The Spoiler Zone: the real problem with Man of Steel
Note: this post is going to reveal things about the current Superman movie, Man of Steel, and that will include plot details. If you have not yet seen the movie and prefer to have that pure feeling of discovery that comes from approaching a work of entertainment with no foreknowledge (which I understand), I’d skip this one until you have seen it.
While Man of Steel clearly knows a lot about Superman, there is something about it that is still bothering me more than a week after seeing it. Yes, they have allusions to other versions of Superman. That’s particularly apparent in the casting of actors that have appeared in Smallville and the Christopher Reeve movies, and names from the comics.
There’s nothing wrong, as far as I’m concerned, with not sticking exactly to previous continuity. That openness has brought us some of the most iconic things about Superman (flight, Kryptonite) as I noted about three years ago in
However, Man of Steel does much more than just add a new ability or weakness. What it does changes the nature of Superman…and of its universe’s connection to him as the inevitable sequels are released.
Now, we could get into an argument here about when or whether killing somebody is justified, but that’s honestly beyond this discussion of a superhero’s own ethos.
Superman has killed (rarely) in earlier incarnations, but there is a really significant difference here…the impact it has on him.
In Man of Steel, Superman is struggling to stop General Zod from frying some people with his heat vision. They are locked together, with Superman basically having Zod in a chokehold.
Superman pleads with Zod, and appears to be clear to Kal-El that killing Zod is an option.
He snaps the General’s neck, and then he screams about it.
How does he feel about it later, though?
Doesn’t seem to faze him at all.
It’s after this that we see him considering how he can continue the work. We see (for the first time) him showing up at The Daily Planet with his Clark Kent glasses on.
If anything, it seems to end a period of uncertainty for him…it’s almost like it is a relief to have that over with, to have killed somebody.
That’s really worrisome, to me and to the future movies.
Let’s be honest here: a fifth grade writing class could have come up with a dozen other things Superman could have done to end that stand-off. He could fly up. He could smash down. He could use his own heat vision to cut an escape path for the cowering people (this whole process is slow). He could point Zod’s head towards the ceiling, to give them time to get away…that has got to be easier than snapping his neck. Instead, what happened?
He panicked, and he responded emotionally and violently.
From what we see in this movie, he behaved like a Kryptonian. These aliens seem to have serious impulse control issues…and yes, I’d include Jor-El and Lara in that group.
Kryptonians are the anti-Vulcans.
It’s possible that, if Krypton hadn’t exploded (arguably ironically appropriate for how the Kryptonians themselves behave), a Surak would have eventually arisen that led them to non-violence (as was related as having happened on Vulcan in the past on Star Trek).
Certainly, that was a problem on Krypton…but on Earth, it’s a crisis of, well, super-proportions.
We have to assume that, unless Superman made an effort to cover up what he did, the U.S. military knows that Superman killed Zod. This was happening in a public transportation terminal: it’s very likely there was security video. While autopsying a Kryptonian might be difficult (does the invulnerability survive beyond life? Can you create conditions where cutting into the skin is possible?), snapping a neck is probably morphologically evident without invasive examination.
So, going forward, the military is dealing with a possibly unstoppable superbeing, who isn’t smart enough or self-controlled enough to find a non-lethal solution to a problem when emotionally stressed.
That is not a good thing.
I have to say that I would expect there to be very serious discussions within the government about asking Superman to leave Earth and never return. Otherwise, it’s like having a nuclear bomb walking around…with the emotionally maturity of your typical chihuahua (no insult to chihuahuas is intended). Our society could become like the old Twilight Zone episode, It’s a Good Life, with everybody walking on eggshells around Superman as they did with Billy Mumy’s six-year old Anthony Fremont in that classic Jerome Bixby adaptation. Whatever you do, don’t get Superman upset…to paraphrase another superhero show, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
Do I think they’ll deal with that in “Man of Steel 2”? Probably not…they’ll probably ignore Superman’s emotional reaction to killing somebody with his bare hands. We’ll probably see him smiling and joking like nothing ever happened…but it did…and it should matter.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle