I can't stop thinking about Man of Steel. This isn't a good thing, because the more I think about it, the less I like it. I really want to like this movie. It's just not working out.
Let's get back to Superman killing Zod. Over the past couple of days, it's come to light that producer Christopher Nolan was initially opposed to the idea of this happening. But writer David Goyer and director Zack Snyder thought it was a good idea for two reasons: 1. having Zod vanish into the phantom zone was anticlimactic, and 2. that they hadn't established an 'origin' for Superman's aversion to killing.
The first reason, I sort of agree with. There needs to be a confrontation between Superman and Zod at the very end. I just don't think it should be a physical one.
The second reason, well that's just stupid.
Superman's least interesting aspect is his physical strength. It was a big part of him initially, but the character has evolved over time to the point that there's no real point in writing a story in which he has to punch harder than somebody else in order to win.
How much better would it have been if he had confronted Zod, not by fighting him , but by trying to convince Zod that his plan is wrong. Lots of people have already pointed out that Zod's plan is stupid: he could just kryptoform any planet; he's going to lose all those great superpowers if he destroys earth, etc. Zod is a poorly written character, and for me it all comes down to that final scene.
So Zod wants to die, and he's threatening to kill a bunch of people in a train station or something, and he's shooting his heat vision at him. And Superman grabs his head to stop him. I'll let Rob Bricken from IO9.com put it in his own way, as an alternative dialogue that might have played out in that scene:
Superman: All right, I guess I have to kill you.
Zod: No, goddammit! You don’t! I would, because I’m a fucking bad guy, but you’re supposed to be the hero! You’re supposed to find a goddamn way that solves this problem that doesn’t go against your moral code! And there are so many fucking ways you can get out of this situation without killing me! You could cover my eyes! You could fly off with me! And that’s just off the top of my head!
Superman: Well, if you really wanted to kill these people, you could, you know, just look at them.
Zod: I’m trying! You’re holding my head!
Superman: Yeah, but you know you can move your eyes without moving your head, right?
And there it is. The screenwriter and director wanted to have Superman kill Zod, so they just forced him to. Nothing about the situation forced the character to do it. It wasn't a natural development of the plot. They wanted it to happen, so they made it happen. That's bad storytelling.
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So aside from the violations of logic and biology that ruin the climax of the film, there's also another aspect of it I've been thinking about. If they really wanted to show how Superman developed such an aversion to killing, they picked probably the worst way to do it. It's not that he needed to kill somebody to see how wrong it is--as the entire internet has pointed out, lots of people have that aversion without killing people. I can't help but thing that his aversion stems from such a selfish place. He kills somebody on purpose. He doesn't see that there are negative repercussions of his action. Everybody in the city could plausibly see his action as heroic, since Superman hasn't shown them the extent of his morality yet. So he develops his aversion to killing because of how it makes him feel. I can't help but think that he should come to this conclusion because of a combination of the morality imparted to him by his parents and his observations. He can't observe the repercussions of Zod's death, not really. Nobody will grieve over Zod's death, since everybody who knew him is in the Phantom Zone. Superman doesn't see the way the death of an individual affects the rest of the world, the loss and the sadness the anger it engenders. Killing a human being is wrong not merely because it robs that person of the right of living, but because killing ruptures the fabric of society. So he develops a moral code against killing because it makes him feel bad.
I honestly don't know if this is a valid reading of the scene, or of how morality devlops. Is it a bad thing if you stay within the law or you develop your own morality based solely on how you feel after doing something? That's not how people work, at least not all the time.
In studying the reactions people have to movies, it's become very obvious that if people want to like a movie, they'll find a way to like it. If they don't want to like it, they'll find things they don't like about it. What's odd for me is that I wanted to like this movie, and I have stopped liking it after a short period of time.
What I learned from talking to people who love Superman is that they find something of value in every Superman story, no matter how poorly conceived or executed. I'll be interested to find out what some of those people, who form the subject of my book, have thought of this movie.