David Goyer Is Not A Bad Writer And The Stuff You Didn’t Like In Man Of Steel Was Not His Fault

18 Jun

Here’s what happens in a lot of modern film criticism and it really pisses me off…

A movie comes out (and for the sake of this article let’s focus on “geek” properties) like, I don’t know, Iron Man 3 – which is absolutely embraced by the masses. They heap praise upon praise on the film’s director; hoisting him up on their shoulders and carrying him through town as they cheer “Hooraaaay!” leaving the writer standing in the dust, squinting into the sun.

Fair enough.

But then… A movie comes out that these same people do not like; and what happens? Nine times out of ten, they will treat that film’s writer as if he were a toilet.

This doesn’t happen in M. Night Shyamalan’s case because he writes most of his films… But, more importantly, he’s an anomaly – and the subject of a future article.

Also… Goyer is hardly the only writer subjected to constant abuse by the internet illuminati of film fans.


But I don’t want to talk about those guys… Because I digress and I’d rather just focus on this one guy I’m talking about here. Make him the symbol for all the general bitching that goes on and leave it at that.

So, let’s get down to business and discuss David Goyer.


I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he’s probably one of the better guys doing genre right now. The films that have been made from his screenplays have varied in quality, this I will concede. And, as much as he’s a good writer, he’s not a very good director.


So, there’s that too.

But he’s a good writer of genre because he has interesting ideas. He wrote a Jewish horror movie called The Unborn. It wasn’t a very good movie. But the fact it exists is interesting. It’s commendable that, in a crowded market of religious horror films about God and Jesus and The Devil, he went ahead and made one about a Dybbuk. There aren’t many horror films that delve into Jewish mythology. So, that one wasn’t great. But it had Gary Oldman playing a rabbi and it tried. Can’t a guy get points for trying anymore?


Gary Oldman, being a Rabbi, in a scene from The Unborn.

David Goyer is also an ideal writer for comic book movies because he “gets” comics. He’s a genuine enthusiast of the medium and has actually written some decent comic book stories himself. Most notably for Justice League comics. He gets what most comic book fans probably want to see up there on the screen, because it’s what he would like to see up there on the screen.

You might not have liked some of the choices he’s made as a writer. It might not have been your cup of tea when he decided to take a certain plot in a certain direction or had that guy do that thing you wish he hadn’t done in that movie you didn’t like.


Copyright – John Byrne, circa 1987.

But that’s semantics. The fact you, personally, didn’t enjoy it does not make him a “bad writer.”

The recent trilogy of new Batman films (all written or co-written by Goyer) has been – for the most part – widely celebrated. Director Christopher Nolan has been hailed as a visionary, who revitalized a dead property by giving it a gritty new lease on life. And – surprise, surprise – anything in the movies that was not up to snuff?


Well… That’s David Goyer’s fault, of course.

Now… I’m going to talk about something else.

In the Summer of 2006, a movie came out called Superman Returns. It flew into theaters with much pomp and circumstance and was ultimately treated as a colossal disappointment by many people. I know because I was there and I witnessed this.


The Summer of 2006.

I also know because I was one of those people.

I was certainly looking forward to it. It had a lot going for it, to be sure. The filmmakers involved had a strong track record after two half-way decent X-Men movies. It seemed to be well-cast. More importantly, it was picking up where Richard Donner left off. It was treating the first two, classic Superman movies like prequels and relaunching the franchise… Honoring tradition, while spinning the character in new and exciting directions.

Surely, it would be a spectacular film.


The classic films had been good for their era. But the technical limitations of the time had forced them to keep things grounded. We could not have any of the epic action scenes that had been dramatized in the comic books. Certainly not on the level that the comics themselves depicted these scenes. But they got away with it, because no movie had convincingly made a man fly before; and no movie had taken a comic book hero seriously, dramatizing his adventures into an epic film. So, Superman was a breath of fresh air in 1978. And, despite the technical limitations, was rightly hailed as a spectacular entertainment.

But, now, in 2006, we had the technology.

Special effects wizardry had evolved to the point where much of the spectacle that existed on the comic book page could convincingly be brought to life on a movie screen. In fact, many comic book movies since Superman had done just that. Tim Burton’s (and even Joel Shumacher’s if we’re being 100% honest) Batman films had brought comic books to life, with plenty of visual trickery and thrilling action. So had Sam Raimi with his Spider-Man films. And the filmmaker behind Superman Returns, Bryan Singer, had made two spectacular X-Men films that were also filled with big special effects and action sequences taken straight from the comic book page.

Superman Returns would be an epic, spectacular film, we thought… Full of action and amazing visuals; and splendid feats of heroism. Because Superman has always been the most spectacular comic book hero, his would have to be the most spectacular film. Putting all the aforementioned ones to shame with its level of spectacle and thrills.


Then we saw the film. We discovered that Bryan Singer and his team had used that technology to deliver a rather lifeless film that, however well-intentioned, could probably have come out – with very few aesthetic differences – in 1979.


I’m not going to say that Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris are bad writers. It’s not a badly structured or developed narrative. But their story choices were disappointing. I’m certainly not going to say Bryan Singer is a bad director. He wanted to make a true “sequel” to the Richard Donner film. And that’s exactly what he did.

But the movie was not what most of us wanted it to be. “It was boring.” “There wasn’t any action.” “Superman was a stalker and a deadbeat dad.” And so on…


And so, there was no Superman Returns II.


Flash forward, as they say…

Comic book movies have gotten even bigger since then.

In 2008, the Marvel comic book publisher founded Marvel Film Studios, retaining the rights of most of their characters and promising to launch a series of films that would all exist in the same universe. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America… All leading to a spectacular adventure in which all these heroes would participate – The Avengers.

The promise was, for the most part, kept. And Marvel Studios kept these movies coming – opening to generally widespread acclaim by the fans and a high degree of box office success. Culminating in the release, last Summer, of The Avengers.

The Summer of 2012.

The Summer of 2012.

In which it was proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the technology existed to 100% accurately translate every single spectacular panel of a comic book adventure and dramatize it on screen, exactly as it had been envisioned. What a thrilling adventure that was! Action on a massive scale, daring feats of heroism… Tremendous, eye-popping visuals… Colossal fights with epic destruction filled the screen.

Which brings me, at last, to Man of Steel.


Warner Brothers was determined to not fuck it up this time. Dollar signs flashed in their eyes whenever they glanced over at what their competitors were doing, so it was time to get into the game. They’d had tremendous success with the Batman films, but the jewel of their superhero crown was still sitting back there, collecting dust.

So, why not recruit their golden boy Chris Nolan? He’d steered them right with the Batmans. Maybe he could do the same here. And hey, that kid David Goyer wrote those, right? Sign him up too.

Because this is what they do. They go with what they think will work. And they base that assumption on what worked last time…


 Time for some more backtracking in order to explain what I’m talking about here.

In 1989, Tim Burton’s film Batman was THE blockbuster of that year. It was a heavily-marketed, gigantic box office behemoth that struck the zeitgeist like a bolt of lightning. No one who was around during that summer can possibly forget the cultural impact it had.

1989 (1)1989 (2)

Warner Brothers had a hit on their hands and they owed it all to this kid Tim Burton. Obviously, a sequel was commissioned. And why bother changing up the formula? This kid Tim Burton sure knew what he was doing. Let him do whatever he wants!

Well… What he wanted to do was 1992’s Batman Returns. In which, left to his own devices, Tim Burton went ahead and made a dark, gloomy nightmare movie: About a freak who grew up in the sewers; and how he comes back to town on Christmas to exact vengeance on the society that wronged him, accompanied by a three-ring circus of evil clowns and penguins with missiles strapped to their backs.

The Summer of 1992.

The Summer of 1992.

The box office receipts were there. But not to the degree they had been the first time. Because it didn’t strike the zeitgeist with the same impact. People wanted Batman and spectacular adventures in a gothic-looking city. They just didn’t want a diminutive freak with green shit coming out of his mouth.

Uh-oh, the brothers Warner said. “I guess this isn’t what the people want anymore.” So, what do they want?

Tim Burton was willing to make a third movie for them. But, during their annual pitch meeting, the brothers Warner told him that, rather than make a third Batman movie, it would be better for everyone involved if he fucked his mother in the ass…


…and they called upon the services of a filmmaker named Joel Schumacher. They had seen his success with “youth-oriented” pictures like St. Elmo’s Fire in the 80s and Flatliners in the 90s. For WB, he had delivered hits with wide commercial appeal, and a sense of grit, like The Lost Boys in the 80s and Falling Down in the 90s.

Who better than Mr. Schumacher to make a Batman movie?

The result: Batman Forevera highly-stylized discotheque of a movie, packed with an all-star cast, backed by an all-star soundtrack and released with much fanfare – in the Summer of 1995 – to great box office success and critical acclaim.

The Summer of 1995.

The Summer of 1995.

Go ahead and check. It was called “the best of the Batman movies” by several critics (The internet was still in its relative infancy back then). People like Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin, who had been lukewarm to negative on the previous two, gave it three-star reviews and called it a well-written, satisfying entertainment. The audience, for the most part, seemed to agree.

So, the brothers Warner – in their infinite wisdom – said: THIS is what the people want! A GAY DISCOTHEQUE OF A MOVIE! So… More, Mr. Schumacher! MORE!

And more is what he gave them. In 1997 – with the Summer release of Batman & Robina movie that was every bit the visual headache the previous one had been, only with even more gayness and even more silliness… Because Warner Brothers had asked for more.

But the people didn’t like it anymore.

It took some 8 years for Christopher Nolan to come along and show the brothers Warner that “what people wanted” from Batman was a dark, supposedly realistic, vision that treated the property not as a “comic book,” but as a serious crime story. With serious repercussions… Serious death…

Nolan couldn’t have been wrong because he was right; and the trilogy of films he made worked for audiences all over the world.

The People.

The People.

So Warner Brothers knows what the people want. And the people apparently want Christopher Nolan making comic book films. They’ve also seen what the competitors have been doing to much success. So, clearly, the people also want big, spectacular adventures that accurately translate the comic book panel onto the movie screen.

Which brings me now, at last and finally, to Man of Steel.


The film has come out this summer and been met with a mixed reception. Some have hailed it as a terrific spectacle, others have called it hollow and devoid of feeling. Some have said it’s the Superman movie they’ve been waiting their whole lives to see.

Others have said it trashes what Superman is all about in the name of cheap action and thrills…



You can’t please everyone. You should never try.

Where I sit is somewhere in between.

I do think it’s a terrific example of pure, spectacle filmmaking and showmanship – with some of the most massive comic book action I’ve ever seen, utilizing state-of-the-art special effects wizardry to its full potential and delivering the goods…and then some. Because it goes a bit overboard at the end, when enough action becomes TOO MUCH action. So it is guilty of an overzealous eagerness to please the masses. But I am willing to let that slide.

Also, it’s not the Superman movie I’ve been waiting my whole life for. I liked Richard Donner’s Superman just fine. I still do. But it is certainly the Superman movie I was expecting given today’s technology…and, also, it sets things up very nicely – promising that this could go to truly wonderful places in future installments.


 Overall, I am very pleased.

So…? We’re all entitled to our opinions Erix, what’s your beef?

I’ve read several pieces now about Man of Steel. Some positive, others negative. And most (especially the ones slanted towards the negative) take issue with one specific element. It’s the same one I criticized a couple of paragraphs back. It’s with regards to the bombastic, over-the-top action that climaxes the film. Again… I will concede it is a bit too much. But a very specific complaint also arises here. In piece after piece, I’ve read about the amount of collateral damage – as in: thousands of innocents being killed as a result of the destruction on display. And a big deal is made out of the fact that the character of Superman never seems to acknowledge this destruction and, therefore, neither does the film.

And who becomes culprit numero uno in most of these complaints? That terrible writer named David Goyer.

Now, first things first. It is true that there is a tremendous amount of destruction on display during the climactic moments of Man of Steel. And it is also true that, were this level of destruction actually committed on a major metropolitan city, untold thousands would most likely perish in flames. But it is also definitely not true that, during the end of this film, thousands of people die and Superman doesn’t care. The destruction happens, yes. But it is not logical destruction. It is portrayed with the fanciful glee of a toddler building a city of Legos and then kicking it to pieces.

Zack Snyder and David Goyer. On the set of MAN OF STEEL.

Zack Snyder and David Goyer. On the set of MAN OF STEEL.

No emphasis is made on the loss of human life because…and this is very important…we are not meant to be thinking about it.

That sequence is about the epic fight between two titans in the skies of a metropolitan city. And, as such, it has been dramatized with these titans punching each other through buildings, with those buildings occasionally crumbling down around them. During all this massive destruction, our attention is occasionally drawn to a group of supporting characters in the story, as they try to help each other… running for safety, helping each other out of the rubble… Etceteras. And those are the only people we are supposed to be thinking about at that time.

But, what about the others? You ask.

Fuck them.

They probably evacuated in time. They probably manage to jump out of the way when that cinder block falls… Whatever. They’re probably in a safe place because: If the movie doesn’t actually show them to me, they don’t exist.


Is this a naive way to stage the action? Yes.

Is this unrealistic filmmaking? Oh yes.

Is this cartoonish and extremely over-the-top and silly? A thousand times yes.

Is this David Goyer’s fault? No.

Because, here’s the thing…

I haven’t read Goyer’s actual screenplay for Man of Steel. But I’m going to go ahead and risk it and say I will bet actual money from my pocket that it doesn’t look like this:


SUPERMAN and GENERAL ZOD are engaged in a fist-fight in the skies above Metropolis. They are surrounded by gleaming glass towers, reflecting the light dramatically as the sun sets.

Superman punches General Zod on the face, his flying body crashes through a skyscraper. The force is so great, that the building begins to crumble…

We see SEVERAL INNOCENT BYSTANDERS screaming inside that building as it falls.

Superman sees this and the look on his face says: “oops.” He then grabs General Zod by the lapels and flings him into an adjacent building.

The impact causes a massive crater in the center of the building, sending large chunks of debris plummeting to the street below…


AN INNOCENT BYSTANDER as a large cinder block falls on him, crushing him. HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN, standing across from him, begin screaming in terror.


Superman, shrugging, smiling and waving as he flies toward General Zod again…

* * * *

I sincerely, with every fiber of my being, doubt that Goyer wrote that in his screenplay.

First, because this never actually happens in the film; but also because Goyer has written a serious action-adventure, and not a parody of superhero films.

In fact, I will bet good money that Goyer’s actual screenplay probably goes more like this:


SUPERMAN and GENERAL ZOD trade blows in the skies above Metropolis. It is an epic fight, in which many punches are thrown and some destruction is caused to the city’s big buildings.

It extends itself until the two titans crash through the ceiling of METROPOLIS GRAND CENTRAL STATION.


* * * *

Cut to the dramatic scene in the train station…

My point is, David Goyer didn’t need to write all the minute details of the fight because that has nothing to do with telling the story. There are some throwaway lines, here and there, that Goyer might have suggested. But his job of telling the story is done simply with describing what will happen in general terms. This is just an action sequence meant to enhance and add flavor to the story, and a requirement of the genre. But very few writers spend much time detailing the particulars of that because it is the business of the director, cinematographer and visual effects technicians to figure out how to do all that stuff.


The finale of Man of Steel plays out the way it does because director Zack Snyder knew he had a lot of toys at his disposal. And he wanted to go nuts playing with those toys.

And Warner Brothers really wanted him to go nuts playing with his toys.

Previous summer blockbusters like the Transformers movies and The Avengers had made tons of money by portraying colossal, huge action and destruction on the screen. Well… This was SUPERMAN, god dammit! So the action had to be colossaler and huger and destructionier than anyone had ever seen before!

Because… “last time we tried to make a Superman movie, that fruit Bryan Singer gave us a mopey chick-flick about a guy who misses his girlfriend!”


So, you’d better be kicking some serious ass, Zack!

Look… I’m not saying David Goyer didn’t have any input. He’s the credited writer of the film. Surely, when they were storyboarding the action sequences, he might have been present – giving his idea of how they could play out. Why not? And, if he truly thought they were doing despicable things to his story, he could have lobbied to have his name taken off the film. But he didn’t do that, which means he signed off on, or at least verbally approved, the decisions regarding the action scenes.

Okay... Do it.

Okay… Do it.

The conversation might have gone something like this, in fact.

Zack Snyder: And then it would be REALLY cool, if Superman punches General Zod so hard that he flies into the Metropolis version of the Met Life building, you know? And there’s this huge hole, and flames, and glass flying everywhere…

David Goyer: Yeah. That could work. Hey, Zack, just remember whatever you do that last punch has gotta send him crashing into Grand Central Station.

Zack Snyder: Right. Yeah, I know. The whole thing with the light beams and everything. That’s gonna be cool too… Oh… OH! How about if they fly up into SPACE at one part and SMASH INTO A SATELLITE?

David Goyer: Holy shit! And the satellite could have the WAYNE ENTERPRISES logo on it! That WOULD be cool.

Zack Snyder: Yes! (turns to intern) Call Debbie, tell her to get the production designer on the horn, he needs to hear this… (back to Goyer) and pieces of the satellite could fall back down into Metropolis, right? And a huge chunk could bust a hole through the LEXCORP building!

David Goyer: You already used Lexcorp in that Smallville scene, though.

Zack Snyder: Yeah… But it’s LEXCORP. It should be in Metropolis too… And that shows how far reaching Lexcorp is!

(David Goyer makes a note of it)

Intern #3: Um… But… Um…

Zack Snyder: Yeah, what? What is it? You’re part of this. You can say anything you want.

Intern #3: Well… I was just thinking. I mean, that’s cool and all. But what about the people? Won’t the people be getting hurt?

Zack Snyder: What people? Oh, right. Yeah… Well, Perry White is rescuing Jenny down there. Don’t worry, it’s all good. We’ll have a shot at the end of the fight to show that they’re okay.

Intern #3: But I mean… The people that…

Zack Snyder: (walking out with Goyer) And then Superman could pile drive Zod through an overpass!

And so on….

Just do it.

Just do it.

I started this thing out by saying that I think David Goyer is not a bad writer.

I am going to amend that so you understand I don’t think he’s a flawless writer. But no one is. He has made some weird choices in some of his screenplays, the films have not always been 100% satisfying to my personal taste…

But that’s just it. You cannot use personal taste to define someone’s quality as a screenwriter. Semantics should never go into it.

A good script must be defined by its narrative structure and the adherence to its own rules. If the script sets out to tell a story, and tells that story within its established rules, it is not a bad script. You may not like the story it’s telling. The choices made by the writer may not be to your liking. But that doesn’t make that person “a bad writer.”

It just means he’s a writer whose work you generally don’t like. And that’s not the same thing at all.

David Goyer is a very competent writer of genre screenplays. Whether or not you have enjoyed the films that have been made from those screenplays is another matter entirely.

And, be that as it may, he is more than likely not directly responsible for the excess that has been at the source in much of the criticism lobbied at Man of Steel.

"It wasn't me."

“It wasn’t me.”


For that you can blame the director and the technicians in charge of bringing the fantastical action to life. You can also blame Warner Brothers, who analyzed the box office receipts of recent action blockbusters and felt they knew what the people wanted.

You can blame the people for speaking with their wallets and making it very clear to all that this is what they wanted.

These big blockbuster movies are always made under commission and by committee. A huge assembly line of people go into every single decision that is made regarding what you see up there on screen. It starts with some guy’s script and they take it from there – through re-writes, and more re-writes, movie star ego trips, producer demands; and the directorial decisions of another person wanting to impose their own vision.


There are a lot of people responsible for why you might not have enjoyed Man of Steel. You may even be included in those people, so go ahead and blame yourself. I would, had I not enjoyed the movie.

But don’t blame Dave Goyer.

He’s just a guy doing his job.


9 Responses to “David Goyer Is Not A Bad Writer And The Stuff You Didn’t Like In Man Of Steel Was Not His Fault”

  1. Raven Zeta June 18, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    Well sure, i´ll return often soon. First I have to see Man of Stell. I´m broken so I have to be patience and have self control until I go to the Megancenter VIP and avoid all spoilers.
    Cudos, Good start! I read a Little trying to avoid Spoilers, and its good stuff, but its dangerous! so I´ll be back and then view the Half in The bag´s review also.

    • Erix Antoine June 19, 2013 at 12:37 am #

      Thanx. I’ll be glad to have you visiting. Do come back after you’ve seen the movie. I wanna see if you agree or not. 🙂

  2. Franco Traverso June 19, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    loved it, coudnt agree more!

    congrats on the blog dude, will be checking in regularly

    • Erix Antoine June 19, 2013 at 1:54 am #

      Good to know. 🙂
      Stick around and spread the word.

  3. tylergfoster June 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Regardless of whether or not we’ll ever agree on the movie’s merits, you never addressed the fact that you’re straight-up wrong when you say the movie is not showing you in absolute and no uncertain terms that thousands of people are dying. I cited three shots in the comment thread on my wall, and you never addressed them, but they’re in the movie and you would literally have to assume people warped or flew away to believe that each of those shots doesn’t depict 50 to 100 people dying, and the same thing is happening on every block in a circular radius. It’s fine to like the movie, but what you say about what’s depicted in the movie is just factually inaccurate.

    • Erix Antoine June 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

      The merits (or lack thereof) of Man of Steel are irrelevant, really, because this article is not really intended as a critical appreciation of the film.

      But I think I do address the matter of the collateral damage. I don’t claim that it doesn’t happen. It most definitely DOES happen. But the filmmakers deliberately seem to gloss over it.

      The complaint has been two fold: That thousands die and SUPERMAN DOESN’T CARE.

      My point is that the movie doesn’t actively dramatize this. It does show destruction where hundreds of people would probably be killed but it doesn’t show Superman noticing this and not caring. So that’s just people reading into it, based on sloppy filmmaking.

      The film only focuses on its supporting characters because it expects them to act as a “representation” for the masses and it expects us to not pay attention to the rest. Because the most important thing about that sequence is the spectacle.

      I compare the filmmakers to two toddlers playing with Legos.

      What I mean by that is they WILLFULLY ignore the reality of the situation they’re portraying. They don’t spend much time focusing on the loss of human life because this is supposed to be a big, fun spectacle and they expect us to not care and enjoy the action scenes.

      I specifically refer to that as shortsighted, naive, unrealistic filmmaking.

      The film should address the toll of the destruction that is being portrayed. They choose to ignore it because they expect the audience to do the same.

      The two shots you refer to may imply that some hundred people die when the airplane crashes into the street. My point is, the movie doesn’t give that any emotional weight. It’s not meant to register emotionally… You’re just supposed to sit back and be thrilled.

      And you’re supposed to care only about THE MAIN CHARACTERS in the story and, of course, the family of four that figures in the climax; because that’s the important plot point. Not the destruction of the city.

      It’s blatant shortsightedness on the part of the filmmakers.

  4. Colin Cundy November 21, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    I think the fact that the filmmakers “glossed” over the deaths of a considerable number of innocents is a missed opportunity. They brought on Nolan and Goyer presumably to also bring over the gritty, realistic style of the batman movies. Largely thats what they did however they could have given the film real heart and realism to show the emotional impact of those deaths on superman. To show still fighting zod but trying to minimize casualties would have given superman the moral character he is known for. So essentially I agree with your point but I would go even further in criticizing the filmmakers.

  5. Titus December 6, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    You never adressed the terrible dialogue in Man of steel or TDKR.
    I laughed two or three times during those movies .
    Also lack of character development couldn’t care less about them.

    • Erix Antoine December 7, 2013 at 12:07 am #

      I, personally didn’t find the dialog terrible. Which is not to say I found it brilliant or anything like that. But it is what it is; and par for the course in this kind of movie… In any case, I didn’t address that because – at the time I wrote this – I was more concerned with discussing the most criticized aspect, which was the climactic battle between Superman and Zod. And I also wanted to discuss how screenwriters are often blamed for things that are beyond their control in these big assembly line blockbusters.

Speak, damn you!

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