Man of Steel Revisited

This week, the controversial Man of Steel was released on Blue-Ray, DVD and digital. Since then I’ve watched the movie twice. I wanted to come back and give more thoughts on the film. And to start I want to hit the climax of the film head on. So here’s the infamous “Zod Death Scene.”

Okay so this is the ending to Superman II as directed by Richard Donner and RichardLester. And yes, the Christopher Reeves Superman killed Zod. I want to you to understand what you’ve just watched–please watch it! In this film Superman gives up his powers to live life as a normal man with Lois. But when he finds out that Zod has taken over the world, Superman regains his powers. In the climactic fight with Zod, Ursa, and Non, Superman uses the machine that turned him human on the Kryptonian tyrants. That’s where this youtube clip picked up, Superman exiting the chamber of the machine that turned Zod and his cohorts into humans.

Note the cavilier nature to which Superman throws Zod across the fortress and in to that pit that leads to the Arctic ocean. Non tries to fly, not understanding what had happened to him and his compatriots, and falls to his doom. Lois then punches Ursa, sending her to the fate that her fellows had already met. What does Superman do? Hugs Lois and laughs as Luthor figures out what just happened. It’s funny to SUPERMAN that he killed Zod like that. There’s nothing in this film that says Superman shouldn’t kill. In fact, it’s the opposite. And worse than the Man of Steel, it’s humorous and enjoyable and made to be a positive thing that Superman killed three Kryptonians who just had their powers taken away. There was no need to kill them. None.

Yet for some reason, when we get to Man of Steel, we are told it’s gloomy and heartless. Really? Because Superman isn’t portrayed by Christopher Reeves–who will always be Superman to me!–and no one is laughing about killing Zod, it’s cold and heartless? Really? Watch the full battle again from Man of Steel. You can skip to about the 5:00 minute mark to watch the death of Zod if you want.

Superman, portrayed brilliantly by Henry Cavill (a man with a great name!), begs Zod not to kill the family he’s aiming his heat vision at inside the train station. Pause the video at the 5:30 mark and you’ll see on Superman’s face that he’s decided to kill Zod and there’s no smile. There’s no laughter. It’s pain and regret. He doesn’t want to do it, but he feels that he has to kill Zod. And after the kill, there is Superman dropping to his knees and screaming out in pain at what he’s done. No, there isn’t an explicit denouncing of killing like in Alan Moore’s famous “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” in Superman #423 (1939-2011) and Action Comics #583 (1938-2011). But it’s also not the joke, the trivial and cavalier matter that it was in the Donner/Lester Superman II film either. It wasn’t cold and heartless. It was an emotionally traumatic moment for Superman, and it showed. Non-verbal communication can’t be discounted in this scene, as some do.

I bring this up because I think people have romanticized Christopher Reeves’ performance of Superman. In Superman: The Movie Superman lived up to the nickname he had earned, the Big Blue Boy-scout. And I loved it. Christopher Reeves made me believe that a man could fly. It’s one of the those films I watch when I’m sad because Reeves’ Superman picks me up. And I think people have somehow got it fixed in their minds that Superman has to be that guy, or he’s not Superman at all! My favorite Superman comic is a retelling of his origin that played heavily into Man of Steel called Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Yu. Waid tells a story about Superman that takes him back to the character in the 1950s, where Superman earned the Big Blue nickname.

But we can’t lock Superman into that vision of the character, discounting any other iteration. We can’t invalidate any other version of Superman because it’s not our vision of the character. There are people who hated Nolan’s Batman, preferring the Adam West version. That doesn’t make Nolan’s vision any less valid. The same with Superman and the Man of Steel. And people complained about Superman Returns being too much like the Donner/Lester/Reeves films. Nolan takes the franchise in a different direction and it’s not close enough to Reeves. I guess we can’t be pleased–well I will admit that Brian Singer’s tribute is a guilty pleasure of mine so I guess I am pleased too easily.

Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee tell a story called “For Tomorrow” in Superman #204-215 (1987-2006) that had a brooding title character. No one who has read the comics can claim that Superman hasn’t killed anyone. It’s just not part of the canon. In fact, Superman killed Zod in a pocket universe in Superman #22 (1987-2006) in the same manner as in the Reeves film. Stripped Zod of his powers and then killed him. In Superman #75 (1987-2006), Superman kills Doomsday after a brawl that will remind people of the Superman-Zod fight in Man of Steel. Or just go watch any animated versions of Superman by Bruce Timm. Superman turns Metropolis into a battle ground often, using cars and street lamps and anything else as a weapon he can get his hands on. Watch the finale to Justice League: Unlimited where Superman punches Darkseid through five or six skyscrapers before punching him into the street, making a crater.

What really hit me the hardest was the honesty of the battle of the gods. Zod came to earth with the intention to terraform it, to turn it into a planet exactly like Krypton. He possessed the World Engine, a machine that would turn earth into Krypton. In most movies, Zod wouldn’t be given the chance to use it, Superman would stop it from being activated. In Man of Steel, Zod used it and unleashed trillions of dollars of damage upon Metropolis, as well as killing thousands. I applaud the creators for letting Zod be a real villain with no idiotically cliche countdowns to activation. They did something different with the villain.

And then there’s the hand-to-hand fighting. Well before we get to this, let’s also knock the military for attacking first in Smallville. They did as much damage as Superman or the Kryptonians did. Let me say that when Superman drove Zod away from the Kent farm and into town, destroying a silo in the process, I wasn’t pleased. That part of me that romanticized Reeves spoke up. But if three people with the powers of Superman fought in a small town, there wouldn’t be much left standing. It’s the truth. And Zod in Metropolis fighting Superman, it’s still two gods fighting it out. I’d say nearly 90-95% of the damage done to Metropolis came from Zod’s World Engine. And all but some 1% of the damage came from Zod hurling Superman into buildings and using heat vision. Superman could have done more, like the gas truck exploding he could have stopped.

But what did we expect to happen when Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder were asked to reboot the Superman franchise? It was going to be brutally honest in this confrontation. Two gods battling it out in the heart of civilization, the fate of the world hanging in the balance. It wasn’t going to be pretty, nor should it have been. Snyder has stated he wanted to inject a mythological quality to the battle between Zod and Superman. I’d say he succeeded. It was definitely mythological.

To wrap this up, I get the criticism of the creators of the film for not putting Zod on the Black Zero ship that got sent back to the phantom zone. I really do. Part of me, that part that loves the Reeves films, screams that the movie should have ended that way. But once the Black Zero ship was sent back without Zod in it, there was only one way to stop Zod. They had to kill him. What on earth could hold back Zod? Nothing.

So I think people should ease up on their hate of the movie. It was far from perfect. Superman killed Zod. But Man of Steel handled it much better than Richard Lester did in Superman II. Furthermore, it was within the canon of the Superman mythos to kill Zod in the way they chose to do it. Was I comfortable with all of the destruction? No. But is that what makes Zod such an excellent villain? Yes. He’s a bad dude, the baddest of the bad. He’s mythologically bad. And that Man of Steel was to be the intro to Warner Bros. Justice League franchise (think the Avengers from Marvel, only with DC superheroes like Batman and Wonder Woman and Flash), there is time to address the killing and destruction. The aftermath of Superman #22 showed that Superman was haunted by his decision to kill Zod. Let’s see if they follow suit.


~ by hankimler on November 15, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: