Man of Steel may remain widely divisive nearly a decade after its 2013 release, but the pedigree of its storytellers, The Dark Knight Trilogy’s David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, is often obscured by the sizable shadow cast by director Zack Snyder. But regardless of the creative team, for studio Warner Bros., the Henry Cavill-headlined Superman reboot’s primary purpose was to launch the Marvel-like continuity we now know as the DC Extended Universe. With such high stakes, work on the film regularly came with suggestions via studio notes. Yet, Goyer’s recollection of one particular note is not only funny but will make you wonder if anyone’s paying attention.
Goyer, having come through for Warner as one of the storytellers behind Nolan’s supremely successful, Oscar-winning Batman efforts, had the material knowledge and gravitas for the job, and was quickly tapped to write the Man of Steel screenplay, with Nolan’s name touted as a story developer. However, that didn’t stop Warner personnel from offering suggestions for the sake of suggestions. Yet, one would think that providing feedback for this crucial Superman endeavor would, in the very least, necessitate knowing that Krypton was destroyed, especially since that galactic calamity played out in elaborately explosive form in the very footage the studios suits were shown. Oddly enough, as the screenwriter recounts in a broad-topic THR interview, someone upstairs missed that tiny little detail.
“One note I got was on Man of Steel, where the ending involves Superman utilizing the pod that he arrived in as a child in order to bring down General Zod’s ship,” recalls Goyer. “The note we got from the studio said, ‘You have to change that.’ We asked why. They said, ‘Because if Superman uses that pod and it’s destroyed while saving the city, how is he ever going to get back home to Krypton?’ There was just this long pause and we said, ‘Krypton blew up. You saw 30 minutes of it!’
Perhaps putting the franchise cart before the immediate plot horse, someone—maybe a group of people—at Warner thought that the destruction of the ship used by villain General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his Kryptonian criminal cohorts wasted a potential opportunity for future film exploits in which Superman buckles in and discovers his roots on the planet from which he was jettisoned as an infant. However, the aftermath of Man of Steel’s first act—having followed Superman’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), in his resistance to Zod’s militant rebellion, and the bureaucracy’s failed effort to save the powder keg planet—left Krypton as broken clumps of dirt destined to drift in space for eons. Zod, of course, was using said ship in his attempt to terraform Earth into a new version of Krypton (a reboot of Krypton, if you will), thereby killing everyone on the planet in the process.
While Superman’s climactic choice—under extreme duress—to kill Zod became widely controversial, early watchers at Warner, by contrast, lamented the killing of his ship, which could have facilitated a trip (via the sacrificed pod or the ship) to the aforementioned clumps of dirt in space for an unspecified sequel.
Fun aside, the clear fail moment depicted in Goyer’s anecdote could simply be chalked up as an understandable example of someone at the studio having an off moment—a brain fart, if you will. Moreover, it’s not even the dumbest note the writer ever received, since he previously recalled one for his never-realized pre-MCU Doctor Strange script for Columbia Pictures, in which a clearly-clueless studio suit told him to “take a lot of the magic out.”
Indeed, the pressure to perform from the top-down at Warner’s corporate hierarchy was likely enormous, creating a far-seeing mindset focused on the broader franchise; a mindset that ironically hides glaring concepts already in front of one’s face, like, say, Snyder’s lengthy destruction of Krypton sequence. This is especially the case as they were starting to see the fortunes of direct competitor Marvel Studios exponentially increase year after year.
Man of Steel was never going to be anything less than an ambitiously redefining effort. After all, the reboot was released just seven short years after director Bryan Singer’s big screen reboot, 2006’s Superman Returns, and, not for nothing, arrived a mere two years after the last small screen Superman, Tom Welling, wrapped up a decade-long run with the 2011 end of Smallville. Indeed, along with the enduring iconic specter of the Christopher Reeve quartet, there was already no shortage of live-action Superman material in the ether at the time, which meant that this new movie had to be something extraordinarily special in order to convince understandably cynical audiences, yet again, that a man can fly.
Arguments about whether or not Man of Steel was an artistic success remain ongoing, especially after the film’s $668 million global box office numbers—while impressive by normal standards—didn’t quite create an uprising powerful enough to match Mighty Marvel’s reliably lucrative world-building.
Tellingly, Snyder’s subsequent DCEU effort wouldn’t be a direct sequel, but instead became a crossover, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which ended up introducing the name stardom of Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader for a bleak battle of heroes over vigilante philosophy and apocalyptic dreams. While grosses improved to $873 million for that film, its return on investment didn’t measure up, cementing Warner’s behind-the-scenes loss of confidence in Snyder’s vision, which, coupled with a personal tragedy, led to his exit from ultimately-under-performing 2017 mega-movie Justice League; an exit somewhat rectified by his lengthy redux, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, released earlier this year.
The DCEU remains in a continuity flux, with more imminent sequels for familiar characters like Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Shazam and a solo debut for The Flash, along with cold-intro spinoff Black Adam and reboot The Batman—and that’s not even addressing the nebulousness of its television side on HBO Max and The CW.
…Come to think of it, maybe Superman could have gotten away with that trip to a non-existent Krypton.