Man of Steel Movie of Kleenex II (spoilers!)

As I said in Part One, Superman killing Zod is the climax of the film, the end of the long battle against the Kryptonians attempt to remake Earth into New Krypton. And it doesn’t work.
Part of that is personal. Superman’s commitment to not killing is part of what makes him distinctive. It’s an example of the moral choices that make him super (as I noted in Part One). Though as this is only “movie Superman” I’m less bothered by it.
And you can certainly argue whether Superman could have found an alternative (I suspect this is one reason there’s no kryptonite in the movie—it would make it easier to take Zod down), or whether he was morally justified. But dramatically it still doesn’t work.
As others have pointed out, if you’re going to set up killing Zod as this big, traumatic moment, an act of desperation, you need to start out establishing that Superman has a code against killing. Or that his top priority is protecting life. And they don’t. Sure, we show him saving lives a lot in the early part of the film, and that’s cool, but during the big fight scenes, all he does is fight. There’s no attempt to say, rescue people caught in the crashing buildings or to shift the fight away from Metropolis to somewhere less populated (in many ways, it’s like they worked Superman into the template for a big summer alien-invasion movie). This doesn’t have to get in the way of the action: it’s a standard super-villain tactic to throw bystanders into peril, then clobber the hero while he has to save her (Faora gloats about Superman’s morality being a weakness but doesn’t really exploit it). There’s no indication that for this Superman, as opposed to the comics version, life is a priority.
Second, there’s no payoff. The creators have said they want this moment to explain why Superman doesn’t kill (apparently he can’t just believe it’s wrong) but a wail of despair doesn’t really establish that. As David Grossman points out in the book On Killing, lots of soldiers are shaken up when they have to kill someone. The response isn’t to swear off, it’s to rationalize what they did and how they were justified.
Superman could have said something to Gen. Swanwick in the aftermath, about how he’s not going to kill someone—he’ll find another way, even if it kills him. Swanwick could have asked whether Superman intends to kill again. But no, it’s never followed up on.
(Likewise, Clark showing his powers to the other kids never does pay off, except in that mean-spirited scene with Pa I talked about earlier).
It’s supposed to be the payoff for the whole film, and it fails miserably. Elliott Maggin’s Miracle Monday (novel from the early 1980s) did much better with the issue: it establishes early on that Superman doesn’t kill and shows what he’s willing to sacrifice to avoid taking an innocent life (which Zod, of course, wasn’t). Even John Byrne’s 1980s story where Superman kills Zod worked better: the decision was more traumatic and Superman had a hard time dealing with his actions.
Last, but not least:
•What is the point in Superman becoming Clark Kent, journalist? As the military already knows he’s Clark Kent, how exactly is this going to foll them (which he asserts it will). Lois knowing, on the other hand, I’m fine with, but the idea this is a “secret” identity is ridiculous here.
•Enough with retelling Superman’s origin. In recent years we’ve seen it retold in the Superman animated series, Lois and Clark, Smallville and now here, plus comics retellings in Earth One, Secret Origin and Birthright. I doubt anyone in the audience doesn’t already know who Superman is, and there’s lots of other stories to tell. So tell them.

7 Comments

Filed under Comics, Movies, Reading

7 responses to “Man of Steel Movie of Kleenex II (spoilers!)

  1. Superman’s unwillingness to kill lost any believability to me during the enormous explosions and wanton destruction of his fights. You want me to believe that this is the same Superman who doesn’t believe in killing? Heck no. His hands are already bloodstained with dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of redshirts; lives. But as a random person, a semi-innocent, who has never had to bare-handedly murder people in his quest to protect others (despite those who died as “collateral damage” in his struggle to save billions, he never directly killed them with his own two hands, in a cold, rational decision), the bit of angst he shows in doing the act is believable. So, if I pretend it’s a character I’ve never met before, I can enjoy the movie; tell me it’s Superman, and you’ve lost me.

  2. frasersherman

    Even then I didn’t work for me but yes, definitely it’s a “movie” Superman.

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