The smash-hit Superman reboot Man of Steel incited some controversy with its decidedly darker take on the Last Son of Krypton, mostly for a key decision that the superhero makes at the end of the movie. This is the part where we have to write SPOILER ALERT: The movie ends with an extended sequence where Superman and Zod invent lots of new ways to punch each other, before Superman is ultimately forced to kill Zod in order to
triumph over a ridiculously imbalanced highly unlikely situation contrived by the filmmakers save some people. The decision to have Superman kill someone has stirred the pot among moviegoers and media gasbags, and it’s the primary focus of an intriguing new Empire podcast. The show features interviews with Man of Steel director Zack Snyder and writer David Goyer, who reveal some behind-the-scenes information about the Neck-Snap Heard ‘Round the World.
First revelation: Man of Steel producer Christopher Nolan didn’t want Supes to kill anyone. As Goyer explains, “Killing Zod was a big thing, and that was something that Chris Nolan originally said, ‘There’s no way you can do this’…originally, Zod got sucked into the Phantom Zone along with the others.” That ending felt unsatisfying to both Goyer and Snyder, possibly because it was too vague and possibly because there wasn’t enough punching. Says Goyer:
We talked to some of the people at DC Comics and said, “Do you think there’s ever a way that Superman would kill someone?” At first they said, “No way. No way.” We said, “But what if he didn’t have a choice?” Originally, Chris didn’t even want to let us try to write it. Zack and I said, “We think we can figure out a way that you’ll buy it.” I came up with this idea of the heat vision and these people about to die. I wrote the scene and I gave it to Chris and he said, “OK, you convinced me. I buy it.”
Goyer frames the decision to have Superman kill as a modernizing tactic. “If you don’t reinvent these characters…then they become stagnant, and they cease being relevant…hopefully, we’ve redefined Superman.” Snyder, however, goes a little bit deeper in his exploration of Superman’s decision. The director of such films as Sucker Punch and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole explains that he wanted to specifically explore Superman’s Zod-killing in the context of his development as a superhero. “If it’s truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained,” says Snyder, continuing:
I felt like, if we could find a way of making it impossible for him — Kobayashi Maru, totally no way out — I felt like that could also make you go, “This is the why of him never killing again.” He’s basically obliterated his entire people and his culture, and he is responsible for it, and he’s just, like, “How could I ever kill again?”
Of course, in old-timey Superman mythology, Superman never needed to kill someone to figure out that he didn’t want to kill people. But of course, we live in times, when things are more moderner than before. Snyder makes a compelling case that — in his Man of Steel incarnation — Superman has to kill in order to establish a boundary for himself. Snyder also immediately counters this compelling case by explaining that, thanks to the end of Man of Steel, this Superman is now a loose cannon. (I put the key lines in bold.)
If there were more adventures for our Superman to go on, you’re given this thing where, you don’t know 100 percent what he’s going to do. When you put in stone the concept that he won’t kill, and it’s totally in stone, it really erases an option in the viewer’s mind…you’ll always have in the back of your mind, ‘How far can you push him?’ If he sees Lois get hurt, or his mother get killed, you just made a really mad Superman that we know is capable of some really horrible stuff, if he wants to be. That’s the thing that’s cool about him, in some ways. The idea that he has the frailties of a human emotionally. But you don’t want to get that guy mad.
So, to recap: One of the most noble characters in the history of human imagination has been rebooted. All of the options are open. You know whose rules he plays by? HIS OWN. He’s capable of horrible stuff. You run with gangs? He runs with TWELVE GANGS, and they all commit hate crimes. Did you just make him mad? Don’t make him mad. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Because he is THE INCREDIBLE HULK, or Superman or whatever. Snap!
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