How Man of Steel Inspires, Even as It Divides

'Man of Steel' reminds audiences — and diehard fans — of Superman's moral authority

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Warner Bros.

There’s something oddly fascinating to me about the volume of passionate online discussion over the climax of Man of Steel. (This would be the part where I tell you that, if you haven’t seen Man of Steel and want to stay unaware of how the movie’s big climactic battle ends, you should probably stop reading right now.)

That discussion — or, to be more accurate, the one dominant complaint from a sizable and vocal contingent of Superman fans (that others have attempted to counter, to little effect) — centers around the fact that (again, spoilers) Superman, in order to win his battle with Zod, breaks the villain’s neck. This one action, in many people’s eyes, invalidates, in any and all ways, the entirety of Man of Steel as a Superman story, never mind as a good Superman story.

The thinking behind those complaints is somewhat absolutist. Superman never, ever kills, goes their argument, no matter the circumstance. In fact, the entire point of Superman is that he always finds a way to avoid that solution. As a longtime fan of the character, I definitely find myself drawn toward that idea, if only because it fits so well with the notion that Superman is, at his core, a kids’ character who, in addition to his superpowers, can personify that kind of rigid moral code.

And yet, I’m also drawn toward the explanation offered by filmmakers that, as Man of Steel is an origin story for Superman, and the killing here — presented, at least in their eyes, as something unavoidable in order to prevent further destruction and threat to human life — acts as the origin of Superman’s decision to never (again) take a life. In that Man of Steel’s Superman is clearly aimed at older viewers — the movie is rated PG-13, after all — the idea that there’s actually some reason (and experience) behind Superman’s strict moral code beyond “That’s not what I do” makes sense to me. And it places the new Man of Steel at the center of the cinematic trend toward angst-ridden, flawed heroes in a way that a traditional Superman could never have managed.

Beyond the substance of the debate, just the fact that there’s been any sense of discussion about a summer-blockbuster movie’s morality or plot at all (beyond pointing out the various ways in which it doesn’t make sense, of course) feels like something of a rarity, but what’s particularly fascinating about this to me is that, instead of simply writing off the finale as a bad decision or laziness — certainly, I don’t think Man of Steel really sells the idea that Superman had no other choice than to kill Zod — there’s the sense among those aggrieved that the character himself has been betrayed by this movie in some way.

I’m reminded of the controversy that erupted in comic-book circles earlier this year when DC Comics announced that Orson Scott Card was to co-write a story launching a new Superman series. Fans responded with horror at the idea that such a well-known opponent of gay rights and gay marriage would be allowed to write Superman, even going so far as to organize a petition to have him removed from the story. (In the end, the artist of the story stepped away from the project because of the negative publicity it had attracted, effectively leaving the project in limbo.)

That Superman story wouldn’t have been Card’s first comic-book work, however. A few years earlier, he had written two well-promoted Iron Man series for competitor Marvel Comics without attracting anywhere near as much outrage. This seeming discrepancy was explained away by some saying that Superman stood for compassion, tolerance and fairness in a way that no other superhero did, and was therefore more needing of curation that kept the character away from such bigotry and small-mindedness.

Seeing the upset in response to Man of Steel, that idea sticks with me. Superman holds a strange place in the hearts of many, it seems; he may be a fictional character, but he’s nonetheless someone that we look up to and expect more from than we do other such unreal constructs. We want him to represent something purer than other characters — an ideal for us to aspire to, perhaps. More than record-breaking opening weekends, more than the response from critics or anything about the actual movie itself, that’s what Man of Steel has done for Superman: reminded us how important he is as an idea and inspiration to us, even 75 years into his career.

126 comments
UchihaHaru
UchihaHaru

an extraordinary movie...superman was seen as never before,....the mightiest,not a weak one who cannot take out a piece of kryptonite.

UchihaHaru
UchihaHaru

Man of steel is one of the greatest superhero movies...only some idiots don't get it.

showmealltheevidence
showmealltheevidence

it's an awful movie before he breaks zods neck. Him breaking zods neck demonstrates how little goyer/nolan respect that these superhero films are escapism. They're not supposed to be post 9/11 studies in human behaviour. TDKR was dull. Too long and utterly miserable, and made very little sense. Man of steel is worse.

DracoGrey
DracoGrey

Zack & David, why did you say that? Why? Why, Zack & David, why? You're my hero, Zack & David.
You come out with stink like that. Poop! You poop mouth. Get all that poop out of your mouth. :'(

Nicholas_Ives
Nicholas_Ives

I believe this entire debate is a brilliant reflection on contemporary America, an ethical conversation worthy of Plato (which young Clark is seen reading), and will set up the major thematic arc of these new Superman films.... well done Snyder Goyer & Nolan

Brianman
Brianman

I for one liked seeing Superman kill Zod and felt that it was his full development into the superhero he is. Superman is by no means perfect and if you've ever seen/read any story about Batman and Superman in any medium you would know that this is often what causes the two to clash, their differences in beliefs and morality. 

Henry Cavill has stated that he would like to do a Superman/Batman movie before a Justice League film and I for one would love the idea of seeing Cavill's Superman and a new Batman on the big screen together, their different moral codes coming into conflict. 

Achilles
Achilles

He has killed in the comics several times, that rule only applies to Humans. 

kavin26870
kavin26870

Zod had to die. How else was Kal El to save the human race. Zod would have continued his destructive ways. There was no way to imprison him. He had no weaknesses. I didnt see an outcry when Clark was running around killing Phantom Zone escapees in Smallville. It was dark and violent and exactly the way Nolan does things. The DC Universe in video games is also dark and violent. You cant have Batman cross-over into Superman and start doing a Mary Poppins dance now. The problem with Lex Luthor as an opponent and past Superman movies is the human element. Superman lifting cars and having bullets bounce off him make him a glorified beat cop or fireman. He requires a super opponent, one who can match his skills. This movie should have rounded at at 3 hours to be more well balanced. But, it was a great thrill ride.

jonpercepto
jonpercepto

there were several issues of morality in Man Of Steel. Quite frankly I found them refreshing. I am sick and tired of over the top villians who acted like buffoons. They reminded me of the old Batman series in the 60's. They were a joke. 

I found the information about Krypton quite a revelation. The comics always portrayed the planet as scientifically advanced and here its presented as an Orwellian society where all their children are genetically engineered, except for Kal-El. Even on Krypton he would have been seen as a freak. I thought Snyder portrayed Kal more as a Marvel character such as a mutant xmen or the lonely isolated silver surfer. Emotionally isolated and filled with self loathing, this Superman fought to find himself and face the possibility of rejection. It was refreshing to see superman from a mortal lens and the struggle he had to endure to find his place.

The issue of killing Zod was a surprise, but it showed even more how human he was. I had no problem  with this re-imagining of Kal-el. Controversal, perhaps. But all the new stuff, I thought was brilliant. It was the best adaptation of Superman so far. Perfect no but it was engrossing.

JasonD.Armistead
JasonD.Armistead

In the comics, Superman did indeed kill Zod. He was in a pocket reality and left with no other choice. His actions basically drove him to the brink of insanity and ultimately this was what led to his 'never kill' manifesto. 


Saigongames
Saigongames

giờ tôi là người duy nhất nhớ hết siêu nhân 2, đã siêu nhân không giết zod sau đó? cho các fan hâm mộ phải ở trên tôi đề nghị bạn xem xét lại.  


Read more: Game hay cho điện thoại

J_M0c
J_M0c

P.S.

If superman is willing to have a fight in an area that caused millions in property damage and more than likely a ton of fatalities, then how would killing to save a small family fundamentally make sense? If he kills over a small family how would this give him reason not to kill someone who puts the the world, and entire city, or even a small apartment complex in danger?

J_M0c
J_M0c

For all who want to site comics for superman killings please get your facts straight. Most fans who refer to Superman not killing in "the comics" are referring to all cannon continuity. This includes the major DC Universe where all heroes coexist in the Modern age of comics (or post-crisis) on the world of New-Earth. In this storyline the last time Zod appeared was in War of the Supermen where he was sent back to the phantom zone and his son followed him to make sure he stayed there.

For those who say he killed doomsday, Doomsday was thought to be dead as Superman was. Both just needed rest and then doomsday was  sent to the end of time, had his clones killed by mxyzptlk , put in an infinite teleporter loop, thought to be killed when he was reduced to a skeleton by imperiex, imprisioned like the next 3 times.... well you get the point.

Cyborg Superman never appeared to be killed by superman. It was always someone else dealing the final blow.

Quex-UI was killed by that kryptonian military force. 

Superman never killed. The premise behind superman is that since he is an alien with all this power he has the ability to be a better "man" than all of us. 

For the people who say he killed in Injustice... I LOVE INJUSTICE because the whole premise is what if superman killed. Answer: he becomes the supreme DICTATOR of the world. again not cannon. 

What comic book movie watchers want to see  is a movie that values the core of their favorite heroes. Any other alternate version you bring up is not one that the die hard comic fans will want to see. Understand the audience you are rebutting before you attempt to disprove their points.

DariusWaveman
DariusWaveman

They realize that superman kills Zod in the comics right?


CamMaxwell
CamMaxwell

Errrr has anyone seen Superman II? He kills Zod in that too lol

JamesJuniorCortez
JamesJuniorCortez

People look at the context of the scene.  When Superman has Zod in a death neck lock and blasting away with his heat ray at a family.  Right there Superman has literally make a choice:  Save the family (Us.) or destroy all his ties with Krypton (Killing Zod).

Please remember this is a comic book movie and that last line Lois Lane and it's double meaning.

"Welocome to the Planet." said Lois.  Which Clark Kent responds.  "Good to be here.". 

Bring On "Man Of Steel 2".

EnderKent
EnderKent

to every one saying that they hate this superman film do to the fact that he kills really needs to keep an open mind. i mean come on superman is one of those characters where one incarntion doesnt match they other. personaly i loved this film it was superman. yeah he doesnt normaly kill and yeah he's supossed to be a big blue boy souct. the truth is as long as he does what is right even if that means taking life for the greater good. he then still superman. just keep and open mind you never know what good cuold come out of it if you do. 

small_axe
small_axe

Fk Zod. Good job Superman. ;-)

IronAngelx
IronAngelx

This movie was awesome. He was an amateur, just a man in essence (MAN of Steel) and he's not better than us, he faces the things we do. I agree, this solidifies his opposition to the killing. I loved this movie. And on the story of Orson Scott Card, he's one of the most well-renowned sci-fi authors of our time, the fact that people complained about his views in real life doesn't mean he would implement those views in his books, DC would be committing publicity suicide by letting him do that. People should be able to have their own beliefs. I have mine, and I agree that homosexuality is wrong and is a sin, because that's my belief that I have in my heart. Doesn't mean I hate gays, I just don't approve of the lifestyle, but I would never show them anger, hate, or alienate them. But that's off topic, Man of Steel is Superman for today, he's not supposed to be better than us, he's one of us, and the whole movie shows that he is a man at heart. Would any of us, placed in the same position, do anything different than killing Zod? Or would we have let him slice the family in half? Don't feed me some bull about "the movie should have went a different direction". This is good story-telling, why? Because it makes us ask questions about ourselves, "Why do I look up to Superman?" The same reason I look up to my dad, who served in the United States Army, if he had killed anyone in battle, I wouldn't hate him for it, because he did it for me. Superman killed Zod for us (in the story). I'm so glad this movie was a success, it's about time our movie goers are actually provoked to thinking. God bless.

TomMohr
TomMohr

Has anybody watched Smallville, This plays along what the show did.  The angst the character had.  What he dealt with and this was like a next step of sorts.  I get it and I am a big superman fan. 

RobertAllen
RobertAllen

Superman at the end of the movie does not express remorse that he kills Zod.  He expresses remorse because in order to kill Zod he had to in effect kill that family cowering the corner.  The twist of the neck plies the razor right through that family. 

david.richards51
david.richards51

Great article.  I think you can debate whether or not Superman had a choice other than killing Zod (personally I'm not sure what the alternative would have been), but what really interests me in people's reactions is the acknowledgement that we as a country are no longer in the gilded age.  Donner's Superman of the 70's lifted people out of the darkness of Vietnam, and brought us back to the "feel good" America the we have since left.  What's more, back then we were exporting that glossy Americanism to the rest of the world, because it was something worth exporting.  Now, we're a country trying to "fit in" to the rest of the world.  Any Director's dilemma today then, comes down to....do you make a Superman who fits into the modern world/modern America....or do you make one who exemplifies the values and aspirations of a bygone era?  Snyder chose the former, which I think was the right choice.  Choosing the latter well, I think makes Superman a true stranger to this planet and its movie-going audiences.

DracoGrey
DracoGrey

*Oh, p.s. Great article. ◕‿◕

ScottLaudano
ScottLaudano

@J_M0c 

... If you were too busy noticing all these details you'd remember that Superman tried to keep the fight out of the less destroyed part of the city. Zod being the tactician and ruthless soldier he is knew where to keep the fight and destroy as many buildings and lives as possible. He was the more experienced fighter of the two. In case you missed the beginning of the movie back when he was on Krypton kicking ass there too.

ajrod73
ajrod73

He had a fight in an area that was already obliterated by that world engine. That part of the city was already in ruin. Most of that part of the city was likely either evacuated, or the people already killed by the damage done. Not to say, that there wasn't more of both....but your just looking for a reason not to like it. He also is meant to not be making best decisions as he's becoming Superman. It does make sense, when he sees the potential death of a family, he makes his choice in that moment, just like Johnathan Kent said....you have to decide the kind of man you want to be. He chose to become the protector of earth in that moment.

krispswish
krispswish

@J_M0c hilarious they just wanted to have him kill that dude so he wouldn't be in any of the sequels. Is there a Bizzaro, wait I don't think that would be PC today.

LouisHenryPennell
LouisHenryPennell

@J_M0c but, comic book movies arent about "canon" its about adapting the characters to a film for grown mature adults, for fans AND non-fans. the first 2 xmen movies were good, they are a lot different then the canon. the first 2 spiderman movies are really good, those arent just like the canon. the closest i have seen is watchmen. one obvious thing they changed was the giant alien squid at the end. for obvious reasons. the walking dead tv show is highly praised, and is way different then the comics. 

david.richards51
david.richards51

@J_M0c so just how far does "Canon" go back?  Die hard comic book fans recognize that Golden Age Superman killed all the time.  ALL the time.  He not only killed, he let people die.  Check out Superman #8, 1941.  That's one of probably two dozens examples.

DariusWaveman
DariusWaveman

@J_M0cUnderstood. However the film makers take their ideas and material that they use to inspire these ideas from many sources in the comics. Not just the continuity that is currently canonical in the main DC comics universe. They look at the wide range of Superman comics throughout his history including the "The Supergirl Saga" in which Superman meets Zod in a pocket universe and eventually kills him and his two compatriots with kryptonite radiation.

KhalilA.R.Kersey
KhalilA.R.Kersey

Along with Faroa, Quex-Ul, Doomsday, and Cyborg Superman.

AnitaAishah
AnitaAishah

@IronAngelxMany of my friends were wondering why Superman didn't care to save millions of lives in both Smallville and Metropolis, isn't he s'posed to be Superman? Guess when the soldiers were refering Kal El as Superman, they meant super man. He hasn't been created or known as one. He is still 'that alien'. The moment he donned his alien bodysuit which was Jor El's, he was told to never stop testing his limits, meaning he hasn't yet discover other super powers like the freeze breath, eidetic memory..etc. In other words, Kal El still in the process of discovering his super abilites and pretty much a novice at being a superhero or in this movie... a saviour. Too bad that his first test was General Zod and Faora.. it would be easy if it were Lex Luthor or Ross Webster. But what do I know, I'm just a geeky girl behind a brimmed glasses wondering where did his red underpants go!

ajrod73
ajrod73

Jeez man, all the movie hate. Yea, I'm sure that as he pleaded with him to nit kill the family, he twists the neck and kills them. It's very clear the family survives. That's the whole point of the scene.

DracoGrey
DracoGrey

@ajrod73  

*Ugh* Fanboy >.<  -The film compromised everything that Supes stands for. All in the name of sensationalism and further de-sensitizing. They went IN with the goal of having this most beloved of idol killing someone. . .ANYONE. 

And he who can not see that, really isn't bringing anything to the debate. 

Brianman
Brianman

You are correct Darius. I for one would not want to solely see a film adaptation of the New Earth superheroes. I enjoy when filmmakers take inspiration from mulitple comic book storylines throughout the whole of DC's history. The Dark Knight trilogy for example is heavily based on Frank Miller's stories Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns along with The Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, and No Man's Land, both canonical storylines and alternate universe storylines. The Man of Steel movies should be the same way. 

KhalilA.R.Kersey
KhalilA.R.Kersey

He did save people in Smallville and he got sucker punched for it. He has to deal with the source of the problem first.

LouisHenryPennell
LouisHenryPennell

@DracoGrey @ajrod73 draco, you didnt even bother countering any of ajrod's points. also, superman has killed people in the comics. it is completely fitting to have him kill someone in the film, minding the fact that he isnt technically superman yet in the film. 

for every complaint i have heard about the film, there is an obvious explanation refuting the complaint. just admit that you personally dont like the film. don't call it bad, because it isnt bad. just say you dont like it. for example, i find titanic dull. however, i will concede that it was well made. See? its easy.

DracoGrey
DracoGrey

@ajrod73  This dude's like 40 and his eyes are still wide shut. smh