As should be clear by now, when I am interested in something, I go all in. For that reason, I have been trying to work my way through every podcast on the topic of Superman that I can find online. I’ve listened to hundreds of episodes of such by this point. There’s a lot of hours of people talking about Superman out there. It’s a lot to get through. I’m not gonna stop, but it is a struggle.
One thing that comes up so often is the movie Man of Steel that came out back in some year that starts with a 20-. It’s pretty damned divisive and everyone gets so worked up about it. I’ve only watched it only once, when it was in theatres, and I don’t remember liking it much. But I don’t feel nearly as strongly about it as the internet people do. My primary memory of the thing was that is was pretty boring except for action scenes that were too shaky for me to tell what was going on. I also hated (and continue to hate) the stylized bleakness represented by a dimming of colours which apparently people think is “realistic” even though just looking at the real world for a moment will show that it isn’t. I absolutely did not the film’s take on Pa Kent. But mostly it was a forgettable and overlong action movie, I thought.
But you know what everyone who rants about the movie cares about that I don’t? Superman killing Zod. This is the single biggest point of debate, and I’ve yet to hear anyone come at it from an angle I agree with.
First, there’s the people who argue against it because Superman should never kill anyone. Okay, sure. I prefer my Superman as a non-killer myself, but that isn’t a debate that came up in the movie before that point (or after, really, except that he screamed in anguish for a second). Again, it’s been years since I watched it, but whether he should kill or not wasn’t a theme of the movie. It was more concerned with whether he should do anything at all, which had basically been decided by that point. So the kill is sort of unearned drama at worst, but it doesn’t go against Clark’s character as portrayed within the film. If you’re against it because of your opinion of the character based on portrayals outside the film, sure, but that’s not the film’s fault. And this isn’t even the only depiction of Superman specifically killing Zod. There’s a million takes on Superman out there and I’m certainly not going to say this one is “wrong” based on this one aspect.
But also, I don’t agree with the people defending Superman’s murder choice often frame it as Superman doing what needed to be done to save people. I didn’t see that when I watched the movie. Zod was already defeated in that moment and he wanted to die.
Look, if Zod wanted to kill this family, he could easily have done so by moving his eyes slightly to his right, but he held off for moments without doing it. He was just threatening to do it. It wasn’t as if he’s straining to reach them with his laservision and just couldn’t do it because Clark held him out of reach. He was taunting Clark into killing him, as if saying “I’ll do it! Kill me, or I’ll do it!” And so Clark killed him. Superman fell for Zod’s “Suicide by Superhero” ploy.
At the time, my biggest complaint regarding the Zod’s death was that they always kill the villains in superhero movies. It felt that way to me then at least. Back then I’d seen a higher percentage of existing superhero films that were released, whereas now I see maybe a quarter of them. But I thought of how many times I’d seen Green Goblin or Joker* or Doctor Octopus or Two-Face or whomever else get killed off, and wanted something different. (* I specifically remember citing the time when they didn’t kill off the Joker and then the actor died.)
One of the best things in superhero comics is how long-running relationships between characters, including heroes and villains, grow over time. Back in those days I wanted to see more of that on film. I think they may do more of that these days, but I’ve mostly tapped out. Either way, Man of Steel just did what those movies did, I thought. And that just made it a boring choice. I can’t believe people still spend so much time arguing about it.
Anyway, my most controversial belief now: Superman’s never had a movie that goes above mediocre and yes I’m including the Christopher Reeve stuff. Good night!