No one was more excited about this Superman reboot than I was. I grew up in a family that LOVES Superman. I read the comics with my dad as a kid and watched the movies with my mom. I remember her crying when Christopher Reeve was paralyzed and even more so when he passed. After the failed attempt at bringing Superman back in 2006 and all the recent superhero hoopla, it was time for a successful depiction of the Man of Steel. When production was announced in 2010 I was ecstatic. When I found out Christopher Nolan, the man behind Batman’s successful reboot, was involved my expectations went through the roof. When Henry Cavill, my longtime Tudors crush, was cast I knew it was all too good to be true. And guess what guys, it was.
Before I say anything else I should probably let you know that this post is going to be slammed full of SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Man of Steel then stop reading because I am going to ruin it for you.
In 2010, David S. Goyer approached Christopher Nolan with an idea of how to bring back Superman. Much like Superman in the Dark Knight trilogy, he’ll exist in a world where he’s the only superhero and it will be an origin story that stands on it’s own. The goal of this reboot was to reinvent Superman, the main idea being that a “perfect” superhero is now stagnant in today’s society. Moviegoers prefer complex superheroes (see the philosophies and Christ-like themes behind The Dark Knight and Rises in which Batman acts as a martyr for society).
Don’t get me wrong, there were some parts of this reinvention that I thoroughly enjoyed. I like that the story tapped into a darkness in Superman and I agree a “perfect” Superman is boring. In the reboot, we are told Clark Kent’s background in flashbacks. One of the more powerful scenes is when he gains his x-ray vision and can suddenly see the bones and muscles inside his elementary school teacher. Stunned by fear, Clark takes shelter in a janitorial closet until his mother (Diane Lane) can coax him out. The links to stigmas around autism are noticeable. From there, it is clear that this is a Superman that is afraid. When his father (Kevin Costner) tells him of his origin, Clark sheepishly asks “Can’t I just keep being your son?” and your heart melts. Not only is he afraid, but this is a Superman that longs to be accepted and feel at home. While this is a defining characteristic, the most important one is Superman’s need to help people. Through flashbacks, we see several instances in his childhood and adulthood where his need to save someone outweighs his need to belong. We learn that his father believed the world wasn’t ready for him, they would shun him when they learned of his existence. This fear makes Clark a loner and drifter, working odd-end jobs and quickly moving to the next after he saves someone’s life. In probably the most moving scene, a tornado strikes Kansas and takes the life of Jonathan Kent. Clark could have saved his father. In an effort to protect his son, Jonathan stopped him. He told Clark to stand down and lost his life shortly after. As these complexities began to surface, I was practically bouncing on my seat.
But then, Clark Kent became Superman.
When Superman meets his real father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) he says “I have so many questions.” But then he doesn’t ask any. After one brief conversation, he excepts his true purpose and puts on the suit and cape and becomes Superman. The whole revelation feels forced. The internal struggle we saw in flashbacks disappears and Jor-El tells him he must always push his boundaries. This is illustrated as he tests his ability to fly.
From there the movie kind of falls apart. General Zod enters the picture. He’s from Superman/Kal-El’s home planet of Krypton and longs to join forces with Kal-El and continue Krypton’s population on Earth. Superman is not having it. The first big fight scene takes place in Kansas in the middle of the street where the only warning to innocent civilians from Superman is to “go inside, it’s not safe.” This is drastically out of character from the Superman we know and love. According to Superman’s code of ethics, he would have moved the fight elsewhere.
In the story’s defense, I read an interview with Zack Synder and David S. Goyer where they reminded everyone that Superman is a superhero “in training.” He’s bound to make mistakes and this would be one of them. With that in mind, it still felt like a cheap ploy to create a dramatic fight scene. At the end of the movie, there is another situation where Zod and his team pretty much destroy Metropolis and Superman is too busy creating the Phantom Zone to send Zod away. He doesn’t make much of an effort to prevent damage. The big heroes of the scene are actually Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and Steve Lombard (Michael Kelly) as they aid reporter Jenny Jarwich who is trapped under a pile of debris. At the end of the movie, there is no mention of the damage (much like in Star Trek). It would have been nice to see Superman working to rebuild the city.
Here goes, EVEN MORE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Now the ending is where things get really messy. Superman does the one thing that Superman just doesn’t do, he kills General Zod.
Superman is successful in creating the Phantom Zone and it send Zod’s team into the black hole. But Zod is still around. After about fifteen minutes of a glorified fist fight that continues the destruction in Metropolis, Superman finally gets the upperhand and traps Zod in a choke hold. They are in a room with what appears to be a family of four (since the fight wasn’t taken somewhere safer). Zod, playing with Superman’s humanity, turns on his heat vision and begins to aim it at the family of four. He slowly inches it closer and closer to the innocent civilians, Superman is screaming for him to stop. Just as it’s about to hit them, Superman does the unthinkable. He snaps Zod’s neck. As Zod’s lifeless body hits the floor Superman let’s out a desperate scream and is immediately comforted by Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Two seconds later, he’s bickering with General Swanwick. Then Superman becomes Clark Kent and the origin story is complete. Boom. Over. Just like that.
First of all, Superman doesn’t kill people. He would sacrifice himself before killing someone, no matter how bad or awful they are. Secondly, there was no grief. This awful, terrible, no-good thing happens and there are no repercussions. Superman should have been inconsolable. I would have liked more of a conversation between him and Lois Lane where she helps him justify it. The end of the movie should have been more about his internal struggle and guilt, not a quick wrap up.
I walked out of the movie saying, “WHAT we’re they THINKING!?” Luckily, I’m not the only one wondering and Zack Synder and David S. Goyer have provided an explanation. In the original ending (by Christopher Nolan), Zod disappears into the Phantom Zone with his crew. Synder and Goyer didn’t feel that was satisfying enough. They explain their actions by reminding us (like previously said) that Superman is a baby superhero. He’s still struggling to find himself and figure out his code of ethics. Also he needed to kill someone so he has something to haunt him so he never does it again.
That’s great and all, but we didn’t see it. Once he put on the cape and fights began, the complex Superman vanished to make room for fight scenes and mass destruction.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought Henry Cavill was perfect. I loved Amy Adams as Lois Lane. But that ending was just a complete disappointment. My gut tells me that they should have listened to Christopher Nolan. Then again, I don’t remember liking Batman Begins all that much either. Maybe this is just what we should have expected.
What did you think? Is Superman now a loose cannon? Can he/should he kill again? How did you feel about the reboot?