Discuss: Zack Snyder's New Superman and Death in 'Man of Steel'
Unsurprisingly, Man of Steel, the superhero franchise reboot from producer Christopher Nolan and director Zack Snyder, took the box office by storm this past weekend opening with just over $201 million worldwide. And now there's rampant discussion about the film from a subtle set up for Justice League to the developing sequel bringing back Snyder and writer David S. Goyer. But even more prominent than either of those possibilities is what actually happens on the big screen at the end of Man of Steel. If you haven't seen the film yet, then you definitely won't want to read on, because what follows is discussion of spoilers.
First of all, let's talk about something that seems to get glossed over in many blockbuster films, but has some viewers a little up in arms this time around. In the climax of Man of Steel, General Zod (Michael Shannon), looking to terraform Earth to becoming more like Krypton (which seems silly since the home planet ended up being unstable and fell apart) activates a device called the World Engine which uses gravity to pummel Earth from two different sides of the world, effectively destroying anything in the vicinity of either machine. For whatever reason, Superman (Henry Cavill) thinks the best idea is to take out the other machine (complete with Doc Ock tentacles to defend it), which is in the middle of nowhere and not immediately threatening any human life, rather than dealing with the more devastating side of things in Metropolis. Obviously, we're nitpicking, so we'll let that decision and the people who die because of it slide.
But it's the destruction that follows upon Superman's return that seems all the more devastating. First of all, Superman goes out of his way to save a couple individual people in all this chaos, but in the fight with General Zod that follows, there is no regard for the destruction of Metropolis or the deaths that it causes. Forget the fact that where Zod and Superman have their little face-off dialogue looks like a massive bomb went off, what follows is a barrage of slamming, crashing and busting through various buildings, vehicles and more as Zod and Superman attempt to hurt each other, a feat that seems impossible given how Kryptonians soak up our yellow sun, rendering them nearly invincible.
In fact, the damage that takes place in the city became such a prominent topic, BuzzFeed asked longtime disaster expert Charles Watson to work with his team at Watson Technical Consulting to model and anticipate the damage done to Metropolis. And here are the relatively shocking results as an infographic:
Now you might be wondering how they figured this information out (obviously it's not an exact science) since this takes place in a fictional city. But using the real-life shooting locations of Chicago and New York, they ran two simulations, one centered at 42nd St and 6th Ave, New York, and the other at Canal and Madison in Chicago, using the blast effects (but not thermal or radiation) from a 20 kiloton nuclear bomb. In contrast, the damage from The Avengers (which they were also commissioned to figure out) only totaled $160 billion. A death toll was not determined.
The difference seems to be the size of the action as Man of Steel crumbles a handful of entire buildings, and it seems to be even more devastating than 9/11. Obviously, this perception is nitpicking, but for whatever reason, audiences have really taken note of the damage and death that Superman allowed, and in some cases even created himself, given his hero status. Even a movie like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which devastated at least one entire building in Chicago, didn't seem to have that lasting of an effect. Maybe it's the grittiness and humanity that Snyder instilled in Clark Kent and his grounded story arc on Earth that made this all the more real, but it was certainly disconcerting. For a more detailed rundown of the destruction, Watson actually crafted their report into an editorial written by Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White, so check that our for more details.
But the destruction of Metropolis is merely spectacle of the blockbuster. Sure we can gasp and be taken aback at the death toll, but people get killed in the movies all the time. But one particular death is shaking Superman fans to their core. At the end of the epic battle between General Zod and Superman, the villain uses his heat vision to threaten a family. As his burning gaze nears the family, Superman attempts to hold Zod back, reasoning with him to stop. Given no other choice, Superman snaps the neck of Zod, killing him.
Big deal, right? Heroes dispatch with their villains all the time. However, in the case of Superman, the hero who fights for truth, justice and the American way (maybe not the latter one so much anymore since it's a bit dated), there's always been a longstanding rule of no killing. That's why this move is so shocking. In fact, it even turned off Superman comic writer Mark Waid, the man who wrote the Birthright story arc. In his response to the bold move from Snyder and Goyer, Waid wrote a review of the film (via Cinema Blend), and this is what he had to say about that moment:
"Some crazy guy in front of us was muttering 'Don't do it...don't do it...DON'T DO IT...' and then Superman snapped Zod's neck and that guy stood up and said in a very loud voice, 'THAT'S IT, YOU LOST ME, I'M OUT,' and his girlfriend had to literally pull him back into his seat and keep him from walking out and that crazy guy was me. That crazy guy was me, and I barely even remember doing that, I had to be told afterward that I'd done that, that's how caught up in betrayal I felt. And after the neck-snapping, even though I stuck it out, I didn't give a damn about the rest of the movie."
Now that's an extreme example from a very passionate Superman fan who has much more invested in the character than most. However, there are plenty others who have been completely turned off, shocked and even enraged by this move. Those fans might be pleased to learn that producer Christopher Nolan was not a fan of that ending in the least. In a discussion on Empire's podcast (via The Playlist), David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder talked about their breaking of the "No Killing" rule, and it was not something that came lightly. In fact, Superman didn't originally kill General Zod. Snyder explains:
"In the original version of the script, Zod just got zapped into the Phantom Zone. But David, Chris and I had long talks about it, and I said that I really feel like we should kill Zod, and that Superman should kill him. The 'Why?' of it for me was that if was truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained… I wanted to create a scenario where Superman, either he's going to see [Metropolis' citizens] chopped in half, or he's gotta do what he's gotta do."
Goyer agreed, but Nolan was not convinced. The writer recalls, "[Chris] originally said, 'There's no way you can do this.'" But Goyer checked with DC Comics, they approved, and Goyer says, "I came up with this idea of heat vision and these people about to die, and I wrote the scene, gave it to Chris, and he said, 'Okay you've convinced me.' " So this origin story is Superman still figuring out who he is as a hero, and that includes what he may eventually end up standing for. Plus, you can't ignore the fact that Superman is clearly extremely pissed after he kills Zod. Screaming to no one, knowing that he's killed one of his own people. In the end, if it's good enough to convince someone like Nolan, it should be good enough for anyone.
In the end, this doesn't change the core values of Superman or ruin his image. If anything it will solidify the man he becomes. It's details like this that make Superman more easy to relate to nowadays, despite being a nearly invincible superhero. There has to be a humanizing side to Superman in addition to seeing him try to hide among humans as Clark Kent (another aspect that will clearly be explored differently now that Lois Lane knows that Kent is Superman). In the end, people have to realize this is a new Superman, but that doesn't mean it's disrespecting or completely disregarding the hero's extensive past. Superman may have killed General Zod, but that doesn't mean he's not the Boy Scout everyone admires.
What do you think about Superman killing General Zod and all the Metropolis destruction?