DC’s Man of Steel is in a strange place right now. After kicking off DC’s current universe of movies, Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent has gone from unifying star to peculiar Justice League catalyst, then practically nowhere to be seen in Warner’s slate of upcoming DC movies. But while his cinematic future remains in flux, his earliest days are still being re-examined by the people who helped bring him to life.
David S. Goyer reminisced about his process on writing Man of Steel and his writing career at large—from Blade to Batman Begins—as part of a new conversation with Backstory Magazine’s Jeff Goldsmith released today as part of San Diego Comic-Con’s virtual panels. But while Goyer could be candid, and rightfully proud, about the desire to do new things with comic book movies that led to the successes of Blade and Begins, returning to Man of Steel could only bring up two of the film’s most talked about moments: the sacrifice of Jonathan Kent, and Superman’s execution of Zod.
“People have to remember that that Clark was only meant to be about 17 at the time [of Jonathan’s death],” Goyer said discussing the long-repeated complaints as to why the young Kryptonian didn’t just bolt out and save his adoptive father with his superhuman abilities. “He was untested, untried, didn’t understand the extent of his powers. He also has his father over his head saying ‘You’ve got to be careful, when you step forward’...I don’t believe that that Clark, that 17-year-old Clark, could’ve saved Jonathan without revealing himself...I don’t think he had the skill, I don’t think he had the maturity. I’m not saying he couldn’t have saved Jonathan, he might have, but I don’t think he could’ve done it without [giving himself away]. And Jonathan’s point is that [Clark] isn’t old enough, isn’t mature enough, to take this on.”
Interestingly, it’s that immaturity and mindfulness of the consequences he faces by publicly revealing his powers that Goyer believes drives Man of Steel’s climactic, shocking battle: the moment that Superman snaps General Zod’s neck to stop him from heat-visioning a trapped family after the villainous Kryptonian snarls that Clark will never be able to truly detain him forever.
“If you the track the story all the way through, in terms of [Clark] emerging, his maturity, fully kind of understanding the power he has—and when they fight, the kind of devastation that is caused by it...we were trying to come up with a stalemate where he couldn’t just, we couldn’t just do a wink,” Goyer said of Zod’s ultimatum. But for the writer, giving Clark the decision to go so far was also about the character reckoning with his immaturity: the Superman who doesn’t kill is the one who’s been Superman for decades of comic book stories, while Man of Steel’s Clark is still very much closer to that young, unsure teenager who couldn’t save his dad.
“He’d just flown for the first time days before that [fight],” Goyer continued. “He’s not aware of his powers at all, or the extent [of them], who’s fighting somebody who’s said ‘I won’t stop.’”
But for his defense that Superman’s choice is made by a version of the character not yet fully aware of who he as a hero, Goyer stands by the moment as one that brought something new to Clark Kent. “I understand that a lot of people had problems with it,” Goyer said of the reaction, “at least when I have a hand in adapting these things you want to be as respectful to the core material as possible but you also can’t protect against failure. You have to take big swings, with big swings there are big rewards. We took enormous swings with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, that turned out to be well-received. We were trying to tell a different kind of Superman story—a Superman story that hadn’t been told before, and it required us taking some big swings.”
That’s not to say the writer doesn’t necessarily disagree with those critiques of Clark’s penchant for chiropody. “We talked about whether or not people would accept it. The editorial staff at DC had accepted it. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake,” Goyer concluded. “But if you sit there and you say ‘Oh I don’t want to take any risk, I’m worried I might offend a portion of the audience,’ I don’t think that’s a particularly healthy way to make a film or a television show.”
You can hear more of Goyer’s thoughts about Man of Steel and his superheroic career at large in the video above.
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