I think I know what’s wrong with Man of Steel, but to explain it we first need to talk about Hellboy 2.
In Hellboy 2 we’re introduced to Prince Nuada and the elves, and although it shows that what Prince Nuada does is bad, it gives his reasoning in a way that not only we the audience understand, but also the other characters in the movie. By the end, Hellboy doesn’t disagree with Prince Nuada’s ideas but has to stop him because of his methods, and even then it’s Nuada’s sister Nuala who actually kills him, after he confesses that he won’t stop fighting for what he believes in. Hellboy is conflicted he knows what he has to do, but also completely understands why Nuada is doing what he’s doing and respects him for it. He tries, often, to talk him out of it.
Now we need to talk about Batman.
Batman and the Joker… both will do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals, regardless of the law, regardless of social norms, but the Joker’s goal is to break Batman, and Batman’s goal is to stop him. But he can’t kill him, because then the Joker wins, again we have the conflict, damaged characters struggling as much against themselves as with each other.
Now onto Man of Steel, we have Zod, who comes from a planet were birth isn’t a random ‘miracle’ it’s science and specific. If there is a new task that needs doing someone is then born and genetically tweeked to accomplish that task. And so, they created Zod, who like any other singularity, realised the fault in his creators and for their own good stepped in to take over to protect them from themselves, just like he was born to do. He was created to do this single task, he didn’t decide, he wasn’t driven mad, but the people who created him didn’t fully understand what they were creating.
The problem is Superman … Who has this stereotype built up around him, blue-haired square jaw, superhero! Here to save the day. And there isn’t wiggle room that’s his character arch, that’s why he’s kinda boring. He is the ultimate superhero and that’s it. So, in Man of Steel, we have this wonderful Zod, he’s a rounded complex character and he’s facing off against Superman. Who has to be Superman. And it took me a long time to really grasp what was wrong with this movie, because it got a lot of hate for the neck break scene, but that really wasn’t it for me. Then I watched it again and I finally understood. It’s not the end that does it, it’s the start of the final battle, when Zod looks at Superman and says,
“My soul, that’s what you’ve taken from me.”
It is at that point where the movie is lost. Not when Superman breaks his neck, but when the audience suddenly realises they wanted Zod to win. We’re not really upset that Superman killed someone, he’s done that load… we’re (read I’m) upset because Zod deserved to win. Zod who was still, despite everything, being rejected, being cast into the phantom zone is desperately trying to save his people from themselves. And Superman killed them. Destroyed the last remnants of Krypton and any hope of re-birthing his people. Superman did not save the day. Why doesn’t Superman give himself up and try to convince Zod to make Mars into new Krypton? He comes to earth because he needs the information in Superman’s shuttle, not because it’s the only place in the galaxy that’ll work.
“Zod, these people are innocent, I will happily give you what you need to rebuild Krypton, I desperately want to help you, to have my own place in this universe too, but not here. Look to the Red Planet to create new Krypton, we can exist together.”
WHY NOT!? But no, and in that final scene Michael Shannon who plays Zod, who knocked it out of the park in that movie, stands there and gives his speech.
“…and every action I take, no matter how violent or how cruel is for the greater good of my people… and now, I have no people. My soul, that’s what you’ve taken from me.”
That’s it, hashtag Team Zod – I want him to kick the shit out of Superman.
Zod wants to kill everyone on earth, I get it, but Superman had driven him to it, had taken away everything Zod had fought and sacrificed for his entire life. Zod had higher stakes, Zod had more personal investment, Zod had lost more than anyone else in the movie and he got back up and kept fighting for what he was born for, protecting the people of Krypton. Zod deserved to win, he was, in my honest opinion, the way more sympathetic character. Oh, Clark got bullied in school and never really felt like he fit in, well what a pity if only a whole ship full of people just like him would show up and ask for his help to rebuild the plant he’s actually from so that he could finally stop being an outcast.
So when Superman breaks Zod’s neck it wasn’t for me, no superman killed a dude, it was Superman just totally failed. First, he destroyed any hope of rebuilding Krypton, and then he killed the only other surviving Kryptonian, just so that people of Earth might like and accept him so that he could feel part of something.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Let me know in the comments below.