Following in the footsteps of our Iron Man 3 spoiler podcast breakdown with Shane Black and Drew Pearce - as well as our Skyfall writers special and the Star Trek Into Darkness dissection - here are the secrets of Man Of Steel, as revealed by director Zack Snyder and writer/producer David S. Goyer on our recent spoiler podcast. Fascinating, illuminating and chock-full of spoilers, you're not going to want to read this feature until you've seen the movie, which, handily, is in cinemas right about now.
[Note: Long-time Super-producer Jon Peters has wanted an armed polar bear fight outside the Fortress of Solitude in a Superman movie, and in Man Of Steel, he finally gets his wish. Well, in a way...]
Zack Snyder: "Unfortunately there was no battle. It was funny because when I was drawing the storyboards I was laughing to myself, drawing the thing. We didn’t shoot it but I had drawn it as this dolly move where we were with a polar bear and he’s lumbering across the ice and he finally jumps and leaps and splashes into the water. It proved to be a lot more difficult to photograph than I had imagined, and I definitely did not want to do a CG polar bear.
"So in the film that is IMAX footage that we got from this documentary about the polar regions. They spent six months on a Russian icebreaker looking for polar bears and we just weren’t gonna do that. We had it worked out that we were going to bring the polar bear and put all these ice floes on stage and shoot him with a green screen behind.
"We were training him physically to leap - we were training a polar bear to jump from ice floe to ice floe. It was also dangerous to film him. There’s only one guy who has a polar bear in Canada, and as we talked to him about it, things got more and more dodgy. It sounded really easy at first. He was like, ‘Oh yeah, just put him over there and he’ll jump in, but no one can be in the room, and you have to put these electric things around so he won’t murder everyone.’ I said, ‘Has this bear been trained? Are we safe?’ And he said, ‘You’re safe. Unless of course he sees you, or he notices something shiny like a flash of light or something.’ In film production, that stuff happens all the time. So he goes, ‘Yeah, there is a chance he could maul us all but...’ And I said, 'Maybe this is not what we should be doing.' Then we found the footage and it was okay."
Snyder: "Calling Man Of Steel ‘Clark Kent Origins’ is a really a nice way of putting it, because for me that’s what it was all about. We could have started this movie with that final Daily Planet scene. You literally could start the movie with him getting off his bike and getting in an elevator, putting his glasses on and coming up, and having Perry White go, ‘Guys this is our new stringer, Clark Kent.’ Then having Lois say, ‘Welcome to the Planet.’ It’s a great line and the movie really could have started that way. The first draft had more of a flashback element."
Snyder: "The first draft actually had more even on Krypton. The destruction of Krypton was crazy and we linearised that because it was like the birth and then all of these flashbacks within flashbacks and the timing of Zod’s approach. There was a bigger battle that I had designed on the landing platform and we shot some of it, but for budgetary reasons it got smaller and smaller and then it got to the point where I was just like, ‘Let’s just have the battle inside.’
"Jor-El has this robot called Kelex [voiced by Carla Gugino] and there is this scene where Kelex dons a robotic body and he battles it out with Zod on the landing platform. We had it so Zod had this pack of genetically-engineered war dogs that ran ahead, and Jor-El and Kelex were fighting the war dogs and finally Kelex takes these detonation explosives out of his robotic body and arms them, turning to Jor-El and saying 'Get the kid off the planet!', basically. Kelex says, 'I’m gonna try and hold them off', and then runs and dives and blows himself up. That makes Zod really mad, and then he lands and Zod goes in and the two fight."
Snyder: "On the walls inside you can see classic Superman poetry, where he talks about the different moons. Then there’s this [American mythologist and writer] Joseph Campbell-ian thing that I love which I felt was really appropriate to Superman. It goes like this:
'We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.'
"Joseph Campbell says this about the hero’s journey and I always thought it was super-appropriate for Superman. That’s his whole story in a nutshell, so we put that in Kryptonian on the walls."
Snyder: "In the original version of the script Zod just got zapped into the Phantom Zone. David [Goyer] and I had long talks about it, and Chris [Nolan] and I talked a lot about it. I was saying, ‘I really feel we should kill Zod and I feel that Superman should kill him.’ For me, the why of it was: if it’s truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained. It’s just in his DNA. I thought if we put him in an impossible situation, forced him into it, it would work. I felt like that could also make you go, ‘Okay, this is the why of him not killing ever again.’ He’s basically obliterated his entire people and his culture, and he is responsible for it and he is just like… ‘How could I kill ever again?’ Even though Zod says there’s no way this ends without it. ‘What are you going to do? Put me in jail? I don’t know what you’re going to do with me but I’m gonna just keep doing this until you stop me. I’m just a killing machine, especially now. I had a task before but you’ve robbed me of that too.’"
David S. Goyer: "So yes, originally Zod got sucked into The Phantom Zone with the others but I just felt it was unsatisfying and so did Zack. So we started talking to some of the people at DC Comics and asked, ‘Do you think there is ever a way that Superman would kill someone?’ And at first they said, ‘No way.’ ‘But what if he didn’t have a choice…?’ Originally Chris didn’t even want to let us try to write it but Zack and I said, ‘We think we can figure out a way that you’ll buy it.’ So I came up with this idea of the heat vision and these people about to die and I wrote the scene and gave it to Chris… and he said, ‘Okay, you convinced me.’ I’ve seen the film about four times now and everyone always gasps when it happens – they don’t see it coming – and I think it makes some people feel uncomfortable, whereas other people say ‘Right on!’ but that was the point. Hopefully what we have done with the end of this film is we’ve got the the mainstream audience, not the geek audience, to question it all. Hopefully we’ve redefined Superman."
Snyder: "I wanted to create a situation where Superman has gotta do what he’s gotta do or he is going to see these people get chopped in half. And I think Zod knows that. It’s almost like suicide in a way, it’s like death by cop. If Kal has the ability to kill him then that’s a noble way for him to die. It’s echoes the ‘A good death is its own reward’ concept in a movie, and if there were more adventures for Superman in the future, you now don’t know 100% what he’s gonna do. When you really put the concept that he won’t kill in stone and you really erase it as an option in the viewer’s mind, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a code.
"But again you’ll always have this thing in the back of your mind. This little thing of… ‘How far can you push him? If he sees Lois get hurt or he sees something like his mother get killed… you just made Superman really mad. A Superman that we know is capable of some really horrible stuff if he wants to do it. That’s the thing that’s cool about him I think, in some ways, the idea that he has the frailties of a human emotionally but you don’t wanna get that guy mad…"
Goyer: "Amazingly, not that much was cut from the original script. We refined things but the film is 75 per cent what was the first draft. There weren’t any characters that were different or things like that.
"There was a tiny scene when Ma and Pa Kent – even though I hate referring to them as that; they’re Jonathan and Martha – because I just think that Ma and Pa Kent is so anachronistic. One of the things we’re trying to do with Superman is just get him out of that of that Norman Rockwell Big Blue Boy Scout feel.
"Anyway, there is a tiny scene where they take a six-month-old Kal to the doctor because he’s behaving in a weird way, essentially because his super senses are starting to kick in. They do this test with newborns where they check their hearing by emitting tones into their ear canals. So the doctor starts increasing the amplitude of the tones and then baby Kal screams and blows out all of the windows of the doctor’s office; the windshields; the cars outside. It was a funny scene but we decided not to keep it in. Originally you cut from that pod landing to this scene to the fishing trawler and we just felt it was a more dramatic way to go if we went straight to the fishing trawler. And also coming off of the destruction of Kyrpton, it was a little early for any 'Ha ha ha' humour."
Goyer: "So there was that doctor scene [which was cut], and there was a tiny scene that was filmed and cut where after Lois is captured by the FBI, they interrogate her and she says, ‘I wont talk.'
"There was an action scene that was never filmed too. The Kryptonians did a demonstration of their capabilities: they dropped some of their number down to earth and mess up some cities. They drop Faora down in Shanghai and she messes up some stuff, for example. There was another five-page action scene and we thought it was too much so we never filmed it. But there’s plenty of action in this film… I mean, some people have said there is too much action."
Goyer: "You have to respect the canon but constantly question the canon, because if you don’t reinvent – and these characters are constantly reinvented in the comic books – then they become stagnant and they cease to become relevant. And we were feeling that Superman – and I think a lot of people were feeling that Superman, at least in films – was ceasing to be relevant. So some of the things that we questioned were… could Lois figure out who he is? It just seemed idiotic that she couldn’t.
"I have this idea that a hero is only as good as their villain but I also think that a hero is only as good as his or her love interest. And if he’s going to fall in love with this woman she has to be pretty special. It’s interesting: even Warner Bros. questioned that decision at first, because that’s the way it’s always been, that she couldn’t figure it out. We just thought we can’t do that. It’s going to make her look like an idiot and if we’re trying to depict it in a more realistic, more relatable way – and I say realistic in air quotes – we had to get rid of that. That and the underpants.
"I also thought if we really want to drive home the danger and the enormity of what’s happening it would be great to have the first Earth-based action sequence happen in Smallville and have the place get pretty well destroyed. We wanted to make it personal, and we thought that if the bad guys figure out where he is, there are people in Smallville that know his secret too, like Pete Ross [the childhood bully turned friend]."
Goyer: "It was always Zod. It was always Zod for two reasons. Chris [Nolan] and I wanted to make a science fiction film. We wanted to take Superman back to his roots and we wanted to come up with a threat. One of the things that always bothered me – and I adore the Donner films – was he goes into the Fortress Of Solitude and he just comes out in that costume and starts flying around. It’s one thing to emerge with these superpowers and another thing to possibly help people, but why put on a costume and make a public statement about it?
"I’m serious. The thinking behind this film was if he’s going to do that, his coming out [as Superman], if you will, has to be a really big event – it has to be something Earth-shattering. It always also bothered me that people glossed over the fact that he is an alien, and I had said to Chris Nolan early on that even if he had no superpowers, if the world found out he existed it would be the biggest story that happened in human history.
"That meant a first contact story and that lead us to Zod. Zod was also important because I wanted it to be a story about two fathers and Zod is a link back to his Kryptonian heritage, his lineage. Zod was at one time friends with Jor-El and so I wanted the fate of the world to rest on which heritage he was going to choose. We wanted to give him this Sophie’s Choice: you can have the human race or you can have the resurrected Krypton on Earth."
Goyer: "Obviously we sidestepped the alter ego problem in this movie. We were conscious of that. Obviously it’s not an issue with Lois. Moving forward she’s his secret keeper, and part of the fun for us if we do move forward is they will be involved in a real relationship and she will be part of that, maintaining that fiction. Part of the fun of doing this though, and Chris has always said this, is that sometimes you write yourself into a corner, but you have to follow it to its logical conclusion and see if you can figure a way out of it.
"I think that Perry’s not an idiot either – Perry knows they have a connection, he saw that they kissed – and at the end of the film we are very aware of that. So one would presume that moving forward Perry would say, ‘What’s the deal here?’ If the film is embraced over the next few weeks and we formalise things, that’s something we plan to follow up on."
Goyer: "We wanted the humans to be integral in the plan. We wanted a two-fold plan and we had to go through some gymnastics in order to pull that off: essentially that Superman has to take care of the World Engine while the other C-17 is flying the pod towards the black zero. He can’t do everything, and we wanted the human beings – whether it be Lois or the military – to be part of the solution.
"Another thing that we would hope to follow up on, which is something they’ve tried do in the comic books, is, ‘What does he do about world hunger?’ or ‘What does he do about genocide in Rwanda?’ For me part of the fun of reinterpreting these characters is saying, ‘What if…?’"
Goyer: "You have to remember this is, sort of, ‘Superman Begins’, and we see him saving kids in Smallville; we see him saving those guys on the oil rig and Lois refers to other incidences in the past when he’s been doing that as this kind of anonymous savior figure. But once Zod attacks, well… Actually, a couple of people have said once Zod attacks there’s not a lot of humour in it. Well, it just didn’t seem appropriate, people cutting jokes during 9/11 or something like that. There’s some humour before and there’s some humour after, so again moving forward perhaps there’s something [in that].
"This is a movie where the world learns that he exists and he decides to assume the mantle of Superman, so by the end of the film when he has that scene with General Swanwick, in our minds, the world has only been aware of Superman a month, or three weeks or something. That montage that you’re talking about can’t really happen yet. Presumably it would happen in another film or in between the next film."
Goyer: "I want to be quick to point out that Superman was created by two Jews, and so as much there are parallels to the Christ story there are also parallels to the Moses story. They literally put their son in a basinnet and send him to another world. It’s the ultimate immigrant story. I think that it’s a saviour story and it’s got Old Testament and New Testament aspects.
"But it was very deliberate: I wrote it in the script that he was 33 years old, he surrenders himself to humanity and humanity turns him over to the bad guys. We just thought that for decades people have made those parallels and though I myself am Jewish, we just thought, ‘Why ignore it? Why not lean into it?’ We are presuming that Clark grew up Methodist or Lutheran or something like that, so it would make sense that in this moment of doubt he’d turn to God. After his mother there are very few people he can talk about it, so he might well go into a church for solace."
Goyer: "I didn’t know about the Wayne Enterprises [symbol on the side of the satellite]. The LexCorp [logos were] in the script but the Wayne one... I was like, 'Oh that’s cool.' But Zack [Snyder] and I are big fanboys in that regard in a way that Chris [Nolan] isn’t. I mean we can cite certain covers or artists or things like that, [but] Chris just isn’t into that.
"This is just, sort of, y’know, ground zero for (no pun intended) a greater DC universe. This is a shared universe so we’re saying yes, Lex Luthor exists in this world, Bruce Wayne exists in this world. We mentioned S.T.A.R. Labs and so the intention is, if the film is well received, that this would be the starting point for introducing other characters and ultimately, obviously Warner Brothers hopes there will be a Justice League film and perhaps you might start seeing other characters appearing in each other’s films. I think in some ways they’re interested in going perhaps the opposite direction that Marvel has done which may be to do a group film and then spin off."
After the podcast interview was over, there was just enough time for one final curiousity question, and the one chosen was about the name of the blogger Lois Lane turns to when Perry White refuses to publish her Superman story: is Glen Woodburn's surname a portmanteau of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's last names?
Goyer: "It's an All The President's Men reference for sure. I wanted that character to be Jack Ryder [a television newscaster villain from the comics whose alter-ego is The Creeper] but DC comics wouldn't let us do it. I don't remember the issue that stopped it from happening, I think it was a rights thing, but we only found out three weeks before production started so we had to think quick. I wasn't going to go for [sometime Batman love interest] Vicki Vale, but I was desperate to come up with a new character that would work. In the end, this is how it happened, and we got to have fun with the Wikileaks thing too."