For Dramaturgery this time, I’m going to forgo dramaturgering Man of Steel, since plenty, PLENTY of people have already worked on it, and Holland has already stolen my gimmick title. INSTEAD, I am going to use my INVINCIBLE ATOMIC INTELLECT to put together a treatment for the sequel to Man of Steel (Man of Steel 2: Man of Steelier), one that both continues with the plot and characters established in the first movie, but also solves all of the problems that those guys created by maybe not thinking very hard about Superman.
[Bear in mind, before we continue, that this is me thinking my way through it. This is less a treatment than it is a sort of off-the-cuff hypothesis about what the first draft of a good treatment would maybe look like.]
So, let’s take a second and ask ourselves what a Superman movie ought to be about. I’m not saying, necessarily, that the next Superman movie ought to have a message, per se – everybody hates being moralized to, I know, I know. But according to my Three Things theory, all of the major actions, in addition to being part of a manifest physical arc (plot), and a manifest emotional arc (character), and ALSO a manifest thematic arc (uh…theme). All movies, whether we like it or not, are about more than just what happens. If you don’t pay attention to what they’re about, they turn into muddy, forgettable messes.
Well, what IS Superman about? There’s a lot of ways you could go with this, but my favorite one for Superman is “What does it mean to Do Good?” Making moral and ethical decisions is something that we all have to do in real life, and weighing the consequences of those decisions (as well as dealing with unintended consequences) is something we all do (or ought to do). There’s a lot of built-in conflict with that theme, too – Superman, by virtue of being invincible, is in the privileged position of ALWAYS being able to do what he knows is the best thing to do.
You compare that to human beings like you and me, we’ve got stuff to lose. A lot of things can happen to me, I could get shot or lose my job, I can’t just fly into space and eat sunbeams or squeeze coal into diamonds when my bank account gets empty, so even if I’m a really moral guy, I’ve got to decide if the most morally-correct thing to do is the BEST thing to do. Superman, obviously, doesn’t have to care about that.
It’s neat, because on the one hand we can look at him and say, “Aw man, isn’t it great that there’s one guy out there who does the right thing no matter what?” But, as part of the very same theme, we can also look at him and say, “Look at that prick, of course HE can always do the right thing, he is invincible.”
Good. Okay, now, let’s look at some characters. Obviously, the only thing anyone cares about is WHO IS THE VILLAIN, THOUGH? And to that end, I am going to tell you, and you’re probably not going to be happy. You are going to think that these violate all the movie rules by being 1) clichéd, and 2) being too many. BUT HEAR ME OUT! Iron Man and The Dark Knight both had at least three villains a piece (depending on how you count); I don’t think that a LOT of villains is necessarily problematic, you just got to think about it. Here is who we’re introducing:
General Wade Eiling
What! So many! But Braniac’s going to play a pretty minor role, so just think of it as three characters on Team Bad Guys.
Team Good Guys is going to be our classic lineup of:
Jenny (Jimmy Olsen)
Okay. Now, let’s briefly talk about the main personal emotional arcs that we’re going to look at, those are Superman’s, Lois’, and Lex’s respective arcs. There’s going to be a way, I think, to actually make three pretty straightforward plot arcs in this movie – A, B, and C plots. We’re going to have some short, subsidiary little arcs with Perry, Jenny, Eiling, and Metallo, too.
Superman’s is the main plot, obviously, and so where does he begin during this movie? When last we left him, he had just killed a guy, and leveled half of Metropolis. He’d saved the world, in a kind of roundabout fashion, but not in a way that most people on the planet might understand or care about. What we’re going to see is 1) Superman’s extreme sense of guilt, that’s causing him to retreat into his secret identity. 2) His realization that he can, and ought, to start doing good. 3) A secondary realization that preserving the status quo isn’t good enough. 4) A feeling of betrayal by the people who he thought were good, for their failure to be as good as they could be. 5) Ultimately embracing humanity and compassion as the only true good.
For Lois, we’ve ended with her and Superman’s budding romance, her faith in Superman as an unstoppable force for good. So, that’s 1) Lois feels betrayed by Superman’s retreat. 2) She is envigorated by his return to do-gooding, but frustrated by his apparent naivete . 3) She is suspicious of Superman’s allies (I’ll get to this), because she’s suspicious of everyone who seems too good to be true. 4) Lois is vindicated when she finds genuine “evil,” and then 5) has a new attitude towards Superman – she feels like she needs to keep some distance between them, in order to keep the perspective that she needs to serve as a check on Superman’s power.
For Lex – I mean, let’s be honest, in the treatment we ALL KNOW he’s going to turn out to be a bad guy, but I want to preserve that reveal for as long as possible – we’ve got a sort of more straightforward arc of 1 -5) Lex believes that he can improve things by controlling them, therefore the more power he has, the more good he can do. Actually, let’s make that 1-3, and then 4) can be, “Lex is betrayed because he thought Superman was his ally” and 5) Lex has gone a little bonkers, and now, instead of extending his control, wants to destroy all threats to his authority.
OKAY! Let’s get to it! Let’s get to WHAT HAPPENS in the movie!
We open with Lex Luthor at a press conference, announcing that Lex Corp would invest millions of dollars in new infrastructure to rebuild Metropolis in the aftermath of “the worst terrorist attack in the history of mankind.” (Someone had this idea on Twtter, I STOLE it, I don’t care, it’s a great idea. If it was you, message me, I’ll make sure to put your name up!) This is over the credits, Zack Snyder likes good opening credit sequences – this is an opening credit sequence of rebuilding Metropolis, turning it into the City of the Future!
This is contrasted with a scene some days later at the Daily Planet (still in the rebuilding process after the attacks – I like the idea that all scenes in the Planet have people just having to have to manage sheets of plastic and rubble, &c.), the pitch meeting between the senior reporters and editor Perry. Junior reporters (like Clark Kent) and also interns are there, but they don’t really get to pitch things. Reporters are pitching a bunch of long-form stories (the Planet basically has to be more like Rolling Stone now than a Daily newspaper), Perry is considering them. Lois pitches an article on Luthor’s disaster capitalism, leveraging the damage in Metropolis into billions of no-bid contracts for himself.
Jenny (Olsen, remember) pipes up with a story about public housing projects getting seized through eminent domain for rebuilding projects (this exact thing actually happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina).
Perry shoots down Olsen’s idea as “too small,” and shoots down Lois’, too, assigning her to something else (potentially interesting, international politics or something, fine). Clark listens in while Lois argues with Perry (while Jenny is explaining to Clark why her idea is so important). Perry explains to Lois that “it’s not what we need right now.”
[So, this establishes a couple things – 1) Superman’s problem dealing with things that he can’t punch. 2) Numerous problems scrambling for Superman’s attention. 3) Lois’ commitment to doing the right thing no matter what. 4) Perry’s “realpolitik” morality, doing what he thinks is best, even if it’s not exactly right.]
There’s a good argument waiting to happen here, between Clark and Lois, about how he’s supposed to inspire people, so why is he hiding again? (Good ways for this conversation to go: “I don’t want to risk hurting anyone else”, “You’re so used to hiding you don’t know how else to respond, &c.” We don’t want to dwell TOO much on the hiding issue, since it’s what the first movie was about.) They are interrupted by a forest fire in the Midwest – Perry telephones Lois at the same moment Jenny telephones Clark about it. There’s a town that’s about to be engulfed by fire, the fire is so huge that the helicopters can’t get to it.
This looks like a job for Superman, &c.
ACTION SET PIECE! Superman flies at super-sonic speeds, creating drafts that keep the fire from spreading! He finds the ground helicopters and, using his super-strength, lifts them up and cracks them open, spreading the fire-extinguishing foam over the trees! (Pilot: “Hey! You can’t take…whoah.”) The fires are abated somewhat, when Superman sees a person in the town! He flies down to rescue him!
It is Lex Luthor.
(Superman: What are you doing here? You could have been killed. Luthor: I was hoping to get your attention.)
A brief conversation ensues (ideally while the fire is raging around them); the gist of it is something like, Luthor: “You say you’re a symbol of hope, but all anyone has seen from you is devastation. You want to do good, but you need someone to help other people see that good.”
Basically, Lex Luthor is proposing that he will work like Superman’s manager, directing him to the disasters around the world where his abilities to punch and lift things will be best suited.
Superman is mistrustful, of course (Superman: What’s in it for you? Luthor: Money. Global stability is good for business.)
Obviously, we know this is going to all go wrong. There’s no way that what Lex Luthor is up to is to any kind of fundamental good, right? But HOW is it going to go wrong? And what IS Luthor really up to?
Well, we don’t know yet. This part of the movie gives us a couple of good PR, awareness-raising event.
ACTION SET PIECE! Superman saves people from a volcano! First, helping them evacuate their island by moving their boats, then punching through the volcano to relieve the pressure (sure! Superman is clearly exhausted from fighting the volcano, that is Superman’s limit at this stage of the movie; it’s good for us to see Superman tiring himself out). This is also going to be the point where we introduce the kryptonite – very easy, “volcanic eruption triggered by meteorite”, Superman has to save the day but also minimize his exposure to deadly Kryptonite radiation, &c.
ACTION SET PIECE TWO! A giant oil spill in Nigeria. Superman intervenes, hooray! But, when the workers at the broken oil rig – who have been scooping up oil by the barrel so they can sell it themselves – want to know why he bothers helping them with the spill if he’s just going to leave them to the armed strike-breakers that they’re fighting, Superman is caught in an ethical dilemma (I mean, it’s not really an ethical dilemma, obviously you should always side with oppressed Nigerian oil workers). The point is that he can’t stay here and defend them forever. The strike-breakers (heavily armored men with guns) tell him to clear off now he’s done his job, so they can do theirs.
Superman cuts all their guns in half with laser-eyes before he leaves. There is a tense moment where the (now unarmed) strike-breakers face off with the oil rig workers, wondering how they’re going to push them around now.
Concurrent with all of this are a couple things. 1) Clark developing a reputation as one of those conflict-zone, disaster reporters, writing a column about Superman, and liaising all the time with Jenny, who’s 2) still on him to look at problems close to home regarding the rebuilding of Metropolis. 3) Lois is mistrustful of Luthor and is pointing out to Superman that helping solve a Nigerian oil spill is really just helping Lex’s business empire. (A legitimate question, though: So what? If people are being poisoned by an oil spill, isn’t it right to help them regardless of whether or not some rich guy gets richer?)
Okay, ACTION SET PIECE THREE:
Luthor knows that Superman wants to do more than just help businesses; he sends him to Afghanistan, where Superman can protect a village from TALIBAN INSURGENTS. Everything goes great, Superman is able to protect people without harming anyone, when the US Military arrives.
A team of Navy SEALs! They think there’s a secret missile silo in the area! They’re not leaving until they find it. One of them is armored in a power armor suit, very clearly derived from the Kryptonian battle armor in Man of Steel 1: Not As Steelier. Superman insist that there’s no weapon, that if there was he’d be able to see it. The non-armored guys are inclined to trust Superman, due to him being obviously very trustworthy, but the guy they put in the armor (see if you can guess his name [it is John Corben]) isn’t having it.
There is a fight! The power-armored guy punches Superman! His armor isn’t really strong enough to hurt Superman, so this is mostly a fighting about a guy trying to get Superman, and Superman trying to minimize collateral damage and stop him without hurting him. The fight proceeds, I am imagining that Corben’s super-suit is outfitted with a bunch of tools that mess Superman up but aren’t going to be fatal.
Corben hits Superman with some sonic disrupters that knock him for a loop and deafen him. Superman looks up to see Corben looming and a Navy SEAL behind him, pointing at the sky (all with no sound); Superman sees the plume from an ICBM arcing into the sky.
ACTION! He shoots past Corben into the sky! Superman wrestles with the missile, only to discover that there is a band around it of – wait, is that Kryptonite? Superman falls away, then just cold turns around and punches the hell out of that god-damn nuke!
Wait, what? What happened to Superman?
Wouldn’t you like to know.
Meanwhile, we cut back to Lois and Jenny at the Daily Planet. They hear about the nuclear detonation on the news, because everyone heard about it. Jenny explains to Lois that she hasn’t gotten any updates from Clark since he went to Afghanistan on his last “follow Superman” assignment. The full significance of this even is different for both Jenny and Lois, obviously. Lois tries to call Clark but, for obvious reasons can’t. (He was exploded.)
Several things happen in this act, I’m not 100% sure what the best order is, so I’m just going to sort of list them out as I think of them.
General Eiling has press conference with the President, explaining why the nuclear event demonstrated that Superman was a clear and present risk to American security. He goes into great detail about the lives of the Navy SEALs (real American heroes) who were lost in the project, and we’re actually lucky that Superman is dead now.
Afterwards, Eiling meets with Luthor. Eiling is actually furious at Luther for a number of reasons. Because the suit didn’t work, because the warhead wasn’t supposed to armed, because only the alien was the target; Corben and the rest weren’t supposed to die. Luthor says that Corben – protected by the power suit – didn’t die. He was just badly mangled and covered in radiation burns. But Luthor has technology that could save him.
Eiling reluctantly agrees to let Corben be part of a new project to save his life. (Eiling: I’ll arrange the transfer to your facility. Luthor: Oh, I’ve already done that. Eiling ::cold stare:: Luthor ::stares back. What? What are you gonna do about it?:: Very good scene, lots of tension.)
Elsewhere, at the Planet: Jenny tells Lois that she’s got photos from Afghanistan – Clark had set up a cellphone camera that uploaded things automatically to the internet (Lois: In Afghanistan? Where did he get a phone that can do that? Jenny: Uh. I think he built it.). They review the images, and Lois sees the power-armor. She realizes it’s based on the Kryptonian technology that she’s seen before. (Lois: What happened to the aliens’ technology? What did we do with it? Jenny: Oh, uh, I don’t know? Lois: ::glances significantly at phone:: ) They make a lot of phone calls but not much progress. Perry finds out what they’re doing.
Lois thinks that Luthor is involved in this, and that it wasn’t an accident. We think Perry is going to tell Lois to back off Luthor again (probably a heart-rending scene here about Superman and all the good he’s (actually) done), instead he gives her the number of his friend who works at DARPA.
Lex Luthor goes into his secret lab. There’s a lot of things happening here. We see him surrounded by Kryptonian technology, experiment with bits of Kryptonite. He’s got diagrams of cybernetics and bionic prostheses everywhere. Most importantly, we see that he’s jury-rigged an interface with a chunk of Kryptonian technology, and seems to be communicating with it. Only, he writes in Kryptonian, and he gets answers in Kryptonian (let’s say he consults an extensive notebook, making it clear that he’s figured out Kryptonian [because he’s Lex Luthor], but we don’t know what they’re saying). Luthor uses the information to make some changes to the bionics designs.
When he leaves the lab, Lois Lane is in the foyer. She’s got fake credentials and is in the process of just blowing past the security guard when she runs into Luthor, who is both stunned and admiring (Luthor: How did you do that?)
[We pretty much know how all of this is going to play out, so I don’t know if there’s a lot of reason to dwell on her getting in and reading the files – I mean, there’s maybe a good tense scene in there, we can put that in, that classic “will she get away with the files? Maybe not! Yes! Wait, fake-out! No!”.]
Lois gets tasered and arrested.
Somewhere on a mountaintop in Afghanistan, the sun comes up. Awash in sunlight, Superman regains consciousness, and staggers to his feet.
Okay! Superman comes back to Metropolis, finds out Lois is in jail. There’s an awkward scene at the Planet where Clark is there and no one wants to tell him what happened, and Perry has to give out all of Lois’ assignments. (Perry: The Planet is doing everything it can, but she broke the law. Our options are limited. In the meantime, the rest of us still have to work. [Perry White: Realpolitik].)
Superman visits Lex Luthor to try and find out what happened to Lois. (Superman: Why did she think this had to do with you? [tense tense tense] Lex Luthor: Can you tell if a person is lying by hearing the way their heartrate changes? Superman: Your heartrate never changes. Lex Luthor: That’s because I never lie.) Obviously Superman doesn’t believe him.
Clark, in Clark Kent clothes, visits Lois in jail. (What? A reversal of the scene from Man of Steel?) They have a conversation about: 1) What went wrong in Afghanistan (answer: the radiation shielding on the missile silo had made it impenetrable to Superman’s x-ray vision; he’d thought it was just mountain). 2) What Lex’s involvement is (answer: DARPA outsourced all of the alien tech research to a company owned by a company owned by a company owned by Lex Luthor). 3) What the endgame of all this was. Lois thinks it was to kill Superman. Superman isn’t as sure. 4) Can Superman break Lois out of jail? (Answer: no. What happens here? Does Lois’ face fall as she realizes that Superman can’t [won’t] rescue her from prison? Is it hard for him to decide to do this, to follow the law even though he knows she was breaking it for a good reason?).
There is probably also room here to discuss just what the hell Superman SHOULD be doing.
Cut to Jenny, deciding at long last to just investigate these eminent domain housing seizures on her own. She goes down to a housing project in Metropolis at night, in the rain (Act IV’s of movies always take place in the rain). The project actually looks like a nice series of old townhomes. They were refurbished by the Metropolis Housing authority or something.
When Jenny goes to knock on the door, she discovers that it’s made out of steel. When she tries to look in the windows, she sees that they are closed off with steel shutters. Jenny climbs on a trashcan to look into this, and then falls off it. This attracts the attention of the security team, who actually look like a bunch of paramilitary mercenaries. They have an argument in which the paramilitaries tell her to get lost, and Jenny bravely stands up and is all, “No, I am on the side of TRUTH here, we have a right to know what’s going on!”
The mercenaries look at each other, shrug, and shoot her. Oh, no, what?
But then! BOOM! Superman arrives in the nick of time, interposing himself between Jenny and the bullets. There is a brief scuffle in which we get to see a variety of tools not hurt Superman, and a couple of paramilitary goons realize they are hopelessly outclassed.
Superman leads Jenny into the housing project, which turns out to be another laboratory, this one double-secret hush-hush. Maybe we got some scientists, maybe we got some tubes with mangled bodies in them, suspended in liquid. (Jenny: What is this place?) Superman notices that one of the tubes is empty, flies away at Superman-speed.
(I guess, this is all rough; basically, we are now in the home stretch.)
Lois is in her cell. There are BOOMing sounds, sounds of property damage, sounds of ruckus and men shouting. (I would like it if there’s at least a moment in which we think this is Superman, coming to rescue Lois after all, but I’m not sure if the timing works right). A guard his hurled through the air. I don’t think this is Superman.
It’s METALLO! John Corben transformed by Luthorian mega-science into a deadly radioactive cyborg! He’s here for Lois Lane! He drags her outside, just as Superman arrives (maybe there is a good scene in between here where Superman flies up above Metropolis, scanning the city with his super-senses to figure out what happened).
(Superman: Let her go, &c. Metallo lets her go. “I just wanted to get your attention”, he says.)
There is a ruckus. Superman is trying to minimize property damage, when it’s revealed that Metallo has got his kryptonite heart and can shoot deadly kryptonite radiation. Superman flies away and vanishes. A moment of confusion. Then Superman crashes back into Metallo at about a million miles an hour, dragging him outside the city and towards space.
But! Metallo opens his chest cavity and starts zapping Superman with radiation! They crash to the earth, out in the desert!
Superman tries to flee, his powers are weakened though, there are some nice parts in here where he can just LEAP, and Metallo has to chase after him with beams. But Superman isn’t just going nowhere! He’s found an old nuclear missile silo! He tears pieces of it up to shield himself from the radiation so he can fight Metallo.
This fight can be pretty good, there should definitely be a missile in there. I think it ends with Metallo in some kind of peril that Superman is trying to save him from and then shooting Superman with radiation out of spite. Superman drops him, somehow this triggers the missile. It actually detonates inside the silo, with Metallo in it.
Hm. I’d like it if there was a way to make the imminent launch of the nuclear missile part of it — so Metallo is not just directly dangerous to Superman, but also is, again, distracting him from being able to save other people from the missile. Will have to think on this.
Superman survives, Metallo is dead (OR IS HE?).
Probably a good epilogue is if Lex Luthor comes with some of his goons to invade the Daily Planet offices to seize their data because it is a violation of LexCorp property, and Perry White finally sort of nutting up and saying “Fuck you, we’re going to print that shit anyway.”
We got to get something in this, though, about the state of Lois and Clarks’ relationship which I think actually kind of SHOULD be Lois consciously pushing him away, because she thinks it’s more important for her to a sort of aggressive check on his doing stuff than it is that she gets to be with him. I like that idea, that this is less about personal feelings than it is about MORALS. Well, will have to think on it.
Even though it is laughable that a military contractor would go to prison for committing crimes like graft, fraud, theft, and attempted assassination by radioactive cyborg, this is a MOVIE, so we next see Lex Luthor in jail.
Luthor goes to the phone bank to make a call. When he does this, he coughs up something that maybe he swallowed? It looks like a flash drive with a light on it. It blinks at the phone and buzzes, and then he starts entering numbers on the keypad. Lots of numbers, very quickly.
Elsewhere, back at Luthor’s cyborg lab, we see the kryptonian technology sort of wake up, receiving strings of numbers and replying. The screens turn into that classic, three-circle Braniac symbol. Lights begin to flash. In every office in the building, the computers show that Braniac symbol. The whole building is buzzing.
Double-elsewhere. In the middle of a conversation with Lois, Clark looks up at LexCorp tower. It is sort of shimmering, transmitting a beam of something into space. Lois: “What? What do you see?”
WHAT DOES HE SEE?
End of movie.