SPOILER! Man of Steel Review Follow-up: About That Ending…on June 18th, 2013
After I wrote my review for Man of Steel, the rest of the world got a chance to see the movie and reaction has been… mixed. Some, like me, are crazy about the movie. Other can’t believe they’re actually calling that guy in the tights “Superman.” This is mostly due to the ending of the film, so let’s talk about it. MASSIVE SPOILERS below. Turn back now if you haven’t seen the movie, I mean it.
Okay, first of all, I’m taking a lot of my thoughts here from a comment I left on Jeff Carter’s Man of Steel review over at Geek League of America. Go on over there is see Jeff’s opposing viewpoint and the following in its original content. Jeff’s a great writer, so it’s a good read!
There’s no question that the moment when Superman snaps Zod’s neck is a shocking one. It was a jarring moment and my reaction to it initially was the same as many others–Superman WOULD NOT do that!
But, actually, he would. Man of Steel tries to present to us a real world that Superman can exist in. A Superman who exists in that world–not a four color one where a writer’s imagination trumps all evil in a way that would make Pollyanna scream with joy and vindication–would do what he did. If he hadn’t, the movie would have betrayed its premise. I believe that that Superman will do everything in his power to not kill, but I think it’s absolutely correct and even righteous that he will kill if he has to. It’s extremely righteous.
Let me be clear about something: killing is evil, but the act of killing is not always evil. “Superheroes don’t kill” is an old trope and a comforting one (I make a big deal out of it in SuperFogeys more than once), but it absolutely does not carry over to anything resembling the real world. Killing, in defense of others and freedom, is not wrong and is often, sadly, necessary. Zod’s life was not more valuable than that family and all the people of Metropolis. Superman didn’t have a choice because the alternative–letting Zod do his thing–was the greater evil.
A lot of people are saying the brutal killing of Zod does not allow the movie to end triumphantly and that instead there’s a darkness that hangs over it. I don’t see it that way. Not at all. I think this may come down to individual preference and perspective, but I simply don’t understand light without the dark.
Superman’s killing of Zod is my favorite moment of the movie. Not because of what he does, but because of how he reacts. Instantly, he mourns. And it’s a mourning with a mixture of what he had to do–kill–and that fact that he had to kill Zod, leaving Superman all alone. The whole movie was about Clark wanting to find out about his heritage. And then he destroys that heritage.
Where is the triumph in that? For me, it’s in the why he did it. He made that sacrifice for us–for the people of Earth. That’s what makes him a hero. He absolutely did not want to do it, but he did it anyway. He’s a Christ figure, like it or not. Christ sacrificed himself on the cross in order to triumph over death for the rest of us. In the movie, Superman sacrificed much so that the people of Earth might live. No matter how dark the act, that, to me, is incredibly triumphant. Self-sacrifice for the greater good. Earth lives. Everybody gets to go home.
Now, I hope we see more of the consequence of the act. Superman should only ever take a measure so extreme when there’s no other choice (the writers of the comic understand this–he’s killed four beings in the course of his history), but it should shake him pretty terribly. Man of Steel showed us this in brief, but I think there’s room in a sequel for him to deal with this a little more. I hope he does, but, ultimately, he should feel good about what he did.
Because he did the right thing.