David S Goyer on the controversy of Man Of Steel

News Simon Brew 25 Sep 2013 - 07:12

Screenwriter David S Goyer addresses one of the controversial aspects of Superman reboot, Man Of Steel...

This piece contains spoilers for Man Of Steel.

Earlier this week, Man Of Steel screenwriter David S Goyer took part in a special BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters' Lecture in London, and almost inevitably, the subject of this summer's Superman reboot, Man Of Steel, came up.

In particular, Goyer addressed the decision to turn Superman into a killer, with the moment where he snaps General Zod's neck cited. "We were pretty sure that was going to be controversial", he admitted. "It's not like we were deluding ourselves ... in the case of Zod, we wanted to put the character in an impossible situation and make an impossible choice".

Goyer admitted that he doesn't believe in the Superman doesn't kill rule, arguing that "it's a rule that exists outside of the narrative and I just don't believe in rules like that. I believe when you're writing film or television, you can't rely on a crutch of rule that exists outside of the narrative of the film".

And where does all this lead to? The Batman Vs Superman film, which Goyer is writing. "Our movie was in a way Superman Begins", Goyer continued, saying that "he's not really Superman until the end of the film". As such, they "wanted him to have had that experience of having taken a life and carry that through onto the next film. Because he's Superman and because people idolise him he will have to hold himself to a higher standard".

Batman Vs Superman is set for release in July 2015.

Digital Spy.

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I thought the neck snap was handled well, it was character defining. you seen his pain, you seen that it almost killed him to do it. It will reverberate throughout the series. it wasn't a meaningless baddie data, it absolutely meant something and for that reason to me it was justified

Goyer really doesn't get it. To quote Brandon Sanderson (who is an excellent writer): "... Superman's powers aren't what make him interesting, but his limits, specifically his vulnerability to kryptonite and the code of ethics he received from his parents."
Once you remove Superman's limits, you got unstoppable all powerful deity and you'll start asking for example why he just doesn't kill Lex Luthor...

But then you could argue (and please don't hold me to this as I'm playing devils advocate, (I'm no fan of MoS, but this particular scene is the least of it's sins)) - that this particular act, helps him form that personal code of ethics. I could be that he will be haunted by that action, and that having been driven to do it as a 'Superboy', he resolves that he would *never* be driven to that choice of action again, as an experienced, full-fledged Superman. You do learn from your mistakes...

Superman killing Zod would have been much more powerful if tens of thousands of humans hadn't been killed in their battle leading up to it.

Clearly Batman Vs Superman is going to be full of Supes angst for what he's done and this will be part of what holds him back when they actually have a fight - assuming they're going to. Well that and a little blob of green in Batmans pocket!

I have a big problem with saying this is "Superman Begins". In fact, I've got a few of them:

From a storyline point of view it's more Superman B. Batman Begins (damn, just typed Beyond and got really sad that show isn't on any more) takes you through Bruce's life and on to his first major 'case' but he becomes Batman about halfway through the film. The climax with the train and fear gas had *Batman* handling everything in a Batman way. In MoS Kal-El levels Metropolis, kills Zod, develops his 'I live in a world of cardboard so must be careful' mentality and... the movie ends.

From a personal point of view boy was this movie not advertised as a Begins-style film. I'd go so far as to say it didn't need to be that style of film either, surely the whole point of Big Blue is he gets his code of ethics and morals from Ma and Pa Kent? When he puts on the suit he's already got that background in place and driving him to be a force for good in the world. Actually, now that I type that wasn't a massive chunk of both film and marketing based around that 'they will follow you into the light' stuff Jor-El was banging on about? That ends up being something they set up here but will pay off much, much later in the series which kinda sucks.

And finally if it IS Superman Begins why waste one of the most powerful and recognisable villains (at least to the general movie going population) on his first battle? The wonderful thing about Batman Begins was it took enemies that hadn't featured on the big screen and used them beautifully well to establish both Batman himself AND the threat of bigger things to come. MoS jumps straight to a huge name, causes massive damage, exposes the whole world to the threat of alien invasion and... this is his first day on the job? Sure we've got Lex to come (and yes, you could do Brainiac, Darkseid and a few others to have suitably big hitters) but is that really much of an escalation?

Really hoping Batman Vs Superman is just the place holder for the "Dark Knight Returns"; would be wonderful to see a frank millar adaptation for that film but i know thats exactly what we wont get.

Otherwise i dread the script for that movie since they are bound to adapt certain content from DKR therefore effectively rulling out that movie ever getting made and we can guess that JLA will be the direct follow up then followed by another round of reboots.

So batman and supe to be best buds at the end of that movie? still gonna watch it for the fight.

Strongly recommend catching the recent animated version of DKR. They did a really good job with that film and captured the spirit of the book while also making it work as its own entity. My only real criticism is as good as the voice cast is I do wish they'd used Mark Hamill for the Joker. Still, maybe they're just saving him for the animated version of The Killing Joke (oh please oh please oh please).

Couldn't have said it better if I tried. I think Henry Cavil portrayed the pain that superman would have felt during this very well.

i agree, the neck snap was a valid and needed addition.

However it annoyed me how the build up was handled. There were buildings upon buildings falling all over the place, probably millions of lives lost, yet there was no sense of loss and then all of a sudden such an important scene balances on the Superman protecting a measly 2 lives....

but like he said, all that exists outside the narrative of this film....
there is no lex luthor in this film, and if the experiences of THIS film means he never kills again then it all fits within your pre-conceived universe.

To reply in similar Devilish manner: what kind of person (if we can call Superman that) learns code of ethics from killing someone? I would say that there is something horrible wrong when someone learns not to kill by killing. I would also argue that killing someone isn't just "a mistake", at least for me...

Ohh and just for trolling sake (wink): of course there is Lex Luthor inside the narrative of this film, because there is LexCorp in the film.

Which is why he had to do it. Zod would never stop.

Beautifully described, JP.

"Red Son" didn't have kryptonite and that's critically acclaimed.
And just because Superman killed Zod doesn't mean he's going to go on a rampage. For all we know Lex Luthor is going to be a publicity-friendly figure like Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight and Superman can't touch him without damaging people's faith.

Man of Steel used Zod because he's a cautionary villain similar to Ra's Al Ghul. He's someone Superman can aspire not to be
The Dark Knight had the Joker, the mafia and Two-Face. None of those villains is as powerful as the League of Shadows yet they manage to give Batman problems because the sequel has a different angle to it. Batman and Lex Luthor are both geniuses so they can outwit Superman and challenge him in ways that Zod couldn't.
The Dark knight Rises used Bane, the one villain who could seriously damage Batman. Superman's equivalent is Doomsday. Also remember that Superman's battle with Zod only spanned Metropolis. His fight with Doomsday could span the entire nation.
Finally, if this Justice League movie ever happens they'll probably use Darkseid, who has more resources than any other villain Superman has encountered. So in the end there's still potential for escalation

"Red Son" would be better. That Batman is more strategic and doesn't just charge into fights. He works alone, so beating Superman seemed like more of an achievement. He's also a more shadowy figure. No-one really knows much about him and that fits his image as an antagonistic character.

Superman has killed plenty of times before - when he's needed to, like he did in 'Man of Steel'.

He also killed Zod in 'Superman II' and he was already an established superhero at that point...

He didn't have to explain what he was going for with Man of Steel. I got that it was supposed to be a darker take with a fresh look (and I respect that). But in order to do that, he still needed to write a good film.

He kind of missed the point. The killing of Zod was only a 10 second scene. What about all of the rest? You know, um, where SM destroys half the city without a second thought for people he would have killed by knocking down their buildings and blowing stuff up.???

But superman killed thousands himself without caring, that's the point!!!

The neck-snap was dumb for a number of reasons.

First, and most important, it was NOT the only option. Superman could have done various different things to protect the people in that scene. Like, for instance, block Zod's heat vision with his own body, or run to grab the bystanders and whisk them to safety at super-speed, or fly Zod away from them, or frankly any number of things. Second, Superman is not supposed to be a killer, that's the crux of it, and he would have been more Superman-ish if he'd captured Zod alive or just incapacitated him. If he can break Zod's neck, then why not his legs or arms? No, I'm sorry but I don't buy it. This was just an utterly stupid scene to crown off a film full of stupidness.

I don't think it was needed or valid. I get the whole 'impossible choice' thing but the situation created around it wasn't nearly strong enough to create that impossible choice. Superman had dozens of other options to protect the people besides snapping Zod's neck. That's why it doesn't work.

I disagree, that he had other options, Zod is equal to his powers, if he moved then Zods eyes were straight at that family. the drama was in Supes realising this,

Also it was more than that, the family symbolised the death Zod would keep bringing. Superman didn't just see the death of those people he seen the death of everyone in metropolis in the carnage and he seen the future deaths of Zods actions. that's when he realises that no matter what he does Zod will keep killing, he can fly away with him or take him to the desert but people will always be in danger, he has no choice, no prison will hold him and he can't open the phantom zone, what else could he do?

Ugh, not this again. Oh no Superman took a life and he didn't save everyone! I really must read different Superman Comics, and watch different DCU animated films, to other Superman fans because he is always having fights where there is a huge amount of collateral damage and I always assumed a huge loss of life. Ok you see him protect the odd person but there is no way in a fight in the centre of a large city, between superpowered beings that many lives would not be lost! I always thought the point was that loss of life would be even bigger if they didn't have Superman, not that he saves everyone! I'm also fairly sure he has killed enemies before, I watched Superman Vs Brainiac at the weekend and he froze Brainiac and then shattered him into millions of pieces. Fairly sure that would count as killing.

It had more meaning to it because they were up close and personal. Taking a life from far away is a lot different when you can see their face.

Let's also keep in mind that this was his first foray as "Superman". That scene could translate into a real-life timing of milliseconds. And in that time, he already had Zod in a neck hold and the quickest choice would be to break his neck. It was a decision out of desperation and one that will haunt him for the series. Also, it makes more sense for him to have done this and now with regret, he will have this higher moral standard on taking a life - rather than it just being a part of his morals from the get go.

Let's not forget that in this storyline, even the Kents ethics were a little skewed due to their real life fear of Clark's powers being discovered. Jonathan Kent actually told him that maybe he should have let all the kids die on the school bus. This was more in tune with how humans are in real life rather than the idealized reality of the comics.
From this one experience with the Kryptonians, Superman can now begin to build his own code of ethics which would become more in line with the idealized vision he could have of life, or at least how it should be. Experience is also one hell of a teacher.

Yeah, he was in so much pain about it so he had to make out with Lois, like one minute after...

Agreed. The moment when Ka-el collapsed in tears over taking a life was inspired. I am so tired of "heroes" who look over the carnage they've reared and can only offer an unfunny quip.

Tens of thousands of lives lost certainly. (All of Manhattan has a population of only 2 million.) I suspect that Batman will helpfully point out the Superman his timidness contributed to the destruction.

"Superman could have done various different things to protect the people
in that scene. Like, for instance, block Zod's heat vision with his own
body, or run to grab the bystanders and whisk them to safety at
super-speed, or fly Zod away from them, or frankly any number of things."

Here's the problem - Ka-el was dealing with a ticking time bomb. General Zod was a trained solider - literally the greatest warrior of his generation. Ka-el was a farmboy doing the best he could with what he had. The ONLY advantage Superman had over Zod was a lifetime learning how to deal with superpowers - but the General was a very fast learner. Within minutes, he would be able to destroy Superman, and then the planet Earth.

" Second, Superman is not supposed to be a killer, that's the crux of
it, ..." And now we know WHY he's not a killer.

Except he didn't do that.

"Superman killing Zod would have been much more powerful if tens of
thousands of humans hadn't been killed in their battle leading up to it."

Why is that, exactly?

"But superman killed thousands himself without caring, that's the point!!!"

He did no such thing.

"To reply in similar Devilish manner: what kind of person (if we can call Superman that) learns code of ethics from killing someone?"

I suggest that you rent a copy of John Wayne's "The Quiet Man."

It wasn't an "impossible" choice. It was an logical one and Supes did the right thing.

Is it that good? I didn't bother picking it up on the basis that A) they split it up into two Blu-rays, and B) the drop in animation quality in the DCAU films has been really disappointing. Up until All-Star Superman, I'd enjoyed every single animated movie they took on, but since then it's been mostly disappointing...

"To reply in similar Devilish manner: what kind of person (if we can call Superman that) learns code of ethics from killing someone?"

Any previously misguided boy, whom at heart is a good man...?

Lets face it - this Clark has all the rights in the world to be confused having been previously taught by his father that it's okay to kill a bus full of children... personally, considering his upbringing, he isn't doing too bad in my opinion! ;)

"I would also argue that killing someone isn't just "a mistake", at least for me..."

It's a big mistake! It's a humdinger of a mistake! Surely, the bigger the mistake, the more there is to learn, and the more resolute your mind not to repeat it?

Lets hope Superman learns from this mistake, and if not him, then at least the writers should! ;)

Unless a human could be saved directly in front of him,
Superman made no real effort to save any of the thousands that would have resulted in them using buildings as battering rams and a city as a battleground;in fact he seemed rather indifferent to the matter. Nor did he attempt to take the battle to safer grounds. I’m not saying he would have been wholly successful in that endeavor but he would have made a titanic effort to do so, even if it meant sacrificing himself. That’s what the comic book Superman would have done, the Christopher Reeve incarnation and every subsequent version of the character. Sure this is new and he’s new at being Superman but if they had gone for that angle, imagine the power of Superman then choosing to take a life after so much effort to save life.

The emphases in the movie is one psychotic Kryptonian is more emotional and important for him (and therefore the audience is expected to feel likewise) than the mass slaughter that has just taken place. I just felt it was one more killing among many and sure, he did it to stop one more family being killed but it felt less powerful because of the mass carnage that had already taken place.

It's very very close to the book and, to be honest, I can sorta see why they split it up as the whole thing comes in around 150 minutes long which is probably pushing it on production and marketing schedules. There's now a deluxe edition that brings both parts together but I've got a nasty feeling that's not out in the UK.

Main difference from the book is they took out the internal narrative. That might sound sacrilegious but it actually works well in practice. Sometimes it's moved to dialogue, sometimes you get the same effect through actually having a moving image and sometimes they alter things about to put the point across. The art style is very much influenced by Miller's work and the animation, to me anyway, felt very good.

Sorta comes down to what you're after. As a movie adaptation of the book I think a live action version would struggle to offer as good an experience as this does (especially as, in live action, this would be an 18 and that's one expensive 18-rated flick to deliver the scale seen here). If you want to see the book on screen note for note and wouldn't be happy with any changes then I'd say avoid.

Except he didn't do that...? The Kryptonians destroyed half the city with their terraforming machine as well as smashing stuff up? While Superman concentrated on taking down the Kryptonians?

He did exactly that! Did you miss all the scenes where he battled his enemies by smashing them into buildings? And made no effort whatsoever to move the battle to a safe place?

David Goyer etc forgot that a lot of the internet film going crowd enjoy complaining, being offended and picking out bullshit problems in films. We got an epic superman film which was met with a bunch of whingers. "Oohh the fight killed a lot of people" This is somehow a big deal to people. It's a goddamn film, kids. It also lends credence that a lot of people didn't really understand what they were trying to do with the lore. But where there's a film, there's a whiney bitch.

"Superman made no real effort to save any of the thousands that would have resulted in them using buildings as battering rams and a city as a battleground;in fact he seemed rather indifferent to the matter."

You and I saw very different films. Superman did everything in his power to stop the war.

"Nor did he attempt to take the battle to safer grounds"

This film was "Superman Begins". He wasn't a trained tactician, or a solider, or a cop. He's a farm boy trying to take on a super-powered invading army. I'm pretty sure that General Zod would have frustrated any attempt to take the battle to New Jersey. Winston Churchill couldn't stop the bombing of London - and he knew what he was doing.

"I’m not saying he would have been wholly successful in that endeavor buthe would have made a titanic effort to do so, even if it meant sacrificing himself."

He DID sacrifice himself. I surrendered to Zod and was rescued by Lois.

"That’s what the comic book Superman would have done,"

In the 50s and 60s perhaps - since the 70s, comic books have made life harder for their heroes.

" ....the Christopher Reeve incarnation."

You mean turning the world around to turn back time? Throwing a powerless General Zod and his henchpeople into a ice pit to freeze to death? Using a magic kiss to make Lois forget that they were married? Using his heretofore never mentioned ability to teleport stone replicas of himself? Or turn his "S" shield into the Flying Saran Wrap of Doom? However Superman 3 and 4 ended?

"The emphases in the movie is one psychotic Kryptonian is more emotional and important for him (and therefore the audience is expected to feel likewise) than the mass slaughter that has just taken place."

This "one psychotic Kryptonian" had teh means, the will, and the proven history to kill every human on Earth.

"He did exactly that! Did you miss all the scenes where he battled his enemies by smashing them into buildings? And made no effort whatsoever to move the battle to a safe place?"

Again, if Superman had "taken the battle to a safe place", Zod (after laughing his ass off) would have sent an elite team to take down Ka-el, and had his army continue to destroy Metropolis as a pleasant diversion until the Earth was turned into New Krypton.

Anyone who has an issue with this 'rule' should read the first appearances of Superman in the Action Comics. Supes had no problem threatening to snap people's necks and making sure the right people got sent to the electric chair.

It's funny how Goyer calls it "Superman Begins," since Man of Steel is the same story as Batman Begins with the names changed, a fact that has been well-documented on the internet.

Huh? The stories aren't remotely the same.

Excellent point, and added to this Zod was depowered by this time so there would have been other options available to Supes without the need to push him down a hole!

Fed up of this whole argument, what was Superman supposed to do with Zod to protect the greater good?
And as for all the collataral damage this was surley about the best outcome anyone could have hoped for when faced with the alternative of the world ending??
To suggest Superman should have taken the fight elsewhere and done this and that would suggest that he was in control of the situation which he was not.

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