They’re saying that the ending of Man of Steel is controversial. Since the movie’s release a mere 24 hours ago, reaction to the film has been mixed. Critics are still arguing whether or not they liked it or not. Already, there have been numerous reviews of the film as well as one truly spectacular article by Mark Waid on http://www.thrillbent.com (Go. Read.)
But the truth is, it’s not that controversial. This isn’t and shouldn’t be a polarizing issue. The dilemma is very plain and simple:
Is it okay that Superman kills?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, “Not really.”
The theme of the movie is that one man can inspire greatness. That one man can give us an ideal to strive for. For two hours and change, the audience is told this, over and over and over again.
But, when put to the test, that man fails utterly. And, instead of providing us with an ideal to strive for, he becomes something else. He becomes a murderer.
The model this sets for us in that one horrific action is ultimately and irrevocably flawed. It says, “I am not greater than you: I am the same as you. Therefore, my purpose is meaningless and the lesson I am to impart upon you, – that you are capable of so much more than your nature – is a lie.”
If Superman chooses to willingly take a life, what example is he setting? What does his action say about what we expect from our heroes? More importantly, what does it say about us?
If our hero — our model of inspiration, our protector, our Jesus, our Perfect Being, our finest example — if he can act as if there exists any kind of justification to commit what is arguably considered the worst of the mortal sins (not to mention the most heinous of crimes according to secular law) as an acceptable form of problem-solving, what does that say about our culture? What does that say about our basic human capacity to reason? Our ability to empathize? Our determination to celebrate life? Our ability to appreciate beauty in art and in nature? Or our desire to seek peace with our neighbors, to learn, to accept, to try, to develop, to be more, to do more, to dream?
What does this say about who we want to be?
Now, you may say that some people deserve to die, and maybe that’s true. Maybe.
But there is a school of thought that argues that there’s always another way.
Isn’t the experience of some measure of peace — no matter how small or great — the ultimate hope and desire of every living person? Don’t we want to be more than what we are? Aren’t we endowed that as a self-evident truth? Life. Liberty. Etc. etc.
I’d like to think that we are. (You may say I’m a dreamer.)
I’d like to think that we, as a species, are capable of such great and wondrous things. You can find examples of it everywhere: We built pyramids and painted the Mona Lisa. We went to the moon and back. We helped our friend up over the fence because he ain’t heavy/he’s my brother. We were born. We lived. We died. We mourned. We have laughed and loved and have been afraid and angry and loved and lost and ran out of cliches to describe all the perceptions we’ve had. That’s what we do.
We are the human experience. And to think — the sum of our parts are little more than a chance miracle one-shot of chemically bonded chaotic patterns that just so happened to accidentally/intentionally combine to produce a reasoning, thinking, problem-solving animal that has thumbs and makes tools and art and music and understands math and tries to figure out EVERYTHING by asking, out loud, at everything, “What? Why? How?”
And look at our little spot we live in! It’s so perfectly effed up and magical and overwhelming that some of us cannot even conceive of our own little tiny part in the cosmos. Sometimes, its so goddamn BIG, we can reason ourselves into believing that we don’t even exist. That’s how egotistical we are as a species! Hilarious!
But the ultimate questions we ask are these:
Where do we come from?
Why are we here?
What can we become?
Where we come from is as easy as decoding your genetic line through the patterns of evolution.
Why we’re here? Why, to make plastic, of course.
But what we can become? Well, I think I have an answer to that.
We can become great. Because we ARE great. Everyday, every person makes a conscious decision to choose their own adventure in their lives. They choose what to do for themselves and for others. Every day, people choose to be a part of this ongoing macrocosm of existence. Every day, we human beings keep marching on and on and on, ever onward into oblivion. That won’t change. And neither do ideals.
Superman represents an ideal. He, like all great icons before him, represents everything we CAN be. He’s a symbol of hope. He is the embodiment of the triumph of reason and life over death. Therefore, what does it say about us if we accept that it’s morally okay to kill someone?
Some have argued that he didn’t have a choice. That he HAD to do it. To stop Zod, he needed to kill him.
But consider this. If Superman can do ANYTHING, then how could he be powerless to choose any other course of action?
You cannot claim he didn’t have a choice. He did. He had a dozen choices. A hundred solutions. Ask any comic geek. They’ll tell you:
“He could have used his heat vision to lobotomize Zod! He’d be a vegetable. But he’d be alive. He could always come back!”
“Doesn’t Superman toss people into the sun anymore? Or to the End of the Universe? Didn’t he throw Darkseid at the wall of eternity that one time?”
“You mean to tell me Supes had Zod in a super sleeper hold and he couldn’t have just jumped into the sky with him? Please. The man can do anything.”
Those of you who say that Superman is too powerful, I ask you: if he’s so all powerful, why does he have to kill? He can do anything else. Literally, anything. Why kill someone? Couldn’t there have been any other possible way?
If there is anything about the Man of Steel that defines him most, it is one very basic tenet:
Superman finds a way.
He always does. That’s what makes him Superman.
As an icon, he transcends our understanding and instead shows us the impossible. We should marvel at its wonder and consider how we can accomplish the same. Those who argue that he’s unlikeable because he’s too powerful should remember this especially:
Superman isn’t real.
He’s a metaphor. He is our boundless imagination. Our capacity for greatness. Our ability to overcome. Our hope.
And he killed somebody.
Doesn’t anyone else have a problem with that? Doesn’t anyone else in the entire goddamn world think that that’s not okay?
We used to believe in justice. Now we believe in justification.
What hope do we have when our heroes have no other choices but kill their enemies? Did giving peace a chance go out with the sixties? Did I miss that memo?
Because I always thought that we were better than that.
Maybe I’m an idiot for believing. Maybe I should harden my heart and just “get over it” like all my non-geek friends keep telling me. Maybe it’s just a guy in a unitard and a cape being a boring old fuddy-duddy.
Maybe that’s me too. An old fuddy-duddy who’d like to hold onto the good ol’ days when killing people was considered “a bad thing”. I’d like to hope that I’m not. But maybe hope is dead forever.
Just like General Zod.
Addendum: Here is a fantastic link to supplement everything I just said here. Watch it.