Ever since Man of Steel was announced as being written by David S. Goyer and executive produced by Christopher Nolan, the claims of the film being a case of Superman getting 'the Dark Knight influence' have persisted. Even though the two men come from, literally, entirely different worlds.
But according to Goyer, this incarnation of Superman (Henry Cavill) isn't going to be trading realism for fantasy, or hard questions for special effects. In fact, Man of Steel isn't being approached as a comic book movie at all.
While Marvel may have found success developing comic books into movies without removing much of the humor and wonder seen in the source material, Goyer and Nolan did something different with their take on Batman. Removing or re-imagining elements in order to update an aging story or to help the material speak to modern audiences may be seen as blasphemy by some, but to Goyer, it's all in the service of a stronger story.
In the latest issue of Empire Magazine (via CBM) Goyer outlines his approach to a story familiar to nearly everyone. While staying respectful of the films that preceded Man of Steel, fans should expect something very different this summer:
"We're approaching 'Superman' as if it weren't a comic book movie, as if it were real... I adore the Donner films. Absolutely adore them. It just struck me that there was an idealist quality to them that may or may not work with today's audience. It just struck me that if Superman really existed in the world, first of all, this story would be a story about first contact.
"He's an alien. You can easily imagine a scenario in which we'd be doing a film like 'E.T.,' as opposed to him running around in tights. If the world found out he existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history... It falls into that idea of trying to humanise the inhuman. He's made out of steel, he's not made out of flesh, metaphorically speaking. We are portraying him as a man, yet he's not a man."
The scriptwriter pulls no punches in his characterization of Superman as an alien (his suit already makes that clear), and not the simple embodiment of "truth, justice and the American way" to which he is so often reduced. However, in the process, Man of Steel seems to be as much a story about societies and how they view outsiders. Specifically, how the entire human race would view something as 'outside' our own experiences as a full-blown alien entity.
It's not hard to see the themes of immigration, belonging, and communal identity that Goyer is driving at (claiming that this is a movie he feels "the world needs right now"), but conceiving of a Superman who is so markedly removed from mankind takes this reboot into entirely different realms. As Goyer alludes to, Richard Donner's Superman (1978) never concerned itself with showing how the government or people on the street would react to an alien revealed to have been hiding among them.
Bryan Singer's Superman Returns (2006) jumped even further into acceptance of Superman as a celebrity, not just a superhero. But Cavill's closing lines of dialogue seen in the full Man of Steel trailer posed the question to all viewers quite plainly: "My father believed that if the world found out what I really was, they would reject me... what do you think?"
That willingness to face prejudice, fear, paranoia, and even hatred without sugarcoating humanity's, shall we say, less flattering tendencies, promises a film that is at least new, if not universally-pleasing. The themes at work have impressed executive producer Christopher Nolan, as has director Zack Snyder's vision for the big screen. But how do you tell such a serious, grounded story about a superhero from another world?
That's a question that has yet to be asked by DC superhero movies, since Nolan and Goyer's previous work on Batman was an extremely personal story of suffering and trauma. The task is a more difficult one, but at the end of the day, the story of Superman can be reduced to one core question of identity. A question hinted at in the pair of teaser trailers, but hinging on the ability to make it feel real:
"It is obviously a much longer process with a character like Superman. It is much easier to do a realistic take on Batman. You know nothing can hurt Superman, presumably other than Kryptonite. The challenge was simply: Can we figure out a way to make those elements work, quote unquote, in the real world? It's very much a story of a man with two fathers."
Nobody ever accused David S. Goyer or Zack Snyder of making things easy on themselves. And as if pairing such a personal struggle alongside "massive" action and backdrops, the word out of Warner Bros. is that much of the direction and feasibility of any Justice League movie will rest on how Man of Steel is received by the public.
The report comes from Variety, with Warner Bros. President Jeff Robinov explaining that the studio is "awaiting the results" of Snyder's Man of Steel before moving forward. That fact has been assumed to this point, but this certainly puts a damper on anyone expecting massive secret announcements at Comic-Con 2013.
What do you think of Goyer's approach to grounding Superman, and facing the world's reaction to his presence head on? Is this the story you've been waiting to see told (on film) or the wrong direction altogether?
Man of Steel hits theaters June 14th, 2013. Pick up Empire‘s March issue on newsstands this Thursday.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
Source: Empire [via CBM] & Variety