Movie Review: Man of Steel (Spoilers)

Henry Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel

Henry Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel

I should be writing about lots of things in this review of the new Superman film, Man of Steel.

Things like how Henry Cavill was very good in the lead role, despite mistaking grunting for character development, about how much emotion and heart Amy Adams brought to Lois Lane, about fantastic (if a bit Matrix-y) special effects, incredible battles, wonderful set pieces.

But I can’t. Because one moment left me open mouthed with shock – and here be spoilers from now on, so look out.

That moment?

When Superman killed General Zod.

They were fighting at the end of the film – a film which had hit all the right notes to that point – and Zod was threatening to incinerate bystanders with his heat vision, while Superman begged him to stop.

“Never!” he shouted, so Superman snapped his neck.

That’s right. You read that correctly. And I still can’t believe it.

I knew that Zack Snyder and his team were looking to update the character and reflect the times in which we live, with this clearly being part of their attempt to add shades of grey to the big Blue Boy Scout.

But to me, there are elements of Superman’s character that shouldn’t change, with one of those being his moral core.

Superman has been brought up in America’s heartland by Jonathan and Martha Kent with an absolute sense of  morality and using his powers for good.

The film shows those lessons taking place, with Costner’s Pa Kent telling young Clark “One day, you’re gonna have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, is gonna change the world.” after Clark has held back from hitting a bully.

He then spends a lot of the film literally searching for himself in an attempt to define who he is and find his place as the lone Kryptonian on an alien world.

To my mind, that place is that despite his unlimited powers, Superman always operates within those boundaries which is what makes him a compelling character.

If he wanted to, he could kill any of his enemies, but the fact that he doesn’t makes him more courageous, because he doesn’t take the easy option.

What he believes in informs every aspect of who he is, making him an example for everyone to aspire to – as Russell Crowe‘s Jor El says “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun.

So when did murder become part of that inspirational example? When did it become an acceptable choice?

More’s to the point, how is it a choice that is so easily shrugged off by Superman? Almost as soon as Zod falls,  the rest of the film serenely establishes his life in Metropolis. It even had Clark and Martha talking about how proud Jonathan would have been!

Before you say it, I know Superman has killed once before, when he executed General Zod and his henchmen with kryptonite in the Superman comic 1988. However, that Zod – from a parallel Earth – had murdered virtually everyone on his World, not just fired off a bit of heat vision.

This action caused Superman to question himself, even to develop a more violent alter-ego in his sleep. He then left for deep space before he was convinced his absence was doing more harm than good – a more appropriate response to abandoning what he believed in.

A better example of the Superman I know was in Action Comics 796, when Lois was apparently killed by a character called Manchester Black, leading to this …

Superman incinerates Manchester Black

Superman incinerates Manchester Black

However, the murder was in Superman’s mind as he realised he could not kill Black, despite his wife’s death.

“That would utterly undo everything I have spent my life fighting for. Worse, I would dishonor the principles Lois and I held in our hearts.”

Black is forced to admit defeat, revealing Lois is still alive and saying “I wanted you to break yourself. But not you, never you. The real %@#$ deal.

But in Man of Steel, break himself is exactly what this latest version of Superman does after just over an hour of screen time.

Undoubtedly, Zod is an evil character, one willing to commit genocide to bring back Krypton on the bones of Earth’s population.

I cheered as Superman took him on,  as he shouted “You’re a monster Zod!” and vowed to stop him.

But by taking the steps he did, Superman becomes Zod at the end of the film –  someone for whom the end justifies the means, no matter what. As much a monster as the man he was facing.

In taking Superman across that boundary, it is not just Clark who has made the wrong choice in his quest to determine who he is – the film-makers have too.

And as a result, this world of Superman is not one I recognise or want to. Up, up and away indeed.

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