We owe our modern comic book movies to David Goyer. Let's face it, folks. In many ways, that's the truth. It wasn't until 1998's Blade that Hollywood had the confidence to turn -X-Men into a reality, which in turn gave us Spider-Man, and the growing popularity of the genre led back to Batman Begins, scripted by David Goyer. He took superheroes seriously, and he's turned his talents on Superman for this weekend's release of Man of Steel, which he co-wrote with Christopher Nolan.
We got David Goyer on the phone to talk about the aspects of the character that needed to be updated, the parts that needed to be preserved, why he made a big change to Lois Lane and what his plans are for Lex Luthor in the future. We also got updates on the Y: The Last Man adaptation he's producing, the hope that remains for his cinematic version of The Flash, and the Superman villain he can't imagine using in the new movie franchise that is Man of Steel.
SOME SPOILERS LIE AHEAD.
CraveOnline: In Batman Begins you took some of the aspects of the character that people considered strange or outdated, and you made the “cool” and special again. What elements of Superman did you want to take a crack at and make different than they were before?
David Goyer: Well, one of the methods of working that Chris Nolan and I developed while working on Batman that we applied on Superman was, we accepted very early on that we were dealing with an iconic character that has existed for 75 years. When you have a character that’s existed for that long, that’s already gone through so many iterations in other mediums, whether it be film, or television, or radio, or novels, or comic books, it’s important to boil down that character to his essence. So we did a survey of the comic books and tried to look for the various themes that were sticking over the decades, and after a while certain themes bubbled to the surface and we decided those are the enduring themes. They represent the raw DNA of the character, and those are the things we need to pay attention to.
And there were elements of the savior character. Obviously some people have drawn comparisons to Christ, but there’s also an Old Testament quality. There’s a little bit of the Moses story, in the bulrushes, and Superman as well. I think there were antecedents Hercules, and the epic poems like Gilgamesh and Beowulf. I’ve heard Siegel and Schuster reference those in interviews during the Seventies.
But in that way we said, this is a story about a guy who is a god, who has one foot in the land of humans and one foot in the land of the gods, and he’s got to make his own way and decide which world he wants to live in. It’s a story about two fathers. And it’s a story about an outsider, the ultimate outsider, an alien, and it fits in with this tradition of stories of using someone who is inhuman to show us our humanity.
So we said those are the things that we need to pay attention to. We’re not going to shy away from it, we’re not going to apologize for it. We’re going to lean into it. We also decided that we are not going to lean on the cinematic crutch of kryptonite. So in some ways that made our job even more difficult, because we wanted to have the audience empathize with Superman and potentially exhibit some weaknesses for him, but we couldn’t use kryptonite because we wanted to make our lives difficult.
Did that force you into using Zod as a character, because you needed some who was a physical challenge to Superman?
That was one of the reasons, but we also knew that we wanted this to be a “first contact” story, and I suppose that was the, quote, “innovation” that I came up with when we started talking about the film. I said to Chris, “I want to do this as a first contact story because he represents intelligent alien life. Even if he didn’t have any super powers, his existence on the planet would be literally the biggest that happened in human history. It would change the face of humanity forever. Some people would fear him, some people would not, and that would bring everything into question. I felt that that was an aspect of the character that had always been given a short shrift, both in the comic books and in the movies. So that was kind of our starting point.
You did something with Lois Lane that was very bold. You made her a really good investigative reporter in this movie.
Why was that bold?
“Bold” might not be the right word, but it’s not something that comes across in the other Superman movies. Less so in the animated series, Bruce Timm did a good job with it, but she tends to just duck into crates next to terrorists to get a scoop. Here she’s doing her research, and instead of spending her entire career not being able to recognize Clark Kent as Superman, the first thing she does – it’s in the first half of the movie – is she figures out who Superman is. That really elevates her as a character. It makes her really intelligent.
People have said that the hero is only as good as his villain, and I would add to that, corollary, I’ve always felt that a hero is also only as good as his or her respective loved ones or romantic interests. Superman is this singular character. He’s the most incredible… well, he’s not even a man, but “being” on the planet, and if Lois isn’t pretty fantastic in her own right it just makes him look stupid. It makes him look stupid for falling in love with her.
That was always my problem with the Richard Donner movies. She treats Clark like crap in those movies. Why does he love her so much?
Well then also, she’s got to be… Why, of all the people in the world, does he open his heart to “her?” She’s got to be really special. She’s got to have a lot of gumption. She’s got to be smart, but also we thought… That was one of the elements of the canon that we felt we could alter, because when you’re adapting these characters you have to respect it, but you can’t be completely slavish to it. You have to also take risks in modifying the character. He’s been modified continuously in the comic books and I think that some of the mistakes that previous people have perhaps made with Superman is they haven’t forged new territory. He hasn’t evolved cinematically in the same way that he has evolved in the comic books. So we decided, you know what? She figures out his secret and she doesn’t betray his trust, and that’s one of the things that makes him fall in love with her but it’s also that she serves a bigger function. Because she doesn’t betray his trust, she serves as a proxy for all humanity. That’s one of the things that gets him to say, “Okay, I’m going to side with the humans and not with the Kryptonians.”