One of the common themes found in Superman stories written over the last 75 years is the complicated way in which the hero relates to humanity. After all, he’s an alien from a distant planet who has abilities that far exceed any of our own. It’s a defining part of the character and a point that must be stressed in order to be understood. So when David Goyer first started developing the screenplay for Man of Steel he made sure that audiences knew exactly where the superhero was coming from. And he did so by literally showing the audience exactly where the superhero came from.
With the new Superman film in theaters nationwide this weekend, I recently had a chance to sit down with the screenwriter and pick his brain about all things Man of Steel. Read on to find out how the story developed in comparison to working with Batman as a lead, the choice to use non-linear storytelling, and how this movie’s version of Superman is really able to fly and lift heavy objects.
Warning: There are some minor, minor spoilers in this interview. We please ask that you judge your own sensitivity.
Just as a reference point, you are coming off of the Batman trilogy, and he is this completely morally, thematically, and tonally different character from Superman. To go back to the beginning of this project, I’m curious just about cracking the story of this film, versus where you were when you were working on Batman Begins and figuring out the proper direction to take this character.
Well, Batman is a character that is born out of violence and born out of conflict, and even though there’s conflict in Clarks’ story, you know, his initial years, yes he’s different, but in his initial years, there is no violence. It’s very idyllic. It’s the opposite of Bruce Wayne’s childhood. His mom’s still alive, Bruce lost his parents very early on and that informed all decisions he made subsequent to that. Clark got to have his parents around at least until he was 18 or 20 and his mom is still alive and then he gets to speak to his Kryptonian father’s ghost .So he... It’s interesting though that they’re both orphans.
And at the same time completely different kinds of orphans.
But they are. They are both orphans. I think that’s interesting. I love what Debbie [Snyder] said about Superman, it’s the best adoption story ever told. I completely lost track of the original question.
Just finding the nut of this story, figuring out exactly what it is.
The nut of the story, this is a man with two fathers. It’s nature vs. nurture. Am I the person that is in my DNA or am I the person who I was, the son of the man who raised me? Which man am I? And in the end, I think he decides that he’s a combination of both of them, which is why we leaned in the direction, up on Krypton, you know, you’re not born in the womb and you’re designed to perform certain functions. He was a natural birth and he was different, and he was. Jor-El wanted him to have a choice.
One thing that I really liked about the approach to this story is that it’s kind of the story of Kal-El, not necessarily the story of Clark Kent. It’s Kal-El learning his true origins, who he really is. In terms of structuring the story and in terms of kind of figuring out which part of the character you want to focus on, where did that really come in?
Well, it was important to me that we spend a lot of time on Krypton, more so than any of the movies had before. We wanted to highlight Kal’s alien nature and we wanted Krypton to not just be Earth with cooler production design. We wanted it to be an alien world with an environment that if a human were transported to Krypton, they would die. They wouldn’t be able to breathe in the environment. The gravity would crush them. To a human it’s a very hostile world. We wanted Krypton to have different society, different religions, different things that were socially acceptable on Krypton would not be acceptable on Earth and vice versa and so we spent a lot of time, I spent a lot of time designing Krypton and I think in the first draft we were on Krypton for 35 pages. A long time.
That’s a long time! Were you working with Snyder at that point?
I did a draft of the script before Snyder came along and then all of the subsequent drafts I did after Zack came along. And we still spend a lot of time on Krypton. At one point the studio said, “Why are we spending so much time on Krypton?” I said, “Because it’s important.” I think for this audience for this story for them to understand that he truly, he looks human, but he’s not human. There’s a kind of grand history in literature and film and other things, of it takes an outsider to make humans get in touch with their humanity, you know, a stranger in a strange land, the Heinlein thing, which is also a quote in the bible. I think that that is also an essential part of the Superman story, he is an outsider but he shines, he reflects a light back on us.