NEW BEGINNINGS: How the ‘Man of Steel’ opening should have been
I know I’m late to the game in my review and assessment of Man of Steel. I guess I needed some more time to process what I had seen. After all, I’ve spent the better part of two years obsessing over this movie.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t love the film as much as I wanted to, and believe me, I wanted to. Having Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Hans Zimmer attached to a film seems like a recipe for success, so perhaps my expectations were a bit too high. I felt the movie was too jumpy and disconnected at the beginning, and whether that has more to do with Goyer’s script or Zack Snyder’s directing remains to be seen (although I suspect it is more Snyder than Goyer).
Even after seeing it a few times, I can’t help but think about the ways I would’ve changed the Man of Steel opening to make it more successful in terms of developing Clark Kent’s character. See if you agree with this revised plot synopsis for the beginning of Man of Steel.
NEW ‘MAN OF STEEL’ SYNOPSIS
Open on Krypton with Superman’s birth and Jor-El warning the counsel that Krypton is destined for doom. Zod comes in trying to overthrow the rulers and evacuate the planet. He and Jor-El both agree on the planet’s imminent demise, but disagree on how to handle the situation. Jor-El wants to plead with the counsel and have them order an evacuation while Zod wants to take more drastic, militant steps to guarantee the safety of Krypton and its people. “The time for politics and discourse has passed,” Zod tells Jor-El. Jor-El sees what Zod is doing, and knowing that there is no longer a chance to save the planet or its people, hurries back to his home and orders his wife to help him prepare the ship for Kal-El.
Zod storms in just as the ship is launching, giving Jor-El one last chance to join him. Jor-El refuses, telling Zod about Kal-El and how he is a child of natural birth and the future hope of Krypton. Zod views this as a sign of betrayal to Krypton and orders Jor-El and Lara executed on the spot. Before delivering the final blow to Jor-El, he tells him that he will hunt his son to the ends of the universe to ensure he suffers the same fate as him. With that, Zod kills Jor-El and Lara. Before he can capture Kal-El’s ship, however, Zod and his followers are taken prisoner and sentenced to the Phantom Zone.
We cut to Kal-El’s ship entering Earth’s atmosphere, and right before it hits the ground we cut to an older, bearded Clark waking up in a small, rundown bedroom in Canada. He clutches a little pouch around his neck, feeling the contents inside. A woman comes in and tells him that he cleaned enough dishes for one night of boarding, and that’s all he’s getting: “Get out.”
Clark goes outside and walks over to a little gas station. He goes inside and finds a rack of maps. He pulls one out and finds the city he is currently in and then draws his finger north to a remote area. The clerk yells at him for loitering and tells him to get out.
Clark then heads to the docks where he stands around with a bunch of other hopeful fishermen who are looking for work. A captain comes by saying he needs a young greenhorn for his latest crabbing trip. “The pay is small, but it’s money.” Compared to the rest of the crop, Clark is the youngest and most fit, so the captain chooses him. The captain looks him over and says, “Hope you’ve got some skills, kid.”
We cut to the scene of Clark in school as a child and see him struggling in class to control his newfound abilities. We then cut back to Clark working on the boat. He’s stumbling along doing the best he can. Suddenly, a pot comes loose on the crane and swings wildly around the deck. The crew screams at Clark to get out of the way, but the pot slams into his arm on the far side of the deck. The crew rushes over to help him. Clark grabs his arm pretending it’s hurt, and tells the crew the pot just nicked him. They tell him to go inside and check it out. As he leaves the deck, the crew notices the steel bar on the pot that hit Clark is bent.
Clark goes into the boat’s bathroom and runs water over his face. He clutches the pouch around his neck again. We cut to the scene of him on the bus as a child and it crashing into the water. Instead of saving the kid Pete—like in Man of Steel—he saves Lana Lang, the girl sitting next to him on the bus. When Lana’s mother comes over to the Kent house to tell them what happened, Lana goes outside and tells Clark his secret is safe with her. “My mom thinks it was God, but I know the truth. I won’t tell anyone.”
Jonathan Kent then comes out and talks to Clark, taking him into the barn and showing him the ship that carried him to Earth. Clark does not want to accept who he really is and tells his father he just wants to forget about the school bus incident and wishes he hadn’t seen this ship. Clark storms off and slams the barn door. We cut back to Clark on the boat being interrupted by knocking on the door. “Greenhorn, you okay? Then get your ass back out here.”
Clark goes back out on deck, but soon the captain calls everyone to the wheelhouse. There’s a distress call on an oil rig about 180 miles northeast of them. Clark tells the captain they have to help them. “We’re too far away and we’re just a little fishing boat. What can we do?” The captain orders everyone back on deck. As the crew launches a pot, Clark pretends that his hand is caught in the line and he goes overboard with the pot. The crew panics and screams, “Man overboard!” They search the water, but all they see is Clark’s raincoat floating on the surface. As the crew panics, the camera zooms up over the boat and we see a figure underwater shooting out towards the northeast.
We cut to the oil rig scene and Clark saving everyone before the rig explodes. He floats underwater and we flashback to a new scene of Clark in high school being bullied. He lets the bullies push him around a bit before an older Lana Lang intervenes. She walks Clark home and tells him how much she liked his latest article in the school paper. “Have you thought about applying for that journalism fellowship at the University of Kansas? You’d be perfect for it.” Clark tells her he always assumed he’d just be a farmer, but Lana encourages him to apply.
We cut back to Clark emerging from the water and stealing some clothes from a house, and this time he also steals a snowmobile and heads north. We see Clark driving across the frozen tundra, the wind picking up around him as we cut to the scene of him in the car with Jonathan Kent as a storm brews outside. Clark argues about wanting to take the journalism fellowship he was offered and insults Jonathan by saying, “You’re not my real father. You just found me in a field.” We then see Jonathan killed by the tornado and also see his funeral. At the funeral, Martha Kent consoles Clark in private. Clark feels responsible for not saving his father. He tells her that ever since the school bus incident he’s tried his best to suppress his powers and just be a normal person. Martha tells him how much his father loved him and how he always knew Clark was destined for greatness. “He always believed you owed it to yourself to find out who you really are. He believed you were destined for greatness, but he wanted you to believe it for yourself.”
That night, filled with a mix of emotions, Clark goes into the barn and stares at his ship, the first time he has seen it since he was a kid. Suddenly, in a rage, he starts banging on the ship, tears pouring from his eyes. The ship opens up and inside there is a small ‘S’ key in the dashboard along with a computer screen that has now been activated. It shows a map of the world and Clark sees a green dot beeping over a location in northern Canada. We zoom in on the dot and fade back to Clark on the snowmobile arriving at the location the dot was pointing him to.
Clark steps off the snowmobile and removes the item in the pouch around his neck: the ‘S’ key. Clark uses his x-ray vision and sees an object buried within the glacier. He uses his heat vision to erratically cut through the ice to the ship where his ‘S’ key activates it. He meets his father and learns of his true heritage. He tells Jor-El how he’s spent his life hiding from who he really is, but Jor-El encourages him to embrace his powers and be a beacon of light for the people of Earth.
We then see a montage of Jor-El training Clark, teaching him how to use his skills. It’s much along the lines of how we watched Bruce Wayne train with Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins. We see Clark learning how to control his heat vision and strength, and we also see a funny sequence where he learns to fly. Finally, Jor-El tells him about the meaning of the ‘S’ symbol and how it not only stands for hope, but is also the symbol of the House of El. He shows Clark a machine meant for creating armor, and Clark watches as the machine, working like a 3D printer, creates a suit for him. We watch Clark exit the ship and into the Arctic where he takes off now as Superman…
I feel this opening would’ve worked better than the original. It follows a blueprint similar to Batman Begins, and more importantly, it establishes a connection between the audience and Clark Kent from the get-go. The main problem I had with Man of Steel was that there was practically no character development for Clark. The flashbacks were peppered throughout the film, and at times it took me out of the movie completely. I understand that action was a big priority for this film given the lack of excitement in Superman Returns, but character development is crucial in superhero films.
Snyder needed to better establish Clark’s struggle for identity in order to make Act II and Act III more powerful. And, by eliminating the codex element, you could just have Zod come to Earth trying to turn the planet into a new Krypton. The only way he feels he can do that, however, is by first eliminating the last imperfection of the old Kryptonian culture: Kal-El.
Now regardless of how I felt about the film, Man of Steel seems destined for financial success, and I’m happy to see Superman back on the big screen. I just hope that by the time the sequel hits, Snyder will have realized that Clark Kent’s character is what drives the film, not just the CGI.
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