“Superman: The Man of Steel” Movie Script Review

Review of the 1998 "Superman: The Man of Steel" script by Alex Ford.

Script Review by Neal Bailey

This script is, simply put, awful.

I thought I found a new definition of pain and suffering as I was slowly digested over a thousand years with the JJ Abrams script. Nah, not really, compared to this.

It's not the ideas. The ideas are pretty neat. A Superman film that centers on businessman mogul Lex and a battle to the death with Metallo using Metropolis as a battlefield, featuring cameos by Wonder Woman, references to the Justice League, Dan Turpin, Ron Troupe, Cat Grant, Lana Lang, and scores of great characters that beg for mention on the big screen.

Ideas are the easy part of reading. As any writer who reads other writers will tell you, EVERYONE has an idea, EVERYONE has a novel. If, in my capacity as a reviewer for this website, I could convey to you how many times I've been asked to read someone's idea, I would, but it happens so much, it's difficult to explain.

Writing for this site, I get a lot of people sending me thoughts about how to reboot or rewrite Superman. From the absolutely astonishing (per Jeffrey Bridges and previously, Jerry Newingham, and many others) to the dismal (names withheld to protect the innocent).

This script reads like a very bad version of someone trying to re-do Superman with some great ideas, the problem being, they can't write with a gun to their head.

Rife with typos, stereotypes, and horrid grammar, not to mention filled with unfilmable directions and no sense of scope, this script is a neat idea, but on every professional level fails.

It's wholly plot, zero character beyond what someone says in action, really, minus a few scant scenes with Lois musing about Clark and the Kent family, all of which last for less than five minutes of the script.

It doesn't open up Superman's powers at all, really. In fact, for most of the film he's depowered and made to look insipidly stupid as Metallo owns him and Lex brandishes his "wit," which consistst of him throwing around his money and telling people how rich he is.

The dilemmas are arbitrary and puerile. A woman with a bomb strapped to her chest as one of Lex's former lovers. A monorail gone wild. A nuclear reactor about to bust. Finally, main event, a punch-out with Metallo that lacks any real pep to it and is mostly descriptions of one guy punching or shooting the other guy.

After this woman with the bomb declares her intention to blow up Lexcorp's main building, here's the response when Jimmy tells the newsroom, complete with awful dialogue:

    PERRY
    OLSEN! What they hell are you doing in my staff meeting?! You're not a writer, you're a photographer and you're barely that! Get out of here before I have you selling papers on the corner!

    Instinctively, JIMMY folds and turns to quickly exit, then remembering why he came in the first place...

    JIMMY
    Oh yeah. Miss Lane called. Somebody has a bomb in the LexCorp building.

    Everything stops.

    PERRY
    Isn't Lois interviewing Luthor today?

    No one has an answer.

    PERRY
    (exploding)
    Well what are you waiting for?!

Yeah. That bad. "Everything stops." This is where the English teacher writes: "MORE DETAIL. SEE ME AFTER CLASS. ALSO, PUT COMMA AFTER 'Well' IN THE PERRY DIALOGUE.

Some more gems, after Lex finds out there's a bomb in his building:

    LUTHOR is brought directly to the BOMB SQUAD SERGEANT (PENNINGTON).

    LUTHOR
    (annoyed)
    SERGEANT, I trust this won't take long. I am trying to run a company.

    SERGEANT
    Well, there is a bomb in your building, Mister Luthor.

    LUTHOR
    If they really wanted to kill me and were remotely competent, I'd be dead by now. I can't stand incompetence. I'd like this matter finished as soon as possible.

Nice double use of "competence" there. Listen... here's how to write that scene:

    SERGEANT
    Look, Luthor. There's a bomb in your building. We need to get you out of here NOW.

    LUTHOR
    I'll take my own risks. You send your men, I'll send mine, we'll see who finds that bomb first.

    SERGEANT
    I'll have you arrested for obstruction.

    LUTHOR
    And I'll have your mother killed.
    (beat)
    Any more petty things you'd care to bother me with?

Because, you know, if this writing were remotely competent... ah, I can't stand incompetence.

Here's how it continues:

    SERGEANT
    This is not standard procedure, Luthor.

    LUTHOR
    (irritated)
    As far as I know you're an industrial spy and sent the bomb yourself to get into my building with no witnesses--

    SERGEANT
    (furious)
    Are you accusing me of not doing my job!?

    LUTHOR
    I have pens that cost more than you make in a week.

Reads like a bad anime, doesn't it?

Luthor dismisses the police in a bomb scare in a major building in a city bigger than NY. Pre-9/11, yeah, but sheesh.

The woman with the bomb gets outside after making the threat inside to a receptionist. Lois is standing right next to her when she makes the threat. In the next scene, the woman has somehow snuck past security outside and is mingling with the crowd, and Lois has been extricated from the scene.

The continuity is THAT bad.

Lois and Clark never interact beyond a few complaints that Clark gets the story before she does. She's pretty much absent from the film in most ways. Lana gets more screen time and is essentially Clark's girlfriend. Not in that "Batman vs. Superman" new and interesting way, in this obviously slighting Lois for the sake of the author's bias kind of way.

Luthor is cloning (for the sequel about Bizarro, and manages to let this great little bit of racism through:

    LUTHOR
    Fifteen hundred cats? What am I supposed to do with fifteen hundred cats? If I were in Korea I'd open a delicatessen but I'm not. I'm in Metropolis where fifteen hundred cats are useless to me. I want something better. Dogs, monkeys, French-speaking gorillas. Impress me.

Yes. Lex is a villain, and may be racist as such. But arbitrarily throwing such a statement into the dialogue is not the character, it's the author. Trying too hard. And making a biased racist statement.

There's a subway battle that's tensionless, which ends in a collar. The collared thug is then arbitrarily maced by a cop for no real reason, and the thug escapes.

A "STRANGER" saves the cop, and begins doing good deeds about town. This is Metallo. He upstages Superman, then suddenly becomes a bad guy for no real reason beyond frustration with not being able to feel (which is established in a whole two minutes of screen time), and then they duke it out.

Bottom line, awful in most respects, writing and plot and character. The only thing decent is the ideas, and like I said, ideas are like... uh... nostrils. Everyone has them, it takes a little effort to make it special. 1 of 10.

PS: On a personal level, I'm absolutely astonished that any studio paid for this, much less were "VERY EXCITED" as internet articles seem to indicate. Seriously... read it... and weep.

Neal Bailey