[Please note: this review contains spoilers of the Man of Steel (2013) as well as Superman I & II (1978). Minor plot details from the Smallville (2001-2011) television series, Dragon Ball Z (1989-2003), Batman Begins (2005), and DC Comics' Superman Prime One Million (1999) storyline are also discussed.]
The word “Superman” has a long and varied history, from the philosophy of Frederick Nietzsche and his idea of a tyrannical aristocratic ruling class, to American pop culture and the unshakable moral fiber of who today we associate with the Last Son of Krypton. However, I feel that 2013′s Man of Steel failed to live up to the standard set by its predecessors, where this latest incarnation is more akin to the Nietzschian tyrant than the symbol of hope and unwavering moral goodness as depicted in the last 80 years of print, television, and film. In this video I will explore the origins of the Superman character, the evolution of his famous moniker, the association of Superman with both pagan and Judeo-Christian imagery, Superman’s ethic and moral responsibilities, and where the Man of Steel went so very wrong.
THE INCEPTION OF SUPERMAN
Superman was created in 1933 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two 18 year old high school students from Cleveland, Ohio, who both belonged to families of Jewish immigrants. Superman made his first appearance in the Science Fiction fanzine “The Reign of the Superman”, which tells the story of a bald telepathic madman bent on world domination. However, Siegel and Shuster later decided to re-imagine their character as a force for good instead of an evil villain. Fans of the comic strip Dan Dunn and Dick Tracy, Siegel and Shuster painted Superman’s alter ego as an investigative journalist called Clark Kent — taken from a combination of the names of actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor.
Superman himself became a hero of the people who would right the wrongs discovered through his journalistic investigations. His costume was modeled after Victorian Era strongmen and other comic strips that Siegel and Shuster admired, such as Flash Gordon. With character inspiration drawn from such mythical heroes as Samson, Hercules, and even Moses, Superman became the embodiment of strength and virtue — fighting in the name of truth and justice.
The Superman moniker was borrowed by Siegel and Shuster from the German philosopher, Fredrick Nietzsche, who first coined the term “Übermensch” in his 1833 work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Irish playwrite George Bernard Shaw later translated the word as “Superman” in his 1903 play, Man and Superman. However, Shaw’s translation came come under fire by some critics, such a Fredric Wertham, for failing to capture the nuances of the word. The German prefix “Über-” connotes superiority, transcendence, excessiveness, or intensity, depending on the word to which it is attached. The term “mensch” refers to a person of integrity or honor, and not specifically to the male sex.
Indeed, Nietzsche’s own view of the Übermensch refers to a group of individuals that transcend the fragilities of mere human beings — a powerful aristocracy of artist-tyrants that rule over the trembling, feeble masses. In his book A History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell discusses the ethic of Nietzsche.
[Bertrand Russell - A History of Western Philosophy (AUDIO)]
Contrary to Nietzsche’s use of the term Übermensch, Superman of pop culture stands as a symbol of hope and justice for ALL people, a theme that is continuously reiterated in the Smallville television series:
[Smallville (2002) S02 E17: Rosetta]
[Smallville (2004) S05 E17: Void]
Despite a profound misunderstanding of the Übermensch, numerous references to Nietzsche’s works appear throughout Smallville:
[Smallville (2001) S01 E01: Pilot]
[Smallville (2001) S01 E17: Reaper]
[Smallville (2002) S01 E13: Suspect]
[Smallville (2008) S07 E16: Descent]
[Smallville (2011) S10 E02: Shield]
Even Superman The Animated Series makes reference to Nietzsche’s Superman.
[Superman The Animated Series - S01 E03: The Last Son of Krypton]
[Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman (2006)]
BERNARD SHAW & CLASS EUGENICS
As we have seen, Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Übermensch centers around an artistic and tyrannical aristocracy that make themselves masters over what Nietzsche sees as lesser classes of people. Bernard Shaw, who first translated Übermensch as “Superman”, shared Nietzsche’s views, and predicted certain aspects of the eugenics experiments conducted by the Nazis.
[The Soviet Story (2008)]
Interestingly, we see hints of Bernard Shaw and Adolf Hitler’s ideal society in the Man of Steel. Krypton is re-imagined to be a planet of purebreds — people that have been genetically engineered to serve their roles within society. Therefore, according to Shaw, their existence is indeed justified.
General Zod, who later becomes Superman’s mortal enemy, is genetically engineered to be a super solider that, much like Shaw, desires to sever the degenerative bloodlines that have lead his planet into ruin.
THE HOUSE OF EL
As previously mentioned, Siegel and Shuster belonged to Jewish families, and the Kryptonian name they provided Superman is derived from the Hebrew language. In Hebrew the word El mean’s God, and Kal-El belongs to the House of El.
Kal is the son of El, which translates into Superman being the Son of God. Superman’s biographer Larry Tye suggests the name Kal-El can also be taken to mean the “Voice of God”, an allusion to his role as a prophet, similar to the prophet Moses.
Both Moses and Kal-El are abandoned by their families, being reluctantly placed into a vessel during a turbulent time, then set adrift in the hope of finding a better life far away from imminent danger. Both boys are subsequently delivered to their new adoptive families that belong to an alien culture. However, they are still shown love and affection, as their lives are spared from a great devastation that had almost befallen. And in overcoming this obstacle, both men grow into great heroes of their people, saving may lives while spreading a message of hope and salvation. The narrative of Kal-El borrows from both the Old and New Testaments — seen not only as the prophet of god, but even as a god himself.
SUPERMAN: THE SUN GOD
The fact that Superman gains his powers from radiation emitted by yellow or blue stars essentially makes him a Sun god. Following in the millennia old tradition of Sun worship, Superman is next in a long line of solar deities, inclu ding Sol Invictus of Rome, Helios of Ancient Greece, Mithra of Persia, Shamash of Assyria and Babylon, Ra of Egypt, and Utu of Sumeria. In fact, Smallville even draws parallels between Clark Kent and the Sun god Ra.
[Smallville (2007) S07 E07: Wrath]
Like the many sun gods, Jesus Christ is also commonly depicted with a halo around his head. Indeed, the idea that Jesus is a solar deity was assimilated by the Romans as Christianity took hold at a time when Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the Roman Empire. In the year 321 Constantine the Great instructed both Christians and non-Christians to be united in paying homage on the “venerable day of the sun” — effectively switching the Christian day of rest from the Hebrew Sabbath, on Saturday, to what the pagans called “Sunday”. The Bible even refers to Jesus Christ as the “sun of righteousness”:
“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” (Malachi 4:2)
Jesus also refers to himself the light of the world:
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)
[Smallville (2010) S10 E13: Beacon]
Because of the ability to regenerate via the sun, Superman’s potential is essentially limitless. Superman can never die of old age or disease, making him immortal — a fact we learn in season 3 of Smallville through Jordan Cross, who possesses the power of precognition and is able to see someone’s last moments alive upon touching them:
[Smallville (2003) S03 E12: Hereafter]
Superman’s powers have evolved exponentially since his inception in the 1930s. Originally Superman only possessed super speed, invulnerability, super strength, and the ability to leap over buildings in a single bound. However, as the mythology of Superman increased, so too did his powers, until Superman essentially became a god. DC Comics has glimpsed the fate of Superman far into the future in their One Million storyline, where his ultimate potential is finally achieved.
In the 21st century Superman stands helpless has he watches his family, friends, and even wife, Lois Lane, die from natural causes. Although for a time he continues with his responsibility of protecting the planet, Superman eventually passes the torch to his heir, Superman Secundus. Leaving the Earth after establishing a Superman dynasty, Superman Prime, as he’s come to be known, travels the Universe for thousands of years, learning new skills and abilities, even traveling beyond the Source Wall to study under the Source itself.
Eventually Superman Prime returns to the planet Earth (End of Superman 1), making a covenant with his descendants and bestowing some of his power upon them so long as they stand for truth and justice. Then Superman Prime retreats to his Fortress of Solitude located in the heart of the Sun, where he spends 15,000 years in self-imposed exile.
In the years absent Superman Prime an artificial sun by the name of Solaris is a reoccurring enemy of the Superman dynasty. In 853rd century Solaris attempts to kill Superman Prime with a piece of kryptonite recovered from Mars. However, unbeknownst to Solaris, the kryptonite is actually a Green Lantern ring in disguise, which was placed on the Martian surface as part of a secret conspiracy originating in the 20th century. Armed with the Green Lantern ring, Superman Prime defeats Solaris, thus reducing the threat.
Emerging from the heart of the sun we see a golden Superman enshrouded in solar flames. At this point Superman Prime recovers the DNA of his long lost love, creating a silver version of Lois Lane, complete with her memories as well as super powers, with whom he lives happily ever after. Superman also recreates Krypton, along with all its deceased inhabitants, including his parents, Jor-El and Lara. Essentially, Superman Prime ascends to godhood, with the ability to create whole worlds, even life itself.
PASSION OF THE SUPERMAN
Aside from his Hebrew-Kryptonian surname and god-like powers derived from the Sun, many other references to Superman’s Christian divinity can be found throughout the Man of Steel. Indeed, the film beats the audience over the head with Superman’s messianic status.
In the opening scene of the Man of Steel, Kal-El is depicted as having a natural birth, far different to his fellow Kryptonians that are grown and harvested within the Genesis Chamber. The Man of Steel takes liberties with Kal-El’s nativity scene, which is never mentioned as being special in the comic books or the original films. Although not as miraculous as Christ’s virginal birth, nevertheless, Kal-El is unique, for he is the first naturally birthed Kryptonian in centuries:
Kal-El is special by birth, and this can be seen as the first of many allusion to the Christ-like status this film gives Superman. However, this is not the first time parallels have been drawn between Clark Kent and Jesus Christ.
In the pilot episode of Smallville, Clark is the victim of a high school prank where he is tied to a scarecrow post in the middle of a cornfield with a fragment of kryptonite around his neck, foreshadowing the Christ-like status to which he will ascend later in the series and his ongoing conflict with non-believers.
[Smallville (2001) S01 E01: Pilot]
[Smallville (2009) S09 E03: Rabid]
In the Man of Steel Clark also visits a priest. Not only are we shown that Clark is a god-fearing Christian, he confides in the priest about his impending confrontation with General Zod with a stained glass window of Jesus kneeling in the background. This image is in reference to the Passion, which in Christian theology refers to all events occurring from the Last Supper leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. Therefore, events in the film from this point onward can be seen as the Passion of the Superman: kneeling in prayer and seeking council from god, being arrested and taken into custody, interrogated and asked to account for his actions, then turned over to his enemy.
In fact, after Superman is handed over to General Zod, Kal-El is told by the holographic ghost of his father (holy ghost anyone?), that he is to be the savior of humankind. As Superman exits General Zod’s ship his arms are outstretched in the crucifixion pose, symbolizing the sacrifice he must make in order to save the world. Yeah, we get it. You can stop hitting us over the head now, thanks…
An additional gripe I have with the Man of Steel is the decision to scrap the iconic Fortress of Solitude. Prominently featured in both the original films and the Smallville series, the Fortress of Solitude was Superman’s last physical connection to his Kryptonian home world. However, the Man of Steel does away with the crystalline fortress in favor a mere scout ship? I have a feeling this decision was expressly made in order to squeeze yet another Christian reference into the film, for as Superman exits the ship, donning his new outfit for the first time, the scene is reminiscent of the resurrection of Christ — reborn and emerging from his burial tomb.
Superman also claims he is 33 years old, which is a not-too-subtle reference to the same age as Jesus Christ when he was crucified. Superman’s age has varied through the comics. In those published between the early 1970s and early 1990s, his age was usually cited as 29 years old. However, during The Death of Superman (1992) storyline, Clark’s age was given as 34 years old, while 1994′s Zero Hour timeline establishes his age as 35. Even in the Adventures of Superman television series, with George Reeves, Superman’s age is given as 25.
[Adventures of Superman (1952) S01 E01: Superman of Earth]
Never in any medium is Superman’s age expressly given as 33. Yet again, we see the filmmakers taking liberties in order to make Superman appear more like Jesus. But for all the overt Christian references shoved in our faces, Superman’s behavior is very much unlike Christ.
At one point on his quest to find himself, Clark needs a change of clothes. We see these people are actively bringing items into their home a mere 30 feet away from Clark, but instead of being honest and asking permission to borrow or even have some clean dry clothes, Clark steals them right out of the back of the car.
[Smallville (2006) S06 E04: Arrow ]
When taunted at his place of work by a trucker pouring a pitcher of beer over his head, instead of turning the other cheek, Clark gets revenge by totaling the man’s truck. The average 18 wheeler costs between $80-120k, the trailer another $20k. Clark easily causes $100k worth of damage over what, his pride? Congratulations, Clark. You didn’t hit the guy, but you did the next best thing by causing many tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to this man’s private property. Are we really supposed to be impressed by Clark’s “restraint”?
Clark is a god in comparison to this insect. So why should any action from this man illicit a response? It would be like a dog peeing on your leg and then you freaking out like a maniac, setting its toys on fire and burning its doghouse to the ground. Even if the dog intended to piss on you out of malice, it’s still just a dog, and only a psychopath would try to one up the dog by getting revenge.
I wonder was going through Clark’s head as he was violently ramming logs through this man’s truck? It obvious wasn’t his father’s life lessons on moral goodness. Although this scene elicited a few laughs from the theater, which is ultimately what the filmmakers were going for, his actions are hardly what you’d call “Christ-like”.
Now, I’m not saying Superman HAS to be morally perfect. Even in Superman II Clark goes back to teach a lesson to the trucker that beat him up when he lost his powers. But notice how Clark doesn’t kick the trucker’s ass, even though he could obliterate him with a single punch. Clark just lets the trucker hurt himself and then humiliates him further by sliding him across the counter into the pinball machine, even paying for the damages. Unlike this psychotic asshole.
My point is that if the Man of Steel wants to draw parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ, then fine. Plenty of other adaptations have made the same connection. But don’t also have Clark actively engaging in anti-Christian and even anti-social behavior, like stealing and vandalism. Not to mention murder and the willful endangerment of innocent people’s lives, which we will cover a little bit later in this review.
A DARKER, MORE REALISTIC SUPERMAN
Those who defend the Man of Steel appear to chant the mantra that Christopher Nolan is attempting to modernize Superman by making him a darker, more realistic character, as he did with the Dark Knight trilogy. But the problem is that Superman is just not that kind of superhero. Indeed, the origins and motives that drive these two characters are almost polar opposites.
Although Clark Kent and Bruce Wane are both orphans that grow up to fight against evil, that’s where the similarities end. After arriving on Earth Kal-El is adopted by the Kents, who raise Clark on a farm and shower him with love and affection. Jonathan and Martha also teach Clark right from wrong and to use his seemingly limitless strength to help those in need — to stand for truth and justice.
Bruce, on the other hand, belongs to a dynasty of billionaires in the sprawling city of Gotham, who inherits his fortune when his father and mother were murdered outside the opera. Unlike Clark, Bruce is old enough to remember and to be emotional effected by his tragic past. In fact, Bruce is so tormented by his parent’s murder that he is willing to risk everything in order to get revenge on the killer. Even during his training with Ra’s al Ghul it is revealed that Bruce is filled with rage, anger, and pain.
[Batman Begins (2005)]
Batman’s origin story is all about conquering fear and rising above the pain of his traumatic past. Bruce resents the criminal element that has stolen his family, and he uses his vast resources to become a vigilante and to fight against crime.
As we can see, the upbringing of both characters are vastly different. The extent of the troubles experienced during Clark’s childhood involve some teasing and maybe even a little bullying. But who the hell wasn’t teased or bullied by at least someone in grade school? Clark’s school-going experience is pretty much the gold standard, and the fact he has two loving and supportive parents at home puts him well above many children in America. Therefore, it can be hardly said that Superman had a difficult childhood.
Not only do Clark and Bruce differ in their formative years, these men exist in much different worlds. Superman represents hope. Batman represents fear. Superman belongs to the light — his very cells are powered by the sun and by day he works a normal job as a mild mannered reporter for the Daily Planet. Batman fights in the shadows, and by day his is perceived as a strange recluse and gives off the persona of an eccentric playboy.
Superman has the Fortress of Solitude, which is a shimmering crystalline citadel in the North Pole made from highly advanced Kryptonian technology. Batman has the Batcave, which is a bat infested bootlegging cellar underneath his luxurious mansion. The point is that Batman is darker by virtue of his character. It’s one thing to make Superman more realistic, but it’s a mistake to make him more like Batman.
It’s clear that the filmmakers were going for a much darker tone than in previous Superman incarnations; however, their efforts have turned the Man of Steel into a joyless film — utterly devoid of any happiness or levity. In Superman The Movie we get to see Clark grow up and become mentored by his loving family. Although Clark’s life is not without conflict or even tragedy, we still get a sense that his childhood was somewhat stable and happy. Even as an adult Superman has some semblance of a life, and as he gets better acquainted with Lois Lane we see that there are indeed a few happy moments when not saving the planet.
Smallville takes this even further by showing all the love and support Clark is given by his family. We get to see Clark growing up on the Kent farm, having fun with his friends, and even falling in love with Lana Lang. In fact, the unconditional love that Jonathan and Martha Kent show Clark is one of the driving factors in Lex Luthor’s fall from grace — envying what Clark has, and what was never given by his own father, Lionel Luthor.
[Smallville (2002) S01 E17: Reaper]
[Smallville (2008) S07 E16: Descent]
We are never given the same kind of well-rounded character development in the Man of Steel that we receive from the Smallville television series and the original Superman films, where what little we do learn about Clark’s past is revealed through non-linear flashbacks. Clark obviously has a loving family that deeply cares for him, but his flashbacks involve dark, traumatic experiences that seem to portray Clark’s early life as one emotionally traumatizing event after another.
In the first flashback we see Clark as a young child being overwhelmed by his newly emerging senses of x-ray vision and superhuman hearing. As Clark hides in the closest he can overhear the other children calling him freak, crybaby, and weirdo.
In the second flashback Clark is a little older and is being teased on the bus by a bully. After the bus loses control and crashes into a river, Clark saves the bully’s life. However, the mother of the bully confronts the Kent family, making Clark feel ashamed for the good he has done.
In another flashback we see Clark being bullied yet again. This time he is physically assaulted and must restrain himself from hurting his attackers with his super strength. I understand that Clark is reflecting on his life lessons, but the filmmakers are portraying an almost miserable childhood devoid of any joy.
The fourth flashback is even more traumatizing than the first three. We see Clark as a young adult arguing with his father Jonathan over what he wants to do with his life. However, it seems the filmmakers can’t go too long without some kind of tragedy, and thus a tornado suddenly appears. Jonathan goes to rescue a child, and when the whole family has the opportunity to run for shelter, Jonathan makes the moronic decision to go BACK for the family dog — how fucking cliché. However, when Jonathan sees that it’s too late to get out of the tornado’s path, instead of allowing Clark to save him, he just stands there and gets swept away.
Well, I think you’re a fucking dumb ass. Clark lets his father die because he didn’t want to reveal his powers? That makes absolutely zero sense. Since the 1930′s it’s been a well-established fact that Superman is faster than a speeding bullet. Clark could have used his super speed to sweep his father to safety without anyone even noticing. For example, in season 4 of Smallville, Clark and Jonathan are visiting Metropolis when a drunk driver loses control and almost kills Jonathan at a news stand. However, before Clark can react and get to his father, Bart Allen, also known as the Flash and who is a founding member of the Justice League, gets to him first and saves Jonathan’s life. Would it have made sense for Superman or the Flash to just stand there as Jonathan gets hit by a truck? Of course not!
By having Jonathan Kent die in a tornado we see the filmmakers deviate from well-established Superman canon, yet again. Jonathan Kent is supposed to die from a heart attack, as portrayed in pretty much every comic book adaptation, the 1950′s Adventures of Superman with George Reeves, the 1978 Superman film, as well as the 2000′s Smallville series. Dying from a heart attack is significant, because it’s something that Superman, with all his superhuman strength, cannot protect his father against. This shows the true limitations of Superman’s abilities, for he cannot always protect his loved ones from every calamity that might befall them. But a tornado? Really? The only reason this idiotic scene was placed in the film was to pile on the drama and to exploit what little source material the filmmakers had so as to make Superman’s background appear more tortured than it really is. Everything about this scene is completely out of character and flies in the face of all that Superman stands for.
THE PLOT: NOTHING MAKES SENSE
Although the filmmakers of the Man of Steel may have been trying for a more realistic tone, the plot is anything but, and this film is completely undermined by the nonsensical plot devices that defy all logic and reason. General Zod wants to find Superman is because he believes Jor-El stashed onboard his ship the stolen Codex, which looks like a partial skull of Homo habilis that is said to contain the DNA of a billion people.
How is the DNA of one billion people physically contained in a skull fragment? What if this delicate artifact get’s chipped or some of the DNA accidently sloughs off? Are those people just shit out of luck? This seems like a really inefficient way to preserve the sum total of your civilizations’ genetic code. If this culture really were so advanced, then why don’t they store the genomes virtually, like on a computer chip, then assemble the DNA from raw nucleic acids? Instead of including the artifact with the ship, Jor-El disintegrates the Codex and PHYSICALLY bonds the DNA of a billion people to Kal-El’s red blood cells. Right…
None of this makes any sense. First of all, red blood cells are recycled after 100-120 days. Therefore, any DNA attached to Superman’s RBCs would have been destroyed within the first two months of his life. Secondly, foreign DNA triggers an immune response. You just can’t go around injecting yourself with random people’s genes. White blood cells recognize any foreign particles in the tissues or bloodstream and will eliminate them through the process of phyagocytosis. There is absolutely no way the DNA of a BILLION people could have survived in Superman’s bloodstream, and yes, those are supposed to be red blood cells.
The next absurd plot device in the Man of Steel is the scout ship. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t scout ships used for… scouting? So, why does the scout ship found on Earth have a Genesis Chamber onboard? As we saw at the beginning of the film, the Genesis Chamber is a massive underwater environment located back on Krypton that requires genetic information located on the Codex. Furthermore, the Codex is a one of a kind artifact that stores the DNA of all unborn Kryptonians, which is guarded by a highly advanced security system. So, what good is having Genesis Chambers onboard random scout ships when they can’t be used without the Codex, especially considering the only Codex is supposed to be on Krypton under lock and key? The only reason this scout ship contains a Genesis Chamber is because is serves to advance the plot, which is testament to the shitting writing found throughout the Man of Steel. For example, why is there a Superman costume with the symbol of the House of El onboard a scout ship that’s been stuck in a glacier for nearly 20,000 years?
The plot of a Superman movie doesn’t need to be THAT complicated, and in their attempt to write an elaborate screenplay the filmmakers are only successful in producing an incoherent mess. The plot of Superman II was so much simpler and made infinitely more sense. General Zod is just a power hungry maniac bent on world domination, and it isn’t of particular importance what world he is on either.
General Zod doesn’t come to Earth specifically looking for Superman. In fact, he’s completely unaware there’s another Kryptonian on the planet aside from his trio. Earth happens to be the planet nearest to which Zod is freed from the Phantom Zone. The Kryptonians are just here ripping shit up and being evil, but as a happy coincidence Earth is the planet that Zod’s jailor, Jor-El, sends his son.
Fusing the Codex with Superman’s cells, although completely nonsensical, does provide greater motivation for General Zod to hunt down Kal-El, rather than Zod being a psychopath that’s obsessed with people kneeling before him. But why is the General Zod from the Man of Steel portrayed as a genocidal maniac? Because he needs to terraform Earth in order to make it more like Krypton?
I’m starting to get a feeling that the filmmakers don’t know what terraforming means either. You terraform planets that are uninhabitable, like Mars. You wouldn’t terraform a planet that can already support life, especially a planet that makes you immortal!
[Zack Snyder Interview]
For a Kryptonian the Earth is the holy grail — the fountain of youth. If Zod were to leave the Earth as is, then he and ALL Kryptonians would be gods — they would never die from old age or disease and they could rule the planet with their superhuman abilities. But let’s imagine what would happen if Zod were to actually accomplished his goal. What implications would terraforming have for the Earth? Well, all native species of plant an animal life would go extinct, for they could not survive the hostile atmosphere of Krypton, as evidenced by the respirator Lois must wear aboard General Zod’s ship.
We see the atmosphere on Zod’s ship is that of Krypton, which means Zod and his followers do not possess superpowers while onboard, nor will they once Earth is finally terraformed with the World Machine. Upon completing his mission Zod would transform the Earth into a barren wasteland with a Kryptonian atmosphere that could only support life that’s been previously adapted to Krypton. So my question is, what does General Zod plan on eating? With a Kryptonian atmosphere Zod and his people cannot obtain nourishment from the yellow Sun. So, what’s the long-term plan here? How does Zod intend to feed all the Krptonians that he births with the Genesis Chamber after he’s terraformed the Earth? Does the Codex within Superman’s cells also contain the DNA of every plant and animal native to Krypton? Not likely, and the film certainly doesn’t make this claim, as the Codex is said to contain the DNA of a billion PEOPLE — not billions of different animal and plant species that comprise the Kryptonian biosphere.
So, not only is Zod unnecessarily giving up immorality and needlessly committing global genocide, he is essentially dooming his people to another extinction — who will now be dying from starvation inside of a few weeks if they don’t first resort to cannibalism. The motivation of General Zod in Superman II is much more simplistic, which results in a much more coherent story. But nothing about what motivates this new General Zod makes any sense whatsoever — the whole terraforming plotline is convoluted beyond reason, utterly moronic, and completely UNREALISTIC.
Finally, in order to eliminate General Zod’s crew a plan is devised to collide the phantom drives of Superman’s spaceship with that of the evil Kryptonians. So, they collide both ships, which creates a black hole on the surface of the Earth that stays open just long enough to kill all the Kryptonians and no one else. Well, that’s awfully convenient. Are we really expected to accept this nonsense? Even if there was a limited window of activity for this black hole, singularities are infinitely massive, so much so, that not even light can escape their gravitational fields.
Are we to believe the terminal velocity of Lois’ fall is faster than the speed of light? Or that the Earth wouldn’t be annihilated from even one second of exposure to an infinitely massive singularity hovering just above its surface? I’m really not trying to be nitpicky here, but if the goal of the Man of Steel is to be a more realistic film, then why include these absurd plot devices that defy all logic, that break the physical laws of the Universe and, not to mention, forces us to second guess what motivates these idiotic characters?
THE MORALITY OF SUPERMAN
Originally Superman’s moral code was developed in response to congressional investigations into the effect comic books supposedly had on the youth of the 1950′s.
[Look, Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman (2006)]
The superhero ethos against killing eventually became known as “the rule” — where superheroes don’t kill, even though they have the power to do so. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the Smallville series, where Clark is instilled with strong moral values from his loving parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent.
[Smallville (2005) S05 E06: Exposed]
[Smallville (2007) S06 E21: Prototype]
Some may see Clark’s strict abstinence from killing the bad guy as being naïve to a fault, and perhaps they’d be correct, for it’s mentioned throughout the series that Clark’s weakness is not only Kryptonite, but his hope and love for humanity as well.
[Smallville (2007) S07 E01: Bizarro]
[Smallville (2007) S06 E19: Nemesis]
[Smallville (2006) S05 E22: Vessel]
And this brings me to one of the biggest complaints that I and other critics have about the Man of Steel. In the fight scenes throughout the movie Superman’s entire basis of moral dashed to pieces like the many buildings of Metropolis.
In Superman II, when buildings become damaged, Superman actually stops what he’s doing in order to protect innocent citizens from being killed by falling debris. Zod sees this and discovers a weakness.
Unlike Superman The Movie, where Lex Luthor uses kryptonite to gain the advantage over Superman, Zod must instead exploit Superman’s love for humankind by targeting the city itself.
We can see that Superman is frustrated and visibly shaken by Zod’s callous destruction of Metropolis. Therefore, Superman does the only thing he can do — he attempts to lure Zod away from the densely populated city to the Fortress of Solitude, where he can spring a trap. You see, not only is Superman physically strong, he is a genius as well. Superman uses his wits to defeat a foe that outmatches him in both number and cruelty.
But some might argue that in the 1970′s they did not have advanced CGI, therefore the filmmakers were limited by the technology of the time. Today we are only limited by our imaginations, and thus we are capable of producing scenes of vast city-wide destruction. But even though we are able, that doesn’t mean we should. Such careless destruction and the untold loss of human life detaches us from all sense of the Superman character.
However, in Superman The Movie we do see large scale destruction as Lex Luthor activates the San Andreas Fault in order to sink California into the ocean. Even Lois Lane dies in the subsequent earthquakes that result. However, Superman flies around the world, reversing time and saving everyone who has died at the hands of Lex. Yeah, this may seem as though it creates a world without consequence, where Superman can save anyone just by reversing time, but the point is that it’s in keeping with the moral fabric of the Superman character.
In the Man of Steel, Superman could have taken the fight elsewhere, drawing Zod away from the city that is obviously full of people who are still trying avoid all the destruction and mayhem. But he doesn’t, in fact, he actively participates in the city’s continued destruction, and he obviously couldn’t care less about stopping the fight to protect those innocent people that might be killed by falling debris caused by his explosive powers. Look, we can even see people running for their lives.
The filmmakers are pandering to the audience, who they believe want to see an epic battle with lots of explosions and toppling buildings, regardless of the fact that it violates Superman’s moral code. At this point in the film Superman ceases to be Superman, for he’s no better than the evil he’s fighting against.
[Smallville (2009) S08 E21: Injustice]
Some people have aptly compared the fight scenes in the Man of Steel to a live action version of Dragon Ball Z.
[Angry Joe Show (YouTube)]
The fight scenes in the Man of Steel are earth-shattering battles on the scale of Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT, which are my favorite animes of all time. But I enjoy Dragon Ball Z not only for its fights, but for its sense of morality as well.
In one of the most epic battles of the series Vegita is taken over by Babidi while investigating the wizard’s spaceship. In an evil twist, Babidi transports everyone back to the World Tournament arena where Majin Vegita is free to attack Goku while endangering thousands of innocent lives.
[DBZ (2001) S05 E35: The Long Awaited Fight]
Like a true hero, Goku refuses to compromise his moral principles by fighting in a crowded city where his immense power could potentially harm innocent people, unlike the Man of Steel, where Superman carelessly pushes Zod into what we can only assume are inhabited skyscrapers. In fact, as I was watching the destruction befall Metropolis I kept thinking to myself how it was in such poor taste, because it looked exactly like the 911 footage, but a hundred times worse.
Just like in the original Superman films, when a tragic event occurs in Dragon Ball Z, such as Majin Vegita’s actions at the World Tournament, we know that a wish can be made to bring back those innocent people that have lost their lives.
But in the Man of Steel everyone is just dead. There is no resolution to the massive loss of life. Thousands, maybe even millions of people are murdered for reasons that defy this movie’s own logic. By this point in the film Superman has already disabled the World Machine, yet he willfully causes destruction to the city and continues to put many hundreds if not thousands of lives in danger.
As you can clearly see, there are people still in the buildings that they are destroying. I know, it’s just a movie and everyone wants to see an epic battle with lots of cool “splosions”, but the real Superman wouldn’t drag his enemy across a building, risking the lives of the people inside or around the immediate area. But even if it were absolutely necessary for Superman to let innocent people die for the greater good, his ethic would only allow him to do so if there was some kind of contingency plan, like flying around the world to reverse time or wishing upon the dragon balls. I realize this is a bit of a cheat, but if Superman is unable to take the fig ht elsewhere, then I prefer to salvage what’s left of his character with a copout like reversing time, rather than letting millions of innocent people die for no reason. Like I’ve said, there’s a difference between making Superman more realistic, and making him a fucking asshole.
THE DEATH OF ZOD
In the final scene with General Zod, Superman must choose between allowing him to continue his rampage or breaking Zod’s neck. Now, you might be thinking that in Superman II he throws General Zod down a crevasse. But we never see Zod actually die — as we do in such brutal fashion in the Man of Steel. Maybe Zod is just trapped in the ice. Who knows? But, even if we assume Zod is dead, after all is said and done, Superman once again reverses time and we see that the Krypontians are returned to the Phantom Zone where they belong. The Christopher Reeve films are by no means perfect and free from plot holes, but they at least attempt to refrain from making Superman look like a complete and utter asshole.
By the way, has anyone ever noticed that after Superman reverses time and returns Zod to the Phantom Zone everyone still remembers him at the dinner when he goes to teach a lesson to the trucker? But the events of Superman and Lois hooking up, relinquishing his powers, and getting his ass kicked by the trucker, all happened after Zod’s arrival. I don’t know, that’s just something that always bothered me about Superman II. Anyway, back to the review…
The filmmakers of the Man of Steel took the easy way out by killing Zod, and I feel Superman should have never been forced to make this decision. The fun of watching Superman is to see how he is going to get out of a difficult situation without compromising his moral principles.
[Smallville (2009) S08 E21: Injustice]
If Superman is allowed to resolve all his problems by breaking the necks of his enemies, then what’s the fun in even watching these movies?
[Smallville (2009) S08 E11: Leigion]
By establishing that Superman is now allowed to break necks, the Man of Steel effectively destroys any future conflict he might have with murdering his enemies. Therefore, if Lex Luthor shows up in the Man of Steel sequel I’ll just be waiting for Superman to fly up and punch a hole through his chest. And where’s the fun in that?
[Smallville (2007) S07 E07: Wrath]
In an interview, screenwriter David S. Goyer defends the decision to allow Superman to kill General Zod. He says,
“This is one area, and I’ve written comic books as well, and this is where I disagree with some of my fellow comic book writers – ‘Superman doesn’t kill’. It’s a rule that exists outside of the narrative and I just don’t believe in rules like that. I believe when you’re writing film or television, you can’t rely on a crutch or rule that exists outside of the narrative of the film… Also our movie was in a way Superman Begins, he’s not really Superman until the end of the film. We wanted him to have had that experience of having taken a life and carry that through onto the next films. Because he’s Superman and because people idolize him he will have to hold himself to a higher standard.”
Maybe Superman will be opposed to murder in future installments. But it’s not a “crutch” to accurately depict someone’s moral code when it’s the entire basis of their character. It would be like writing a screenplay about the life and times of Jesus Christ, but neglecting to portray him as being fundamentally opposed to theft, adultery, and murder. Or worse yet, actually engaging in those actions in order to have a basis upon which to later speak out against them. Did Jesus need to kill Pontius Pilate in order to know that killing is morally wrong? Of course not! And the same goes from Superman.
Clark gains his moral code from his family; therefore, he doesn’t need to test the waters by actually killing General Zod in order to discover the higher standard to which he must hold himself. And therein lies the profound irony of the Man of Steel, for Goyer goes out of his way in order to draw comparisons between Jesus and Superman.
However, even Goyer himself admits that he is not fond of the Superman character and wasn’t particularly interested in writing the screenplay.
[David S. Goyer Interview]
Superman is vulnerable through the strict adherence to his moral code. You see, Superman is an overpowered character to begin with, therefore he needs a moral code against killing in order to balance his seemingly limitless array of superhuman abilities. This is why allowing Superman to murder his enemies is such a huge mistake, because it diffuses all the tension. Of course Superman can break the necks of the bad guys, but that would be too easy. Smallville spends a great deal of time establishing Clark’s moral code against killing, a fact with which his friends and even his enemies are well-aware.
[Smallville (2009) S07 E20: Arctic]
Although some might criticize Superman The Movie for using a copout like reversing time, I fail to see how downgrading Superman’s morality is any less of a copout. At least with turning back time Superman gets to keep his integrity. Ultimately, the filmmakers should have challenged themselves to come up with an ingenious way for Superman to have neutralized the threat without having to resort to murder, which goes against everything the real Superman stands for.
[Smallville (2006) S06 E07: Rage]
Finally, I’ve saved the worst for last. What completely ruined this film for me was the anti-evolution propaganda being shove in our faces. Really? Can’t we have just a simple Superman story without being hit over the head with anti-evolution propaganda? I can forgive the religious imagery, as much of our modern day storytelling is based on the Old and New Testament, such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and even the Matrix trilogy.
But to hijack a Superman film in order to proselytize against evolution is utterly ridiculous. What these idiots fail to understand is that evolution is the very SOURCE of morality, for both humans as well as other social animals.
[Discovering Religion - Episode 24]
In conclusion, I view the Man of Steel as a bastardization of the Superman mythos, and a stain on its legacy. I can understand how people enjoy this movie, because there’s a lot of action, with epic scenes of fighting and flying. But ultimately I got nothing out of this film. I’m willing to forgive a lot about this movie, such as the absurd plot and overt Christian imagery, but when evolution is specifically targeted as the enemy of the film and at every opportunity the filmmakers undermine the moral character that makes Superman the person that he is, it single handedly dismantles the movie-going experience.
What is so great about the Smallville series is that the writers clearly define the moral boundaries of what Clark will and will not do in order to protect humankind. The fun in watching the series is to see what scheme his enemies are going to come up with and how Clark uses his strength or his wits to triumph over adversity without jeopardizing his moral integrity. I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon, as I’m only 31 years old, but I feel sorry for the generation that’s growing up with these kinds of ultraviolent superheros. In my day, and in generations past, Superman was a cultural icon that everyone could look up to and would want to emulate, especially children. But now Superman has been reduced to nothing more than just some dicksplash in a cape.