Man of Steel: Can superman be cool again?

Lowell’s excellent review prompted me to post my thoughts regarding the Man of Steel and Superman in general.  Read his post first, because half of mine will be in response to Lowell’s.  I suppose I ought to start with a disclaimer: I am not a comic-books fan, thus my only real knowledge of superman comes from movies and nerdy discussions.  

Oh, also, I don’t have much respect for spoilers, so this post WILL spoil some very important things.  Don’t read it if that bothers you.  

I enjoyed the movie, it was thoughtful enough, action packed, and compelling.  Zod made sense and was an understandable villian.  It was nice to see where the super-people came from, so the sci-fi introduction was great.  I also appreciated how they made sense of various parts of the Superman mythos (the Fortress of Solidute, flying vs. leaping, the alter-ego, etc).  Having young Clark reading “The Republic” in a cautionary tale about too much genetic planning and eugenics was a good Easter egg, etc, etc.  So, like Lowell, I recommend the film to you.  

Unlike Lowell, however, I don’t have as many problems with the plot or the themes.  As for plot holes, I don’t think the machine ever succeeded in drilling through the earth, yes, the earth would certainly be destroyed if that were successful, stopping it was the point of the battle.  I also don’t think nuking the device would have helped.  If nukes were a viable option Zod would have been dead long before the devices were set up.  I’m going to assume they tried offscreen and Zod laughed at their silly nuclear device.  Finally, the whole point of Lois Lane’s journalism was to show that Clark was not able to cover his tracks.  He only existed as an urban legend, but tales of the random immortal saving the day did exist. 

So Lowell, I think you are being too picky with the plot holes.  With that said, however, I want to pick apart the role of Superman.  Most treatments of Superman that I am aware of handle his character poorly.  They want to tell the story of Batman, an underdog winning battles against evil.  That is not the point of Superman.  Superman is not going to die in most battles, but humans can.  Superman is not going to turn to evil, but humans will.  Superman is not going to make the wrong decision, but the people of earth nearly always do.  The true value of the Superman story, then, is in using Superman to measure humanity.  Can he save them despite themselves?  Are they worth saving?  I find this story to be just as valuable as the “downtrodden hero overcomes obstacles” story because it is an examination of what humans are.  

(Although, this movie added something else to Superman’s mission.  Apparently he is also supposed to stop human cloning?  That might make for an awkward sequel as he beats up scientists.)     

Finally (and this might be the greatest spoiler of all), I respect that Superman had to kill at the end of the movie.  The film spent the second half of the movie explaining just how impossible to stop Zod was.  Zod would never stop killing humans.  Having established that Zod is an unstoppable threat to society, there was only one option that would truly stop him.  But this runs at odds with traditional superman mythology: Superman doesn’t kill people.  In many ways, this reminded me of Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics.  Robots are not allowed to harm humans, but after hundreds of years of thinking and stressing out about what it means to harm humans they eventually decide that to stop harm they will have to occasionally cause harm.  

Violence is never something we delight in, but it is sometimes the answer.  I have a suspicion that the film writers will use this Zodicide as the galvanizing force to convince Superman to never kill again, but either way, if there is one takeaway from this movie it is that if someone wants to set people on fire with lasers, using lethal force to stop them is warranted.   

Lowell, thanks for the great review, I hope mine stirs the pot a little more.  Go watch the movie if you haven’t, readers, its worth it.  

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3 thoughts on “Man of Steel: Can superman be cool again?

  1. I’m not sure I agree on the nuclear weapons thing–I mean, they could at least have mentioned the possibility. I would have been happy with some technobabble about antimissile defenses instead of simply never mentioning the idea. I’m also not sure if The Republic is meant to be a cautionary tale about eugenics. It could be that Clark Kent is meant to be the philosopher-king.
    As to Superman’s character, you have a point about the fact that he’s not meant to be Batman. That being said, I think I’d like the character a little more if he at least had to deal with thoughts of taking over the Earth as a benevolent overlord, as opposed to never thinking of such things, ever.
    Finally, as to Superman killing Zod–yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The whole “superheroes not killing the main villain” thing really ticks me off, mostly because, due to the nature of the genre, the villain is either outright insane or has a bad case of megalomania.

    • I don’t think the hole through the Earth thing is as big of a deal as you guys seem to think it is. As soon as the device is destroyed, the Earth’s gravity closes the hole and no permanent harm done. The atmosphere machine is a bigger issue I would think. And yes, some nukes would be nice! 😀

  2. Completely agree on the Zod killing, and its necessity, and also what it adds to the plot. Several people I know complained about that moment, and yes, perhaps the writers could have written around that, but the filmmakers decided to take that moral dilemma head on. It was a far riskier move, but far more rewarding, as it says an awful lot about the unfortunate reality fighting for what is right presents to us in a fallen world. What was Superman to do? Let the family die, continue slaughtering the people that Superman so loved (as he had just made clear he would as long as he drew breath). Zod was given repeated chances to turn from his genocidal path, but eventually his reckoning would have to come.

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