Originally Posted by The Guard
I sort of wish people could get past the whole “Superman doesn’t kill” bit (he does when he "has to", read more of the mythology), and realize that this goes beyond that. It presents an interesting moral and intellectual discussion beyond "This isn't like what we're used to from Superman".
People have talked about the ideals Superman is supposed to inspire in humanity based on the film. Yes, Jor-El talks about this, but he also says “In time". Not "the first time you encounter humanity". Give that theme and character element of Superman some time to develop, as it’s clearly going to be part of the entire franchise. Protecting innocents at all costs is a pretty good ideal to strive towards in the meantime.
If I hear one more person say “Why didn’t he lure him away?”, with regard to Superman getting Zod away from people, I'm going to scream. Zod isn’t stupid. He's a tactical military leader with a plan. And he wasn't planning to chase Superman. His aim was to punish Superman by killing the people of Earth, not just to follow Superman wherever he went for the heck of it.
I continue to be amazed at people who think Superman was just recklessly battling Zod during the finale. During the battle, Superman was clearly trying to prevent more damage. During one of the few points in the fight where he has the upper hand, he flat out punches Zod AROUND two buildings they're passing near in their flight arc, instead of through them. For most of the fight, however, he couldn't even do that, as Zod was beating the hell out of him. But for the most part, the reason for the collateral damage was down to ZOD. Zod was tossing him through multiple buildings, and doing so very much on purpose.
And it’s all well and good to talk about what Superman COULD have done at the end of the movie other than snapping Zod’s neck, but that's missing the point. Because the point of the scene and the result of analysis is that, even had he done those things, Zod showed that he was not going to stop hurting the people of Earth. If Superman flew Zod away, then odds are Zod would have flown back and kept killing people. If Superman put his hands over Zod's eyes, then Superman would have burned his hands...or Zod would eventually have, yup, kept on killing people.
Which obviously Superman cared about. I'm not sure where the idea that Superman doesn't value life is coming from. What the movie shows doesn't indicate this at all. And to be honest, the movie shouldn’t have to spell out a common sense idea like “human life is important” anymore than it should have to spell out the common sense that “sons love their mothers and fathers”.
Regardless, in the end, it’s not really a question of there being no other way around killing Zod at that moment...it’s a question of Superman making a choice, based on Zod’s actions and Zod's declaration of war against the people of Earth, to end the threat Zod posed.
And as far as the morality of his actions in relation to "But it's Superman!" goes...Superman doesn’t have super-morals. What the hell is that supposed to mean? He continually makes good moral choices because he's a good man. He's far from a perfect one, though.
And with regard to the Kents...there's this crazy idea that they're somehow morally confused, or holding Superman back. How? The idea that the Kents worked against the morality of Superman is ridiculous. The Kents taught Clark to do the right thing in terms of the big picture and the greater good, not just what felt right at a given moment. Which is an important distinction to make, and part of growing up, and having a realistic, mature view of the world.
Along these lines, a lot of people seem to be seriously misunderstanding the actual lesson Jonathan Kent was trying to teach his son. This movie isn’t about Clark rejecting what the Kents taught him…it’s actually about him learning to understand and embrace what they taught him.
Because Jonathan never told Clark not to save lives. What he told Clark was to figure out the reason he was sent to Earth, to be patient, to embrace and accept his destiny when the time came, and to be mindful of the impact his presence would have on the people of this planet.
Clark was not ready to accept his destiny at the time of Jonathan’s death…because 1, he was rejecting and resentful of his nature as an adopted alien and outcast, and 2, he didn’t know what he was supposed to be to the people of Earth and Krypton yet.
But Pa Kent was not advising Clark not to save lives. He was telling him that he had to keep that side of him a secret....until he knew what his purpose was. And this is a lesson that Clark took to heart after Pa Kent’s death, when he went globetrotting as a sort of nameless, faceless cypher who saved lives wherever he could...and searched for his purpose.
Superman killing Zod and the others was not a mistake in the comics. It was a beautiful part of the character’s history, that finally gave him and his mission some moral depth and put things in perspective about this Godlike being with immense power. And yes, the storylines that followed in the comics were fantastic, but they weren't necessarily fantastic because Clark was depressed over what he had done. They were fantastic because they got him offworld and into some really cool stories.
The sequel doesn’t need to be about a Clark burdened with regret…just about a Clark who knows his responsibilities to the world. There's no reason he couldn't kill again, or that he suddenly has to develop a code about never killing again. The point is that now he knows the weight of such an action. Which is a very human lesson to learn.
There’s some ambiguity to what that weight entails. Is it Superman griefstricken that he had to kill? Is he mourning all the deaths Zod caused? Is he mourning the last of his people, and the fact that he destroyed the remnants of his people? It could well be all of these things, and I'm betting it is meant to be.
But one thing that is not ambiguous is that, after the events of the film, this man is in serious grief and pain, period. And that's some powerful stuff.
And let's not forget, Superman can be SCARY. People forget this. This man has IMMENSE powers. Immense emotions. Superman has a temper. This is a Golden Age element that is finding its way back into the comics, and it was found in this film as well. Witness what he did to the trucker’ rig (My working theory is that it was actually Kara, who arrived on Earth before Kal thousands of years prior, and, based on the events of SUPERGIRL, has a reason to dislike ******* truckers).
The point is, he doesn't always make the perfect decision.
Because he is fallible.
Simply by acting as Superman he often acts as a vigilante, and outside conventional law, social norm and morality in several respects.
What makes Superman super is not "not killing". Human morality is too subjective to say that killing is always inherently wrong. What makes Superman “super” is his ability to do what must be done, doing what needs to be done, and having the moral fortitude to do the right thing, even when the right thing is difficult. And it has always been that way.
By any reasonable standard, he did the right thing.
But that doesn’t make it a good thing. And that’s the whole freaking point of the scene. And I wish people could see that, and its relevance to the overall concepts of superheroes. Superman does something horrible, something that disgusts and hurts him, to save innocent lives.
Now, there’s a lot of wishful thinking going on about what him killing Zod will mean, in the long run. The movie never suggest he has an issue with killing. Heck, he may never have thought about it, or about being a super soldier in a war for Earth's survival. But what we see is his reaction to having done so. It is a powerful one.
It’s a shocking, beautiful moment of bold cinema, and deserves to be seen as such.
But all the nonsense about “Superman is supposed to be the best of us”? Not necessarily. I don’t think the Man of Tomorrow would be bound by one person or culture or a few 40's writers' or childrens' groups moral absolutes.
The idea that Superman is somehow the best of us, morally speaking, is incorrect. If he was the best, morally speaking, he’d never resort to violence at all, would he? He’s not the best of us. He’s a VERY GOOD PERSON who makes difficult decisions when he has to. If you don’t agree with that, then your understanding of the character is quite simply, flawed and incomplete. So is your understanding of the concept of the superhero itself. And life, in general, to be honest.
If a policeman shoots someone who is threatening innocents, does that make them a bad person?
If a soldier shoots an enemy combatant, or say, a hostage taker or a terrorist, does that make them a bad person?
Why would it be any different for someone like Superman?
At its heart…the very concept of a superhero is about using physical strength, and yes, violence to overcome evil. It is about vigilantism and going outside the conventional morals of society. It is not about pure morality on any level. It never has been. There is an inherent duality in superheroes that does not allow for a simple black and white use of morality.