Sometimes, you just can’t win. If you make a Superman movie with characterization and plot, people get upset that there isn’t enough action. If you make a Superman film chock full of action, people will lament that there isn’t enough exposition of character, and motivations, and plot. With Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Warner Bros. is essentially damned if they do, damned if they don’t, and the controversial ending isn’t helping matters, either.
Spoiler Alert: Please stop reading if you have not seen the film, or if you hate to have plot points spoiled for you.
A lot has been said about the Man of Steel resolution revolving around the battle between Zod and Superman. After most of Zod’s forces are sent back into the Phantom Zone, only Zod remains, and he will not stop trying to make a new planet for his people here on earth, even if that means killing one of them in Kal El. Zod was bred for this. His one goal is to ensure the survival of his people, and nothing will deter that.
The battle, as mentioned, is intense, and Snyder is in top form here as the action is fast-paced and pulse pounding. Buildings fall and people die as Metropolis is nearly eradicated. Superman — still new to his powers, and to his newfound responsibility as our savior — does what he can to stop Zod.
At the very end, Kal and Zod wrestle each other in a train station and Zod threatens to kill a family of earthlings, trying to exploit Superman’s weakness, which causes Superman to do the unthinkable to stop him. While this final act is shocking, it is perfect for this film. This is a Superman who has just fought the biggest, most destructive fight he will ever participate in. He knows damn well that bystanders were killed in his fight. He knows the depth of destruction that he and Zod have caused, and that is why his decision works for me. Given no other choice (he even begs Zod to stop, which is the modern equivalent to “Kneel before Zod”), he does the one thing he can do to finally stop the killing, the death and the untold destruction.
He snaps Zod’s neck.
This is Kal El – Superman — doing the one thing that he would never do in the comics — or in past films — and the horrific ramifications resonate deeply with him. I surely felt it, and Cavill played it emotionally well. Batman refuses to use a gun because a gun killed his parents. This is Kal El’s moment. Superman will never kill again because he had to do it this one time.
Man of Steel is an origin movie, and now, in this world, we know why Superman doesn’t kill. It makes perfect sense to me and it works incredibly well. Some may argue, and they have that right, but for me, this moment made the film for me. Not once did I question it. Zod was an alien invader trying to wipe out all life on earth. Superman saved us all by killing that alien invader. If Zod had been the creature-thing from the movie Cloverfield, would we even be discussing this? This is the Superman for a new generation. And this is the movie for that generation.