How Frustration With The Dark Knight Rises Led to Man of Steel

The Big Picture

  • Sometimes writers face writer’s block and find it helpful to work on another project to overcome it and find inspiration. This is what happened to David S. Goyer, who took a one-week writing break from
    The Dark Knight Rises
    and came up with
    Man of Steel
  • The rushed production of films like
    Suicide Squad
    and the quick completion of scripts like
    Taxi Driver
    can lead to poor critical reception or masterpieces, respectively.
  • Both
    The Dark Knight Rises
    Man of Steel
    faced writing challenges, but the controversies surrounding their storylines became reasons for celebration in retrospect.

Sometimes writers hit road blocks in spite of their titanic momentum, and when that happens, the absolute best thing to do is to use that energy to write something else, which is exactly what superhero screenwriter David S. Goyer did when he conceived Man of Steel during a one-week writing break from The Dark Knight Rises alongside Christopher Nolan. There are times that a script just comes pouring out of the writer under a shockingly short time frame just because it’s a story that has to be told. Time constraints always prove a double-edged sword for every writer, either motivating them through the impending doom of a deadline or forcing them to vomit hundreds of pages in a devastatingly short period.

The rushed production of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is widely credited for its poor critical reception, with Ayer having completed the script in a mere six weeks before diving headfirst into production. Raging Bull scribe Paul Schrader, on the other hand, completed his masterpiece Taxi Driver in under a fortnight due to a need to “exorcise the evil within” (a note to aspiring writers: this approach is not recommended). Then, of course, there’s Hong Kong critical darling Wong Kar-wai, who not only completed a script but a full-on feature film and one of his most celebrated at that, with Chungking Express having been shot in 23 days during a break from his wuxia epic Ashes of Time. The point is, writers and filmmakers alike are always juggling multiple projects due to their long production cycles, but while The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel both share certain controversies around their storylines, those controversies are the same reason that some retrospectively celebrate them today.


The Dark Knight Rises

Eight years after the Joker’s reign of chaos, Batman is coerced out of exile with the assistance of the mysterious Selina Kyle in order to defend Gotham City from the vicious guerrilla terrorist Bane.

Release Date
July 16, 2012

164 minutes

The Problems on ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ That Led to Writer’s Block

Writers are in a constant state of writer’s block. Just ask Aaron Sorkin. Ideas are hardly easy to come by and with so many eyes on a particular project’s release (like the trilogy-capper and sequel to one of the greatest films of all time), every decision needs to be tried, tested, and proven to be a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. It’s worth noting that in the interview above, Goyer credits this instance as the worst case of writer’s block he’s ever had, highlighting a struggle with wrapping certain scenes of The Dark Knight Rises while still achieving a solid sense of balance throughout the epic spectacle. Now regardless of how you may feel about The Dark Knight Rises, there’s no denying that this movie goes for it, culminating in a war that features thousands of cops taking up arms against Bane’s (Tom Hardy) army in the final battle for Gotham’s soul.


This Moment in Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ Redefined Krypton

Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot grabbed viewers from the get-go, reimaging the iconic character’s home planet.

Problems that the pair came across reportedly revolved around how Batman (Christian Bale) would defeat Bane, how he would escape the Pit, as well as how to reveal that the child born inside the prison was in fact Talia. Like Bruce in his final, rope-less jump from the Pit, Goyer and Nolan had to let go of their fear, walk away and “hope [their] subconscious [would] come to the rescue.” With a billion-dollar box office return, the decision seemingly paid off, though it’s fun to speculate just how Man of Steel was conceived within that period of time, knowing what we know about the final cuts.

How Was ‘Man of Steel’ Born From ‘The Dark Knight Rises’?

It’s no secret that Warner Bros. initially wanted to marry Man of Steel into Nolan’s established universe, though the Oppenheimer director pushed back at every chance he got — and for the better! However, the similarities between the two in tone cannot be understated, as both focus on establishing a similarly heavy, character-led atmosphere for the world’s finest. In fact, Man of Steel’s darker tone proved so distinctive that it unintentionally changed superhero films forever, with its successors opting for goofier fare. During his brief hiatus, Goyer revisited some of the early issues of Action Comics where Superman first debuted. This resulted in him writing a two-page treatment that would evolve into Man of Steel. When their break had elapsed and Nolan asked Goyer if he had any ideas, Goyer replied “I’ve got this Superman movie that has nothing to do with The Dark Knight Rises.” “Nothing,” however, seems like a bit of a stretch.

Thematic Similarities Between ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘Man of Steel’ Run Deep

There’s no question that a certain number of ideas must have overlapped between the two blockbusters. After all, Batman and Superman are both godlike figures who refuse to kill (unlike their counterparts from James Gunn’s upcoming Authority movie), and so much of both The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel is about interrogating the characters’ own mythologies. The Dark Knight Rises, for example, is all about the difficulties of maintaining peace from behind the scenes after Batman’s transcendence into a mythological protector, with Bruce accepting that the symbol works stronger as a lapsed legend than an active vigilante. Man of Steel, similarly, is all about how hard it is to be a God among men, with Zack Snyder leaning extra hard into the arrival of superheroes into our world from a human perspective, emphasized by the impressively idiosyncratic handheld action shots that he filmed the fight scenes through. These are beings moving too fast for the audience to comprehend, with the camerawork turning the audience into bystanders in an arena of gods.

Not every revisionist decision behind this sense of realism in regard to the superheroes’ unwavering moral code was met with applause. There was an uproar of controversy during the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as Batman (Ben Affleck) was given a literal kill count, while Superman’s (Henry Cavill) decision in Man of Steel to snap the neck of General Zod (Michael Shannon) to save a family in spite of causing an obscene amount of destruction in their battle was forever known as a stain that the DCEU couldn’t clean itself from. One can almost picture Goyer fighting off the temptation to get Batman to do this himself to Bane, instead opting for Selina (Anne Hathaway) to shoot him dead from the cannon of the Batpod at the last possible moment. Even Batman Begins saw Bruce Wayne exploiting a loophole in his own moral code to vanquish his first foe, so it’s safe to say that this question wrestled in Goyer’s and Nolan’s minds from the very beginning of the trilogy.

What becomes remarkable when charting Goyer’s journey throughout some of the world’s biggest superhero films is observing the evolution in his ideology when it came to making the concept of a superhero digestible for a mass audience. Man of Steel was hardly the first film of his that toyed with the idea of a superhero killing, and as the villains get more evil, it becomes a decision that’s harder to buy every time. It was, however, the first film brave enough to actually go through with it. While we can almost be certain that James Gunn’s Superman: Legacy won’t go down a route as controversial as Goyer and Snyder did, one has to appreciate that in hindsight, at least they boldly tried.

The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel are available to stream on Max in the U.S.

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