So last night we watched “Batman v Superman”. This got me thinking about the prequel : “Man of Steel”. I just rewatched it and found that it is in fact a very good movie. Let me tell you why.
Superman has always been one of my favorite characters. This is not to say that I have watched and enjoyed every version of Superman in existence. In fact, I may not even like some incarnations of this character. But the fact remains that the essence of the Superman story is very interesting. So I am always surprised to find that many people dislike Superman deeply.
One reason I have heard for this strange phenomenon is that they think Superman is too powerful. He seems invincible. It is true that a story would be uninteresting if the hero had no chance of losing or if he was pitted against a weak villain ( “Merlin” TV series anyone ? ). This is not the case for “Man of Steel”. Zod is every bit as powerful as Superman. It is in fact a vital part of the story that Superman is outgunned and outnumbered in this fight. He has to fight many Kryptonians who are just as strong as him but born and bred to be soldiers. These Kryptonians trained their entire life to be warriors and you can see Superman struggling to match them. The truly awesome power of Superman is the hook for the story. But this does not make it dull if he spends the majority of his time standing up to guys a lot stronger than himself.
A lot of people are angry that at the end of the movie Superman kills Zod. I think it is an important plot point : this implies that Superman was never invincible to Zod, Kryptonians can kill other Kryptonians on Earth with their bare hands. The fight could very much have ended with the death of Superman, it is unclear how he survived at all. Maybe Zod was still distraught over losing his purpose and his people. Maybe his heart wasn’t fully in the fight. Maybe it was just plain luck.
I think it is very brave that a simple farm boy is willing to take up such dreadful odds to do the right thing. He didn’t sign up for any of this.
There is also another aspect to this story. When Zod asks Superman to join him, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to say ‘Yes’. The movie depicts throughout, the loneliness that Clark feels. He feels like an outsider, a freak. It would have been a welcome relief to live on the ‘New Krypton’ and feel belonged. So why does he say ‘No’ ?
The simplest answer would be to say that he didn’t want to kill all those humans. But he did finish off the Kryptonian race ( his own ) in the process. Is it any better ? This is where the back story kicks in again. Every Kryptonian’s life is predestined, every man and woman born to a single predefined purpose. There is no place for chance or choice. With such a system, the ‘New Krypton’ would inevitably meet the original Krypton’s fate : infinite self-destruction. This is why Jor-El does not leave Krypton with Kal-El. When a race is doomed, it can only be wiped out so that a new one can have a hope of survival. This point, however cruel is a fact in the story universe.
Human beings may not make the same mistakes Kryptonians made, which means they have a shot at survival and expansion, not the infinite destruction that Kryptonians face. This is also why Jor-El was OK with sending Kal-El away from Krypton : he was a natural birth. He is not part of the system. Jor-El may have tried to bargain with Zod to let the Kryptonians live alongside humans in a last ditch attempt, but he knew that only humans have a serious chance.
Finally, I also want to make the point that it may not be Superman a lot of people hate. This point has been argued before, but I think we find it difficult to accept even a fictional character who is both good and successful. The reason for this is that he reminds us of our own shortcomings. We feel that we are justified in doing evil, so that we can be successful or happy. We feel it is impossible to live in this unjust and unfair world by being good. It is this lie that we tell ourselves that is challenged when we watch a Superman movie. We are not angry at Superman, we are angry at ourselves. Sometimes we project this anger towards all that is good. If that is true, we have to do better than that, don’t you think ?