lois Lane. She does not look 27 or 28. Lois Lane shouldn't be super young looking like she was in Superman Returns, because she's supposed to be a top reporter in the entire world, and you can't get there over night. At the same time, there was a 7 year difference between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises. Amy Adams isn't going to look like she's in her 30's when she's 45. Also, why didn't she become a brunette for the part? It's just annoying to me they cast her at all. I thought she did a good job acting what was written for her, but I would have rather seen a brunette Rachel McAdams or someone slightly younger and better looking.

  5. als says:

    Marvel is more relatable and that gives them an edge. We can relate to Ironman and Batman because we feel we might be able to do that. Nobody can relate to Superman and that has been the problem. Targeting your grandma and trying not to write a blockbuster sounds lazy and the movie will succeed regardless of bad plotpoints and lack of character development which may or may not be a director decision. There will be plenty of blame to go around if they miss Ironman 3 numbers.

    • Joey1013 says:

      Right like Thor is relatable because he is a God? Stop being a knucklehead and know what your talking first. Marvel has characters and yes main characters that are god like and Thor is a real god in their universe. DC came before marvel and Marvel just copied or made a lot of dumb lame heroes. Spiderman is the worst hero ever: let his uncle die, got rid of his wife to save life of his 80 plus aunt due to him revealing himself. He is a hero who often fights other heroes due to jumping the gun, so be correct in your assessments of heroes. If you mean relatable by being total idiots or jerks yeah marvel characters fit more to humans.

      • als says:

        You don't have to insult people to make your point. I used Batman as an example also. The average person can see Batman and Ironman as closer to themselves. Not so with Superman. Thor is a fantastic character and that is what comics is all about. Spiderman is the most popular international comic character because he has real world problems. You need to free your mind and not be so petty. Marvel and DC have great characters but cinematically Superman is a hard sell.

    • Barry says:

      I would disagree in the 'relatable' comparison. Certainly DC in the 50s and 60s were incredibly lame, which is why upstart Marvel kicked their butts in the 60s and 70s. But DC has caught up to Marvel to the point where it's a toss-up. Both universes have strong relatable storylines and excellent writing.

      I also think that it's not necessarily important that we 'relate' to Superman, just that we empathize with him. He may have godlike powers but he's also an orphan and the ultimate outsider. His body may be super but his heart can still be wounded. He has a conscience that sometimes exacts a heavy price… these are all things we can empathize with.

    • Ovanni says:

      @als, I think u need to go back and read the article again.. Obviously you didn't get it..
      The whole point Goyer was trying to make was he had to find 'real' scenarios and feelings that we go though (as ordinary people) so as to form the genesis of the character that was Clark Kent.. No, he's not asking you to relate EXACTLY to an alien, he is asking you to understand the reasons behind the story and how 'we' interact with the character when 'we' see the journey he takes in the film.. He even made a point to write a more detailed depiction of Krypton, so they had more solid base with which to build the whole World we view Superman in..
      Marvel and DC are amazingly rich in mythology, and this article only proves that Goyer wishes to build and expand on this mythology whilst also making him relevant to audiences today…
      Get with the program, or write your own script and let's see if the fanboys don't tear YOU to shreds..!

  6. Roger Sterling says:

    lol at Wonder Woman being put in the same league as Superman and Batman, she’s neither as famous as them or as popular as they are. The only reason she’s even included in the Trinity is because she’s a woman and DC wants to look diverse. It seems a lot of people call her Superwoman if you were truly iconic everyone would know your name people also always assume she’s Superman’s girlfriend. Nobody calls Robin Batboy. He or Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) belong in the Trinity more than her.

    • Miguel says:

      That's not why Wonder Woman is in the "big three". It has to do with the fact she's been continuously published since 1941, which you can't say for Green Lantern. It's not about popularity or diversity, it's about posterity and staying power. She's the most recognizable female superhero, whether you like that or not, whether you know her name or not, you've seen her before. The fact that people call powerful women "wonder women" says a lot about her cultural impact. Not to mention, she sells a lot of merchandise outside of comics – not that her comic isn't doing well and she's about to get a second book. People always harp on Wonder Woman for the simple fact that she's a woman. Says more about our mysogynistic culture than Wonder Woman herself.

  7. John says:

    That's the problem with all the DC movies, they're so encumbered with myth and take themselves so seriously that they forget they are comic book adventures. They're supposed to be fun! I for one have no plans to see the new Superman. The origin story again? REALLY? Who cares?

  8. Bo says:

    Movie sucks! Wait on the DVD or you’ll be sick you wasted the money..

  9. Apocdave says:

    This movie was so much more then Iron Man 3 on so many different levels. Truly Epic and im glad they didnt turn Zod into a fake like the Mandarin.

  10. rose chic says:

    Zod will live…… I can bet on that…. great writers are out there… KUDOS TO ALL IN MAN OF STEEL. TOPS, SUPER.. THE NEW HEARTTHROB OF COURSE IS HENRY CAVILL. CARRY ON……

  11. Christianlennon1979 says:

    The fact is no matter who your favourite is (I love both Marvel & DC comics) Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman are way beyond comic lore now, they are Mythology, in a few hundred year even far less, we will view them & relate, talk about these 3 characters the exact same way we do with Zeus, Poseidon & so forth. I adore Marvels comics, I revere both Marvel & DC, yet somehow DC, Goyer, Nolan bring these characters to epic proportions, the writing is genius, time they take to understand the universe that DC created around these characters is frankly mindblowing. Kryptonian language, history, culture, you can’t take your eyes away from the screen. My Marvel heroes are mindblowing in the comics but on screen they can’t get that across & it does piss you off when your a huge fan. Whether I like it or not Goyer is correct, Superman & Batman will outweigh any other characters, because of the effort invested into them which keeps you hooked & wanting more & more, at least I have Spidey’s, Captain America & Thors comics, why they can’t get Spider-Man & Thor as epic and rich with it’s universe on screen will annoy me for a long time to come. When characters go from comic lore to mythology, that’s your testament to how much these 3 are adored. I actually asked everyone I knew to mention one female superhero, they struggled & all came up with Wonder Woman, odd one said Supergirl. Goyer is spot on with Superman’s Symbol being only second to the the christian cross & that whether like it or not says it all.

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