ByDanny Rivera, writer at
I write things about things and would like for you to read them. Follow me on Twitter (@dgrivera) for more opinions.

*(It's entirely possible you and I will disagree on what a good movie is, especially the subject of this piece. I think, though, that we'll agree that bad exposition is bad.)

Exposition is a pain in the ass. You have information you need the audience to know, and you gotta figure out the best way to tell them. In the best movies, you barely even know you're being told vital story information (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a masterclass in visual storytelling), and in lesser movies it punches you in the face. Blockbuster movies, specifically genre movies, usually have a ton of exposition, as they're typically plot-heavy, and not all of that exposition is gonna work dramatically. Sometimes you have tremendous actors who just make it work (see Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness), and sometimes even the best actors can't get around a really clunky line.

Sadly, Amy Adams is one of those actors. Adams is an excellent actor (and along with Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, and Michael Osborne, raises the acting pedigree of Man of Steel to an absurd level), but Man of Steel is a big movie. It tries to do a lot, it doesn't do all of it well, and that means some lines are real clunkers.

Yes, I'm talking about, "I'm a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter."

First, some context: Lois is investigating a mysterious object, an object that happens to be a ship from the home planet of our protagonist, Superman. While investigating, Lois is attacked by the ship's security system. Superman saves her, but leaves her behind when the ship takes off. This enables Lois to naturally write an article about her experiences, which she submits to her boss, editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet, Perry White.

Perry flat-out rejects Lois's story, telling her she may have hallucinated half of it. Refusing to give up, Lois plays her final gambit:

"Perry, come on, it's me we're talking about: I'm a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter."


Why is that a problem? Because it's written as if it's news to Perry, delivered as if it isn't, and it all comes tumbling down. Even if you know nothing about Superman and his supporting characters, the scene quickly and easily establishes the dynamic: Perry is Lois's boss. Her boss isn't going to know she won a Pulitzer? Worse still, it's a mouthful: "I'm a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter."

The only way it could have been worse if she just went all the way with it, "Come on, Perry, it's me: Lois Lane of The Daily Planet, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Excellence in Journalism for the story entitled..."

It's clumsy characterization; it's copied and pasted from a cheatsheet about the character into the dialogue. I'm not entirely sure the line is necessary, either, as we already know Lois is a hardass of a journalist, as per a previous scene:

Jed Eubanks (Tahmoh Penikett):"...I'm not a fan of 'The Daily Planet'... but those pieces you wrote when you were embedded with the First Division were... Well they were pretty impressive."

Lois Lane: "Well, what can I say? I get writer's block if I'm not wearing a flak jacket."

Now, that exchange isn't without its problems. Why is this guy who works for what is presumably a private contracting company, and is a liaison between Lois and the military, giving her his opinion on how she writes? Further still, "those pieces you wrote while you were embedded with the First Division" is somehow both a mouthful and not specific enough — where were she and the First Division? If it was a series of pieces, did it have a title? If Mr. Eubanks is so opinionated, why doesn't he know the name? By being vague and lazy, you have to give a single actor more to say in a shorter period of time, which sounds awkward.

What happens if we share the exposition load? For the sake of this exercise, let's assume that the title of those pieces Lois wrote was something specific, but still vague enough in case the movie wants to avoid being too specific for whatever reason: "Blood and Sand."

Eubanks: "Ms. Lane, I hope you don't mind my saying but... those pieces you wrote, about the 101st division? 'Blood and... Sorry, what was it?"

Lane: "'Blood and Sand.'"

Eubanks: "'Blood and Sand' right, right. Well, to write that, and while embedded with those guys... Y'have my respect, Ms. Lane."

Lane: "Well, I appreciate it. How much farther to the campsite?"

A few things happen here: Eubanks is reduced to casually interested as opposed to vaguely judgmental; we learn that Lois wrote something impressive and presumably on the front lines of a war; we learn that Lois is all business. We learn much of the same information we did in the last rewrite, but poor Tahmoh Penikett doesn't have to work his way around that awkward line anymore. If we wanted, we could even extend that scene to include a line about her winning a Pulitzer (presumably for that piece), but the moment is long enough as it is, and let's assume it's important that we learn that bit of information in her scene with Perry. That said, let's try rewriting that scene with the same idea in mind: sharing the exposition.

Lois Lane: "Perry, come on, this is me we're talking about — I think I've earned a little trust."

Perry White: "You're right, Lois, y'have, which is why I can't publish this story."

Lane: "What?! How does that make sense?!"

White: "Because: you just won a Pulitzer, Lois, and you wanna follow it up with a story about aliens?"

Lane: [A beat.] "I don't see the problem here."

White: [Another beat.] "Not gonna happen, Lois."


Now, this is by no means a final draft, but it reads to me leagues better than just trying to shoehorn exposition in there. By spreading it out, by sharing the exposition among characters, you get to spend just a little more time with these characters without being distracted by awkward lines, which just lets us get to know them all the more. In a short time we learn a lot of information as opposed to having it spelled out for us. I'd rather that than a line where Lois says, "You know me, Perry: I'm stubborn."


I'm not sure it's even necessary that we know that Lois has a Pulitzer, but it's a part of the character's lore, so fine. That said, look no further than the previous big-screen appearance of the Man of Steel for a more elegant reveal of this fact: Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. Using just the camera, Singer not only clues us in to the new status quo surrounding Lois after Superman/Clark's disappearance, but let's us know how Clark feels about it: especially when he finds out why Lois won the Pulitzer:

Singer's a bit more of a deft hand at screenwriting and subtle filmmaking than Zack Snyder, but credit to Snyder as Man of Steel is his most intimate work to date (though that's a low bar).

Snyder's strength lies in aesthetic and operatic moments, in large themes and great (in size) character beats, which is why little dialogue moments like this so often fall flat.

And don't even get me started on Lois and Clark's first kiss.


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