I already talked about J.J. Abrams’ intermittently clever, but mostly dumb as balls treatment. But did you know that at one point, Warner Bros. was considering rebooting the Batman (at that point killed by Schumacher) and Superman (at that point still in post- “Superman Lives!” – turnaround) franchises in one fell swoop, under the pen of one-time David Fincher co-writer Andrew Kevin Walker?
It’s true! And it’s terrible. So why don’t I just walk you through this maze of horrors so you can understand what kind of bullet we all dodged, starting with the fact that the first word to describe Superman is – I am not exaggerating – “dickhead”:
The first sign things are going to go wrong is that Clark Kent is the only person in the Daily Planet office using a typewriter. This is a great idea from a practical standpoint – Clark speed-typing would logically break a laptop, but maybe not a sturdy typewriter. And it gives the audience a nice picture of Clark Kent: old-school news-man, an early sign that this story will be about the heroes in their later years. But then there’s the simple logistics of a 21st-century office: Some intern is going to have to type Mr. Kent’s copy into a computer so they can slot it into the goddamn layout. Maybe that’s why the first word used to describe Clark Kent – by a fellow reporter – is “dickhead.” which is another sign that this is gonna be a weird one.
Superman’s first inspirational speech – where he tries to keep a mob from murdering a terrorist – is both deeply heartfelt and verbally baffling. “You have a right to your anger, but nothing more” takes a moment to parse before he’s onto: “And what if you kill him? What then? Are you your wife’s husband? Your mother’s son, your children’s father? No. Not anymore.”
I get the context? But the phrasing is just so damn weird that it screams “Written at 2am when you know there’s three more drafts to go.”
Then we’re onto Bruce Wayne’s wedding to “Elizabeth,” and she’s going to soon become a very confusing character, but for now she’s simply a hard to understand one, telling Commissioner Barbara Gordon (apparently Jim is dead at this point – again, heroes in their twilight years), “You mean so much to Bruce. Which means you mean no less to me.” Again: What an ODD way of putting that.
In another throwaway bit of weirdness that follows “Clark Kent’s co-workers hate him,” Aunt Harriet, from the Adam West Batman series, is at the wedding – handing out shots. “Apparently this is step 13,” Elizabeth casually tells Bruce by way of informing him that his sole surviving relative is off the wagon. Again, Elizabeth his fucking weird, and not for reasons that relate to her character, but because Andrew Kevin Walker apparently does not listen to how anyone has ever spoken.
When Bruce describes his bloodlust after Robin’s death, he consoles Clark, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s a weakness we have. A human thing.” This is something he tells Clark, the best man at his wedding and quite clearly the only friend each other has, after the man confides that his wife, Lois Fucking Lane, is leaving him.
To reiterate: in this movie, LOIS LANE HAS DIVORCED SUPERMAN. Seriously, the tone of this whole thing…
At the end of the heart-to-heart, we hear Elizabeth say, “If you guys are smoking something up there…you better have saved some for me.” This woman is going to be dead in 6 pages, and I can’t wait. Yet somehow this is the woman Bruce Wayne has chosen to marry.
Again, to reiterate: Bruce Wayne – The Goddamn Batman – having lost his surrogate son and father figures – has decided to marry Some Chick Who Thinks Pot Jokes Are Funny, and nothing is supposed to be weird about this.
Moving onto their honeymoon, Elizabeth says, “I’ve made you something. For when everything seems at its worst. To show you just how much I love you.” Every moment of this dialogue just screams, “Eh, we’ll polish it up later…” (Even worse, there is a call-back to this dialogue when the Joker reveals his scheme, which begs the question, “Did you mean for this to sound THIS awkward, writer?”)
Then Elizabeth is killed in a Joker-esque fashion, leading to Bruce, in revenge mode: “I’m going to find whoever did this. And when I do I’m going to take his skin and hang it in front of his eyes.” It’s like everything got thrown into Google Translator, then again back into English. Nothing in this script sounds like anything anyone has ever attempted to say.
At this point, Bruce Wayne becomes a raging asshole ostensibly out of grief, but mostly because the script needs him to be, and he starts lecturing Clark, his best and only friend, about how he’s just an alien freak who doesn’t feel emotions and Lois was right to leave. As he’s unlocking the Batcave so he can go murder…somebody. With hanging skin. It’s still a little weird.
At the funeral, we learn that Alfred’s dead too. Also “Richard Greyson.” (Goddamn it do typos in ostensibly finished screenplays piss me off.)
BTW: Elizabeth’s last name was “Miller.” Of course it was, she felt as much like an actual female character as any of Frank Miller’s do.
Bruce Wayne reintroducing himself to his shuttered Batcave, waiting until the last second, only after chilling in his command chair, to give the authorization/anti-self-destruct code, is the first legitimately cool moment of this thing.
And then it’s ruined by the fact that apparently Bruce Wayne set up a Holographic Computer Alfred at some point that even he doesn’t remember.
Meanwhile, Clark’s back in Smallville doing some soul-searching, presumably because his best friend was mean to him and his wife left him for Reasons, when he eventually runs into Lana Lang, who “jokes,” “And me still dressed for the prom,” while wearing work clothes. When Clark indicates he doesn’t get the gag, she whispers, “No. Underneath. Come on. Tell me you didn’t peek.”
Wait, what? is both my and Clark’s reaction. To which Lana says, “Relax, boy scout, I’m kidding. Joke? Humor. Still same old Clark. … How’s Lois?” With a mere 30 seconds of screen time under her belt, Lana Lang has still somehow managed to clinch the title of “The Worst.”
“You look well. Although I guess that’s predictable.” In keeping with the theme of this screenplay: What a weird way of giving a compliment, Lana.
After the altogether pointless Lana scene, we’re back to Gotham and Acme Warehouse, where Toyman is assembling some kind of bomb. Using “a small clock and diminutive sticks of TNT.”
Walker definitely tapped the “thesaurus” button at that point. “Diminutive” has never been anyone’s first-choice word.
This Toyman, by the way, is in a wheelchair and has artificial limbs, so god knows what happened to him. It’s yet another violent-future nod, but fucking Toyman? Jeez.
For a screenplay that’s pretty hilarious in how Rilly Rilly Serious everything is, this Adam West Batman line somehow found its way into Grim Fincher-esque Batman’s mouth: “In the past, you’ve supplied the Joker with his deadly toys …”
What follows is an actual, nice scene of Clark and Lana in his parents’ home, reminiscing about Archie jar-glasses and childhood indiscretions, and it’s the first time Clark seems like a person, rather than a Sad Alien Superman That Nobody Gets. Of course, then he hangs a lampshade on the whole thing by actually saying, “It’s just, this is the only place I feel…human.”
“And they kiss, for all the years lost. And the kiss is good.” I keep reading this in John Madden’s voice. AND THE KISS IS GOOOOOOD!!!
But nevermind all that, because now Batman’s digging up the Joker’s corpse. As you may have guessed, once the Joker-in-the-Box ha-ha-ha’s its way out of a coffin, Batman “stands in the cemetery, fists wide, face to God, and SCREAMS.”
Meanwhile (again), Lana and Clark do it.
At this point, it becomes clear that the biggest problem this script has is the sheer amount of PADDING in it. I realize, for a movie called “Superman vs. Batman” that the main event should be in act 3, but was the only way to delay that fight for Clark Kent to spend a half-hour in Smallville having meaningful, ego-boosting sex with Lana Lang because Batman yelled at him?
The last actual action scene was, straight up, about 60 pages ago. THAT IS NUTS.
Then, of course, is the build-up to the main event itself, which finally lands around page 87. It seems this whole business was orchestrated from Lex Luthor behind bars. Lex has grown out his fingernails to be weapons, which feels like a thing guards would keep from happening but then I do not know anything about prison shivs.
So, if I’m grasping this correctly – and I assure you I am probably not – Lex’s plan (again, from prison) was: reanimate The Joker using Evil Science (“You’d be surprised what a little grave digging, DNA extraction, and a billion dollars might accomplish. Hypothetically speaking,” Lex clarifies to his lawyer, by way of any reasonable explanation), then set him loose against Bruce Wayne (known to Lex as Batman because, well, duh), so that Bruce would get mad at Superman for not…doing…something? (not saving Elizabeth? Not stopping a crime in Metropolis that would later have implications in Elizabeth’s death? It’s a really baffling “…Profit!” moment here).
But none of that matters now because I’m about to show you the craziest damn part of this script, which I will simply call, “Lex Luthor: Evil Fingernail Brain Surgeon.”
So pointy-nailed Lex orders a meeting with his lawyer, and then attacks him. The guards burst in, seeing a bald guy attacking a guy in a suit but it turns out SURPRISE Lex has killed and shaved his lawyer to switch places with him (apparently this prison has no cameras at all anywhere), so when the guards go to check on the lawyer, Lex’s hands “move with lighting speed and precision into the backs of their necks, long fingernails piercing soft flesh at the base of the skull…Lex jams his nails up higher into their flesh.”
AND THEN, when Lex commands them to turn, “The Guards turn to face him, robotic.”
“There now. Gone is any tiresome independence.”
Lex Luthor perfected pinky-nail brain surgery while in prison. DEAL WITH THAT FOR A MOMENT.
In any event, after 91 interminable pages, we’re at the main event, Superman vs. Batman, in the most complicated way we could ever get to a fight like that.
(Incidentally, if you ever find yourself in the position of having to write a major motion picture script wherein Superman and Batman have to fight each other, keep in mind that “mind control” and “red Kryptonite” are still on the table and can save you like 50 pages of needless set-up. Just…if that ever happens to you, out of the blue.)
Ultimately, this movie’s argument is that even the slightest amount of loss turns Batman into a raaaaaging asshole (somehow forgetting that the most dramatic loss of his life is what created FUCKING BATMAN, but nevermind that for now).
It’s not enough to set up the climax as “Superman wants to stop Batman before Batman murders the Joker” – it’s “Superman wants to stop Batman before Batman murders the Joker; Batman wants to murder the Joker, while also beating the living shit out of Superman AND hurting his feelings.”
Which explains why Batman, of all people, turns into a serious trash-talker, alarmingly focused on his post-fiancee-death decision that Clark’s not actually human, despite having known him for like 20 years at this point. Seriously, one dead fiancee and Batman is in full on Me-mode.
Batman: “What? Never seen your own blood before? There’s plenty more where that came from.”
I can’t decide if I think the Kryptonite-laced armor is a great idea, or a shameless toy-grab – “Glow-in-the-dark Batman with Kryptonite-punch feature.” Same with the bow-and-arrow he segments together from bits and pieces hidden in his armor, which, once completed, prompts him to mutter, “You brought this on yourself.”
Batman, by Act 3, has lost his goddamn mind, I should note. Which is great for fans of two superheroes pummeling the shit out of each other, but not so great for Batman as a character. “Be true,” he SAYS, TO THE ARROW, AS HE SHOOTS IT. Like an asshole.
This arrow, BTW, jams right underneath Superman’s collar-bone, causing him to shout in pain – causing “hundreds of windows in surrounding buildings [to] shatter simultaneously, imploding.” Christ, you’re a dick, Batman.
“The BELL continues TOLLING” midnight, because of course it does.
“I had no choice,” Batman tells Superman, as he SNAPS the hilt off, embedding the arrow in Superman’s chest, leaving him no way to pull it free. That feels like a moment full of choices, but nevermind, Batman just keeps rationalizing things to himself, it’s nuts.
Finally, we get to the showdown between Batman and Joker, and look, I’m going to give you guys a moment to collect yourselves before we get to one of the most jaw-droppingly stupid moments ever written down.
The Joker reveals that he’d actually HIRED Batman’s fiancee to be Bruce Wayne’s perfect woman. This reveal culminates with Batman looking at his wedding ring – only to notice (bold text mine): “The inside is ringed with tin engravings. All of Joker’s face.”
“Joker: And they call you a detective.”
IN THIS MOVIE BATMAN IS TOO STUPID TO NOTICE A TON OF JOKER FACES ON THE INSIDE OF HIS OWN WEDDING RING.
Now, look. The first time I took my wedding ring off and rolled it around on a table, I noticed there was writing inside. It read, “TITANIUM” and I felt like I’d cracked a fricking code when I saw it. In reality, I am simply a stupid person who didn’t bother to look closely at his mail-order ring. Which is to say, BATMAN SHOULD LOOK AT HIS WEDDING RING AT LEAST ONCE IN HIS LIFE.
Finally, after the Joker himself has been kicked off a building by Lex Luthor, and a battered Superman and Batman manage to subdue Luthor, and Superman manages a last-minute rescue of Batman, here…here is how we wrap this whole business up:
Bruce appraises Clark. No few cuts and bruises.
Batman: You look like crap, by the way.
Superman: You should see the other guy.
Batman almost smiles.
Superman: Yeah, yeah, yeah…
Then Clark extends his hand. Bruce takes it. Their handshake is strong and lasting, a friendship renewed.
Batman: So, you want to get a beer?
Superman: Maybe a soda or something.
Batman: Oh my god, what is it with you?
A professional screenwriter was paid money – quite a lot of money, by the way, if current WGA rates are anything to go by – to figure out the most convoluted way that Batman and Superman could fight. Noted director Wolfgang Peterson was inches away from directing. This thing was WITHIN MOMENTS OF HAPPENING.
It does give you a better understanding of how Superman Returns might have become the most acceptable script, though.
So with this in mind, dear, reader, please go into Man of Steel with a bit of kindness, because as near as I can tell, it’s a forthright attempt to present a straight-forward Superman movie. At no point are there Super-Bastards, Kryptonian Blastaffs, or Joker Rings. It’s already a win.
On the other hand, “straight-forward attempts” don’t give you moments like “feral teen Bruce Wayne” or “Batmobile made out of a bus engine and a Lincoln Continental,” which is what makes Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One script absolutely goddamn mesmerizing.
You HAVEN’T READ IT?! Well, look. I’ll tell you about it soon.