There are many reasons why Man Of Steel is terrible. But there’s only one that made me gasp. Actually gasp. Gasp like an elderly lady seeing a hoodie spit on a war memorial.
No, it wasn’t the horribly stylish cinematography. That was predictably bad.
It wasn’t the fact that the main character has very little to say and only ever acts on bad advice from cardboard cut-outs.
And it wasn’t the 130-page exposition disguised as a script.
It wasn’t even that the final act lasts half the movie and has all the drama of a six-year-old bashing together his two favourite action figures.
Nor was it the romance that begins and ends with a kiss.
And even though it quite easily could’ve been, it wasn’t the way everything – everything – blows up with seemingly no human cost. It’s like a parody from an episode of The Simpsons.
It certainly wasn’t the commitment to realism either, because there wasn’t any. That’s marketing spiel and they know it.
No, it was when Superman breaks Zod’s neck.
Bar the odd, adamantium-strewn exception, classic comic-book heroes have a shared rule. It’s pretty simple: they don’t kill.
Now I should be clear: movies are different to comics. They have different demands. The silverscreen wants closure; comic-books want continuation. That’s why most comic-book movies have the main villain die and why most comics have them sent to jail.
But dying is different from killing.
When Spider-Man leaps over an oncoming glider that subsequently impales the Green Goblin, he doesn’t kill his foe. It’s a fortunate accident.
Sometimes when buildings/evil inventions blow up around the bad guys it’s a likely consequence of a maniacal scheme. But it’s not murder.
Superman breaking Zod’s neck is flat-out the most coldblooded kill I have seen a classic hero deliver in a comic-book movie. It was shocking. It was uncomfortable. It was disrespectful. And it was lazy.
Shocking because there was no need for it – it comes totally out of the blue. It wasn’t even a whatever-will-he-do-now? moment.
Analyse the scene and it’s easy to see several alternative courses of action. For instance, Superman could have shouted to the family he was trying to protect “move a bit to your left”. Or he could have flown upwards with Zod in his clutches away from the would-be victims. It’s not like he’d so far had any trouble moving Zod about the city.
The shock, when you think about it, is that ultimately Superman thought about breaking a guy’s neck before any of these other options. That makes him very un-Superman-like.
It was uncomfortable because everyone else in the audience seemed shocked too. There was a feeling of shared astonishment. Not amazement as one would hope from the climax of a superhero movie, just total and utter disbelief. That was how this orgy of hype, ambition and CG ends – with a broken neck.
And how disrespectful it was too. Superman, whether you like him or not, was created by two people who wanted to give the world a hero in the face of real-world tyranny, where supermen meant something very different indeed. A legacy was built on that idea, and a good one too, one that gave people reason to look up to the skies.
Now that honour has been scuffed in the name of cool.
Why? Because Snyder, Goyer and co were lazy. Plain and simple. They couldn’t figure a way out of the corner of Metropolis they had pummelled their way into so they took the cheap route out. They went the easy way and in doing so they took an almighty dump on comic-book’s greatest symbol of hope and courage – of a better way.
Superman is like so few other characters. His values aren’t hip, they don’t change with the times and nor do they come with a quip or two. He is meant to stand for something greater.
The character is criticised in comics for not joining the 21st century fast enough. But those critics don’t know what they’re talking about. Superman wouldn’t feel bad if he was called a boy scout – he would feel proud.
It’s about having values, son.
And those values mean not breaking someone’s neck just because you can. They mean finding another way, against all odds, when all is hope is lost.
For all Man Of Steel’s words about “giving the people of earth an ideal to strive towards” it clearly didn’t consider the meaning of that sentiment beyond what might sound cool in a trailer.
As Zod lay dead on the floor, Superman may have shown remorse but he’d only lost the life of one Kryptonian. The world had lost two. Superman, as we had loved and known him for three quarters of a century, was no more.