It’s been six years. Why am I talking about Man Of Steel, of all movies?
Because Aquaman just came out. And if you ask me, the creators of Aquaman corrected all the mistakes that Man Of Steel made.
The main problem with Man Of Steel is the Man of Steel himself. Superman is completely out of character–since when does Superman kill people??? Or let people die recklessly as he destroys their city?
I remember when the Man Of Steel Honest Trailer came out, and they actually made a valid point: Superman developing his own code of ethics through experience over time is actually a more compelling character arc than him already having a perfect moral compass. In Smallville, we see Clark come into his own over the course of ten years, guided by his parents Martha (why did I say Martha) and Jonathan Kent. Ma and Pa Kent have always been attributed with raising Clark as the caring and morally steadfast person he is.
But Man Of Steel‘s Ma and Pa are a far cry from Annette O’ Toole and John Schneider. Kevin Costner!Pa Kent tells a young Clark after he saves a bus full of drowning schoolchildren that maybe he shouldn’t have risked exposing his powers and let his schoolmates die. And Ma Kent tells Clark that he doesn’t have to be the Earth’s savior–which is certainly true, except for the fact that Clark is the reason Zod and his followers are here and threatening Earth. It would be a truly selfish and amoral act not to give himself up to Zod and try to fight them off. Luckily the random priest was there to put him on the right path.
And judging from some of the film’s imagery, it seems to realize that Superman is supposed to be a Christ figure: sent from the heavens by his father to save humanity and be a beacon of hope and good. So why go the route it did? Why resort to pushing Superman to kill? Sure, Zod isn’t human, but he is a person. In Superman II (with Christopher Reeve), Superman actually defeats Zod by outwitting him.
Well, the movie isn’t just telling a Jesus story–it’s also telling a story about 9-11, in which Metropolis is New York and Zod and his ilk are terrorists. And Zach Snyder and David S. Goyer seems to be saying that the only way to deal with terrorists is to take them out, full stop, and if innocent people get hurt in the process, if an entire city gets leveled, then that’s just the price of war.
Going back to the Honest Trailers point about Superman perhaps needing an impetus to examine himself and realize the price of a life, maybe that’s true. Maybe the DCEU believes that good old-fashioned farm livin’ with strong parental units isn’t enough to truly make purely moral. But then…nothing happens. Superman doesn’t suffer any consequences for killing Zod (except for making possibly the stupidest “NOOOOOOOOO” in film history). After a moment of regret, he’s completely fine. He kisses Lois, gets a job at the Planet, and everything’s fine. And there’s no hint of moral repercussion in future films either. Clark gets into a super dick measuring contest with Batman, then he dies, then he’s brought back, he fights Steppenwolf with the gang, and everyone goes out for nachos. The battle with Zod has been long forgotten. Which tells me that there was no greater plan with the killing of Zod, it was just for edge.
You know what’s probably the stupidest decision you can make for Superman? Getting rid of his red tightie-whities. The second stupidest decision? Going “lol what if Superman killed somebody” and turning it into a big budget blockbuster.
Aquaman didn’t do that. When Arthur leaves Black Manta’s father to die (which, hey, totally understandable–he’s a pirate), there are actual repercussions for his less-than-heroic act. And Arthur is forced to reevaluate his own decisions and decides to change himself for the better. A complete character arc. If they really wanted to make a Superman movie where he has an existential crisis and pushes the boundaries of his own moral code, then they should have come full circle with it. I haven’t been able to recognize Superman until well into Justice League, when he says that he likes truth, “but I’m also a big fan of justice.” Now there’s the idealistic, cheesy, dorky, self-aware Boy Scout I know and love.
It’s unclear for now whether or not Henry Cavill will continue to play Superman. So it’s unsure whether or not Superman will still be a part of the DCEU. If he is, will he have an actual arc? Or, you know, will I just have to hold on to the few decent origin movies, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the DCEU can produce? ~TRL