I'm sure most of you, being that this is a comics blog, watched that new Superman movie that hit theaters last week. And if you did, I'm sure you came away with some opinions. To say that it's a movie that invites debate is putting it mildly.
My short, non-spoilery take on the movie is thusly: At least it was better than Superman Returns. Then again, it's not hard to be better than a movie that turned the godfather of all superheroes into a creepy date rapist; the bar wasn't that high to begin with.
As to why I didn't enjoy this new take on Supes, you'll have to cross the desert of knowledge into Spoiler territory. I got a jet plane, I'll meet you there.
Oh, and no, this isn't about the amount of destruction during those fights. That's just kinda whatever.
Okay, so, at the big epic (and kinda boring) battle between Zod and Superman ends with Supes straight up killing Zod. Snapping his neck, in fact, while Zod threatens to incinerate some screaming family. And that's when the movie lost me.
You see, the whole movie had pretty explicitly set up the idea that Superman was some kind of Space Jesus here to give us an example to look up to and save us from ourselves. I think the line from Jor-El (the defacto Space-God, I suppose) is something like: "You will give the people an ideal to strive towards."
So by killing Zod in front of everyone, the 'ideal to strive towards' Superman has given the people writ large is that it's cool to kill. Nice message there, Space Jesus.
And you know, it didn't have to be that way. In fact, they still could have had Zod die at Superman's hands, but not make it as mundane and altogether awful as a neck snap. In fact, I really thought they were going to do it there for a second too.
Let's take a step back to talk about Zod for a second. He's established in the movie as putting the prosperity of his people above his own well being, which is a pretty cool motivation. The reason he tries to overthrow Krypton in the first place is because he feels like the powers that be are driving the society into a new dark age. We've all been there, I get it. Then, after he escapes from prison (to put it simply), he's in search of two things to ensure his people survive: a new home world and the genetic macguffin that ensures proper Kryptonian births that was stolen and jettisoned by Jor El. Later, when Zod finds Superman he learns that the macguffin was encoded into Supes' DNA, making him the be-all-end-all of Krypton. And, you know, the fight ensues.
Fast forward to the end of the movie, Superman (along with some military friends) have defeated the marauding Kryptonians, leaving Zod alone with a pile of ash. As he runs his hands through that pile of destroyed dreams, he screams something like "This was all we were. This was all that was left of Krypton, the thing I was sworn to protect, and now it's gone. I have nothing to live for!" Or something like that.
Now, here's the thing. In the movie as it plays, Zod rushes Superman and they proceed to punch the shit out of each other for twenty (long) minutes. However, it struck me that it would make more sense for Superman to point out that, in fact, Superman represents the entirety of the Kryptonian people and therefore Zod should not freak out.
Don't get me wrong, in this fantasy scenario, I still see a big fight occurring, but instead of it just being a verbal tennis match of "I'll stop you", it could have been Superman trying to be the bigger man and trying to stop Zod from hurting himself.
Like, you know, show Superman using his brains and compassion to end the situation instead of just his fists. Or, to put it another way, to give us an example of how to fight someone that doesn't involve physical superiority. Or you know, like Jor El said: "Give [us] an ideal to strive towards"
To me, that's the biggest sin of Man of Steel: they spend so much time telling me he's supposed to inspire us, but they never show him doing anything worthy of inspiration. Sure, he saved some people, but that's just common decency. What makes someone worthy of idolization is not how they do the simple things, but how they handle the tough problems. And what Man of Steel told me is that when put in a tough situation, Superman will solve it the easiest way possible: By killing.
And that is not what Superman is about.