State of the Genre – David S. Goyer on Man of Steel, and why his comments are GOOD

In his latest ‘State of the Genre’ column, Martin Deer on the reaction to David S. Goyer’s recent comments on Man of Steel…

Henry Cavill Superman Man of Steel

This week David S. Goyer has been speaking to Empire about Man of Steel as we get closer to it’s release on June 14th. For some reason his latest comments, despite being slight expansions on things we were already aware of, have caused quite a stir. His comments being:

We’re approaching Superman as if it weren’t a comic book movie, as if it were real.

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 just struck me that if Superman really existed in the world, first of all this story would be a story about first contact.

Every single one of these comments excites me, but I want to address the criticisms his comments have received, and whilst there are a few, none more so represents them on a whole than a writer at Collider referring to Goyer’s comments – and Goyer as a person – as “stupid”, and titling his article “David S. Goyer Says He Wrote MAN OF STEEL ‘As If It Were Real,’ Not a Lowly Comic Book Movie”.

Did Goyer actually refer to comic book films as ‘lowly’? I don’t think he did, so why is that being inferred? Goyer has shown repeatedly a great affection for comic books – he writes them! In the same article, Goyer goes on to give his appreciation of the Richard Donner films; add that to the fact that he was part of the most successful series of films based on comic books and I am really perplexed at why his comments are being positioned, unjustly, in to such a negative light.

These types of comments weren’t anywhere to be seen when The Dark Knight Trilogy was being made, so why now? All Goyer is trying to convey is that they are taking Superman seriously! They are going to treat Superman as if he were real and not just the “greatest comic book superhero” – they are bringing gravitas to him and his world. Ultimately isn’t that what we want? Films that aim as high as they can and don’t wish to be held back by the conventional belief that they are “just a comic book movie”? Which is exactly what they did on The Dark Knight Trilogy I might add. Aiming to be more than a comic book movie does not mean that you forget your roots, only that you try to capitalise on the character’s full potential. We should be commending Goyer for his vision.
Another comment I wanted to address was from an article over at The Mary Sue in which the writer made the following remark concerning Goyer’s comments:
It’s an approach I can understand but not one I necessarily agree with. To me, Superman is hope. Above all other heroes, he’s the one that exudes positivity and inspiration. I’ll be honest, I’m longing for a superhero film that allows the audience to suspend disbelief and accept a film where superheroes are already a natural part of the world.

I agree with the writer’s belief that Superman is hope; he is, and we have heard constantly since the beginning that this is how he will be treated, as the “beacon of hope” for the world. However for Superman to be truly seen in the world as a symbol of hope, treating him as the “first contact” is the best way to do it – and an exciting prospect at that. If Man of Steel was set in a world where other superheroes existed and then Superman arrives, why would he become the symbol of hope for our world? Why wouldn’t the other superheroes already be living up to that mantra? It works so much more as a concept if Superman is the only superhero, and if he is the first alien being we have encountered it will solidify him as that hero even more.

Think about it for a moment, imagine our world – as Goyer and company are doing – and imagine an all powerful, flying alien showing up. Goyer is right – that would be the biggest thing to happen in human history. Think of the backlash, the hatred (Lex Luthor), the fear and the mistrust. Now think of how much Superman will shine as he shows the world he is pure of heart. That he is hope. If he were simply to be taking his place as the most inspirational of an already existing super-powered bunch of heroes it doesn’t have the same impact. Nor would it have the same impact if they were treating Man of Steel as just a movie based on a comic book, instead of being based in reality. How many comic book films deal with meaningful themes and powerful story telling? I can name only three, and Goyer was involved in all of them.

Superman deserves his time in the sun right now, and he has had previous films which have been more light hearted and “comic booky” and they haven’t always fared too well. No disrespect to what Marvel are doing but I want films that will be considered great and remembered for a long time. Taking Superman seriously is how you achieve that.

Part of the problem with how Goyer’s comments are being interpreted I think has to do with the marketing that Man of Steel has received thus far. On the front of the latest issue of Empire are the words ‘Superman gets The Dark Knight Treatment’. I have said before that the association to The Dark Knight – whilst I know is necessary as it would be lunacy not to associate Man of Steel with the $3 billion Dark Knight Trilogy – would begin to get irritating. They aren’t making The Dark Knight with Superman in it; they aren’t making Superman as dark and brooding as they made Nolan’s Batman and they aren’t going to explain how everything works. Although Goyer did mention they tried to figure out how Superman flew just for their own sakes – off-screen – but isn’t that cool? Doesn’t that lead to a better film where the actions taking place make sense? But I digress. What they are doing is what they did with Batman in regards to taking him seriously. Placing him in a real world with real issues that can speak to us on many levels and won’t just be a fun popcorn movie. That is The Dark Knight treatment they refer to. Look at the synopsis, look at all of the quotes from Goyer and company and don’t just look at one comment – look at the whole picture of the world their words are building.
Right now Man of Steel is shaping up to be a great film. We’re looking at a film that will deal with deep human issues and dramatic themes, rather than just being another fun comic book movie which will slot in to 2013’s landscape. So which, when you really think about it, would you prefer? A fun movie with some cool action but barely a story to hold up against a gentle breeze, or a realistic, intelligent take on one of the most enduring and important fictional characters ever created that deals with important themes and issues and could hold against Superman’s breath itself? It’s a great time to be a comic book fan – we have films which are comic books come to life and we can enjoy them as the big fun spectacles that they are, and we have also had a great trilogy of films that aimed higher than the expectations people placed on them because of the genre that they fall in. Personally I’m glad Man of Steel is taking the latter route.

By going the realistic route and telling an intelligent story based on a “first contact scenario”, Man of Steel not only has the opportunity to tell a meaningful story on acceptance and discovering your place in the world, among whatever else in there we are yet to uncover, it has the chance to really show Superman as the greatest of them all. As the personification of the good within all of us that we should all be striving to achieve.

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the Empire article which comes from Zack Snyder and encapsulates what was so exciting about the approach Nolan took to Batman and is being taken to Superman:

We’re treating Superman as though he were real. Superman exists.

Martin Deer

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