If you want non-spoilery thoughts on the movie, go check out my review. Here I’m going to talk more in-depth about a few of the more controversial bits of the movie, which do contain major spoilers.
These are scenes I’ve seen several people mention when they’re talking about what they didn’t like about Man of Steel.
Now, as you may have guessed, I liked Superman and Superman II and enjoyed Superman Returns, but they’re not the be-all end-all of Superman portrayals for me. Plus, I’ve never read the comics, so everything I know about the character comes from the pop culture I’ve consumed and more than a few conversations with my much-more-comically-well-read roommate.
I’m coming at this from the point of view of someone who is a superhero fan in general and has a passing familiarity with Superman and his story.
The final fight
The absolutely rampant destruction in the final fight scene made me go o.O, enough so that it yanked me out of the movie a few times as my brain translated what I was seeing beyond the standard “oooh shiny action movie.”
Afterward, I was pondering 1) how many billions of dollars of damage that was, 2) how they were going to clean it up, and 3) how ridiculous insurance premiums must be in Metropolis.
I can excuse the damage done by the gravity weapon, which did a good job of leveling/clearing out Metropolis before Superman and Zod even got there.
However, the final showdown between the two does about as much damage to Metropolis as the gravity weapon did. People have been pointing out that there would have been a tremendous number of casualties from that, and that traditionally, Superman wouldn’t have allowed that.
Some have been asking why Superman didn’t take the fight to a less populated area. Frankly, I don’t think Zod would have let him. It’s pointed out throughout the movie that the Kryptonians see Superman’s compassion for humans as a weakness. Since they don’t share it, keeping the fight in a populated area gives Zod an edge over Superman. As a lifelong soldier, Zod would have to be an idiot not to take every advantage he could get.
Even if Superman had tried to take the fight elsewhere, I think Zod would have found a way to bring it back to Metropolis or some other city.
Then there’s the level of destruction itself, which I’m torn on. On the one hand, everything I’ve seen from Superman is that even in the middle of major fights, he’s still very aware of humans caught in the crossfire. But on the other hand, when you have two virtually indestructible beings duking it out, it would be unbelievable not to have an immense amount of collateral damage.
Plus, Superman isn’t just facing someone who’s his equal; he’s facing someone who has all of the benefits he gets from Earth’s sun in addition to a lifetime of military training. Superman’s only really had what, a couple of weeks where he’s really pushed his limits with what he can do?
At this point, facing down Zod and not dying is taking all of his concentration. I don’t know it would be possible or believable for Superman to be able to prevent a loss of life in a fight like that, at least not where he is now.
So while I agree that at times it got over-the-top, I also think maybe it had to be.
Superman killing Zod
This, I think, is probably the most controversial thing, since a big part of Superman’s character is that he doesn’t kill. And so to have him kill Zod at the climax of the film is something that didn’t sit well with a lot of people (judging by some of the reactions I’ve seen online).
However. I think if you’re going to have Superman kill someone, they went about it in the best way possible.
At the very beginning of the fight, Zod essentially says he has nothing left to live for. He was a product of a race that is now extinct, with no hope of returning to its former glory. All the steps he’d taken, all the things he’d done throughout the movie had all been to benefit that race in some way.
Unlike Superman, Zod didn’t have the luxury of choice with his path in life, and undoubtedly the destruction of Krypton hit him hard. Couple that with the destruction of his ship, his world engine, and his crew, and it’s not really much surprise that he decides to commit suicide by Superman. From the moment that fight starts, Zod has determined it will end in death. It’s just a matter of whose.
And it’s not like it’s something Superman takes lightly. You can see the conflict on his face. He knows this is a no-win situation, even as he’s desperately trying to find another way out. But he doesn’t have it in him to let innocents be harmed, and so he kills the only other Kryptonian in the entire universe with his bare hands. And it absolutely wrecks him to do so.
And who knows? Maybe that’s another part of what Zod wanted all along: not just to die, but to force Superman to be the one to kill him, to tarnish the cape a little bit.
So what’s the verdict?
Really, I think it’ll depend on how the fallout from these scenes is handled in the next movie. If being forced to take a life is what pushes Superman to vow to never take another, then I’m okay with it. If people are calling for some kind of reparations or justice for the destruction of Metropolis and the casualties, then I think audiences will be a little more forgiving of it.
If both of those issues are glossed over, however, then I think people will continue to have a major problem with them because they do go so much against the traditional depictions of Superman’s character.