First of all I should note I have not seen the film yet (Update: I have now and stick to what I say here mostly and may post further thoughts at a later date). I will also note that this note includes the spoilers I found that prompted my thoughts. So if you haven’t watched it yet I would suggest you don’t read this post.
I know I won’t be happy with Man of Steel because (even though trying to avoid spoilers) I found out that Superman kills Zod. Superman killing anyone has been the deal-breaker I said from day one that I expected to be in this movie but to my surprise it was not because of Nolan wanting to make it more “gritty” like his Batman movie, he actually fought against it.
The Man of Steel you see in this movie in my books, he isn’t Superman. I could see him becoming Ultraman though or essentially the Injustice Superman. The thing that turned these alternate universe Supermen into the villains of their stories is they break after someone’s death like Lois (or Flash in the JL:U cartoon series) and then decide that killing is acceptable if it can stop the deaths of others (the clone in Superman: Doomsday did this too after bystanders died).
In all these cases the real, main reality, Superman comes in and beats these evil Supermen who crossed the line even if every single one of them actually thought they were doing what is best. Superman is great because he is good and if Superman ever ceases to be good, he will cease to be great.
They say they wanted to put him in a situation where he “has to” kill but that is stupidity. You never have to do anything, especially if you are Superman. It is like they are trying to pose the same question as Superman vs The Elite but in a different way and give a different answer, the wrong answer. Superman does not kill and I know people can pull out examples from the comics where he does but they’ve all been retconned for a reason.
In any case this is not my Superman. Superman’s purpose as a character is not to be “gritty” and anything like your anti-hero. He exists for the purpose of having a shining example of good, someone who might struggle with the right thing or have to face up against horrors that are beyond our imagining but he himself does not cross that line.
The old idea of “Truth, Justice and The American way” that was not arrogance or ethnocentricity in play but instead to say that Superman lives by the ideals that were at the core of the United States at its founding and the ideals noted by Will Herberg as the “American Way of Life”.
The American Way of life is individualistic, dynamic, pragmatic. It affirms the supreme value and dignity of the individual; it stresses incessant activity on his part, for he is never to rest but is always to be striving to “get ahead”; it defines an ethic of self-reliance, merit, and character, and judges by achievement: “deeds, not creeds” are what count. The “American Way of Life” is humanitarian, “forward-looking”, optimistic. Americans are easily the most generous and philanthropic people in the world, in terms of their ready and unstinting response to suffering anywhere on the globe. The American believes in progress, in self-improvement, and quite fanatically in education. But above all, the American is idealistic. Americans cannot go on making money or achieving worldly success simply on its own merits; such “materialistic” things must, in the American mind, be justified in “higher” terms, in terms of “service” or “stewardship” or “general welfare”… And because they are so idealistic, Americans tend to be moralistic; they are inclined to see all issues as plain and simple, black and white, issues of morality.
Clark Kent is (or at least was in the older comics) a Methodist (Christian), or at the very least it was the beliefs of his Methodist parents that instilled a lot of who he is in the Superman you see today. With that in mind I think he is living what is said in Matthew 5:14-16
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
So to me the whole point of Superman is not to be like the others, not to be so “realistic”. He is there to be the embodiment of an ideal, to live the impossible dream, to defeat the unbeatable foe for us to see and strive to be like. Much like the message from Jor-El at the beginning of the movie, ripped from the pages of “All Star Superman”
You’ll give the people an ideal to strive towards.
They will race behind you.
They will stumble, they will fall.
But in time, they will join you in the sun.
In time you will help them accomplish wonders.
When I saw this I had so much hope that this movie would really set in stone the idea that Clark/Superman is not great because of his Kryptonian blood but instead because of his human parent’s upbringing. Unfortunately like many cases nowadays they just don’t get it.
In the second movie it was my idea that they would pit the Man of Stell against Lex Luthor not only physically (vs Supersuit) and mentally (Superman is also a genius with Kryptonian knowledge) but also philosophically. They could have easily taken the “Lex Luthor: Man of Steel” approach and have Lex (partially) motivated by the idea that Superman is actually holding the human race back because we have become dependant on him (or at least Lex buys his own propoganda).
While I think they may still go down this road I do not believe they have the legs it needs to stand when the Man of Steel is not the Superman he should be.