The Scene in Question: Man of Steel

by mahargen on June 20, 2013

    Here there be spoilers.  If you haven’t caught Man of Steel yet, you really don’t want to read this post.  For real, I spoil a big plot point at the climax of the film.  You should turn away now.

    Alright, do we just have people who have seen Man of Steel left?  Excellent.  Let’s break into this.  You know the scene we’re going to be talking about.  It’s been blowing up Twitter and comic blogs for the past week.  Friends have come to blows.  Podcasts have erupted into chaos.  It’s decisive to say the least.  Some people love it.  Some people hate it.  The scene is, of course, the climax of the brawl between Superman and Zod.  Zod, hell bent on destroying Earth and humanity, has his neck broken by Superman.  Some claim it was warranted.  Some claim that the act was so far outside of his character that it ruined the film for them.

    There are a few arguments that could, and should, be made here.  The first is was Superman’s course of action correct, and the second is whether or not the creators of the film should have put Superman in that position to begin with.  

    In the context of the climax of Man of Steel, was Superman correct?  Well, that is sort of a loaded question.  Is taking another human life ever truly right?  I don’t believe so.  That’s part of the moral code a number a number of the detractors have raised in the aftermath of Zod’s death.  However, there is a difference between doing what is right and what is necessary.  I believe Superman’s actions may not have been right, but were necessary.  Henry Cavill’s character was put into an impossible situation.  Untold casualties have already been caused as the hands of Zod and his cohorts.  The non-lethal alternative has already been attempted and was only ⅔ of a success.  Zod clearly tells Superman that he is not going to stop.

    There are many alternative actions Superman could have taken throughout the climax of the fight to put off killing Zod, but it was inevitable.  He could have covered Zod’s eyes to prevent the heat vision from killing bystanders.  He could have choked him out.  He could have flown him into space.  These are all short-term solutions that would have prevented immediate casualties from occurring, but what then?  Zod is beyond powerful, so there are probably no prisons that could hold him.  Kryptonite hasn’t been introduced in this universe so that is not an option.  Beyond finding another access point to the Phantom Zone, the death of Zod is required.  

Man of Steel is very much a coming of age film.  We are first introduced to Clark Kent as an outsider, working menial jobs and doing his best to avoid notice.  We get the impression that the character is in a holding pattern at this point in his life.  Without knowing what he is looking for he comes across the Genesis ship and learns of his heritage.  At this point, he embraces his gifts and starts the journey to becoming Superman.  A main sticking point a number of fans have is that Superman traditionally doesn't kill.  This character, however, really isn't Superman yet.  He's still in transition, unsure if what he's doing.  He is growing into the character we know and love, undoubtedly making some mistakes along the way.

    So, yes, Superman’s actions may have been  justified.  Now how about the actions of Zack Snyder, David Goyer and the rest of the creative team behind Man of Steel?  This is where the discussion get sticky.  Should they have put Superman in such a no-win situation?  Snyder and Goyer’s justification has been said to be that they want to show where Superman’s dislike of killing came from.  That he went too far, regretted it and refuses to go to those lengths again.  While this makes sense if you’re just looking at the story and characters, but you really have to take a look at the audience for which this medium is directed.  

    Now we get into a completely different discussion, mainly about the exposure of children to violence.  This film drew in a number of younger viewers expecting to see your traditional Superman depiction.  However, we live in a post-Dark Knight world where gritty realism is something film-goers are looking for.  Man of Steel delivers this, but also exposes the audience to one of the harder lessons we learn in life.  Sometimes taking live to save life is a necessary evil.  This happens in war regularly.  The battle in Metropolis is certainly worthy of being considered a war.

This is a somewhat bleak take on the origin of Superman, so the violence fits seem to fit.  This isn't Christopher Reeve or Dean Cain.  The hope hasn't come yet.  Hopefully they're saving that for the next film.  I do want Superman to be the light of how in the darkness, but he isn't going to become that  overnight because that is how he is depicted in the source material.  We'll get there.  So, was Superman justified?  Maybe.  Were the creators of Man of Steel justified?  Maybe not.



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