Movie Quote Monday – Man of Steel
Lara: He’ll be an outcast…a freak. They’ll kill him.
—Jor-El: No. He’ll be a god to them.
The question is, what kind of god?
In killing Zod at the end of the movie, Superman has done something unthinkable in the minds of his super fans. In a really compelling argument/review, JR Foresteros says, “There’s no such thing as a no-win scenario for Superman. That’s what makes him Superman.”
I was hoping for that romanticized version of Superman as well: “I don’t mind if Superman has struggles, but I want him to overcome. And to make the right decision…even if it hurts. I want (a) Superman who wouldn’t do the wrong thing, because more than any other super hero, I want to feel good about who Superman is. Not only because it makes me think I can be good too, but more importantly because it makes me want to be good too.”
But then I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that Superman is only able to be that guy because he’s a fiction.
Superman is able to overcome the no-win situation because the story is written that way. In other words, there’s no such thing as a no-win situation in the Superman universe because the writers give him an out before the story reaches the point of no return.
When I am in this real world and faced with an actual no-win situation, what then does that neatly arranged Superman truly have to offer me in the way of real guidance and hope?
The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s quite a lot.
In Man of Steel, when Zod didn’t get sucked into the black hole with all the other bad guys, the writers took away the easy out and forced Superman into a true no-win situation. Zod is another super power, an even match; no prison could ever hold him. So, what are the options?
Superman’s shoulders should be strong enough to bear the weight of doing the right thing. But what is the right thing? Destroying Zod is the only solution. And that, for Superman, is not a win.
More importantly, it’s not a win for us either.
Zod said to Superman, “There’s only one way this ends, Kal; either you die or I do.” He set the terms. And instead of proving Zod wrong, instead of finding a solution that didn’t compromise his goodness, Superman accepted evil’s conditions. And in so doing, he loses everything that Superman is supposed to be.
And if violence is Superman’s only recourse, if he doesn’t even make an effort to find another solution, why should I ever look further? But that’s not the kind of guidance I want. And instead of being a beacon of hope, this Superman story is basically telling me there is none, so don’t bother looking.
And now I’m back to my beginning.
In my opinion, this was a fun superhero film, but I have to agree with others that this is no Superman film. Superman represents the idea that good is bigger than anything else. Good prevails, good overcomes, good is so GOOD that it wins just by being good. Evil cannot stand against it. Ever. Evil cannot corrupt it, or sway it, or manipulate it in any way.
Probably I can never achieve that Superman level of goodness, and I know I’ll never be in a desperate, save-the-world scenario. But every day I’m faced with a thousand tiny situations that ask me who I am. That require me to choose between truth or lie, selfishness or sacrifice, condemnation or compassion. Good or evil.
So I do want that ideal Superman to look up to, who tells me that goodness is the path to take. Who tells me that goodness will always find a way, will always win. And I don’t care that Superman is able to overcome the no-win situation only because the story is written that way.
I want his story to be written in a way that allows him to be Superman. Not just a dude in a cape who fights bad guys.
I want Superman to offer me something unique in the world of superheros: his pure goodness. I want him to be the ideal I strive to achieve, the hope that good will always overcome evil.
And still remain good.
Did you see Man of Steel?
What are your thoughts on Superman?
Items of Interest:
Why Man of Steel isn’t a Superman Story by JR. Foresteros
Storymen of Steel (podcast)
Choice And The Moral Universe Of ‘Man Of Steel’ [Opinion] (comicsalliance.com)
I haven’t seen the movie, but I think I understand your sentiments about being a hero. Goodness should always win!
Yeah, I’ve gone back and forth with this in my head. On the one hand, I think it’s good for us to see that our heros are like us – that they struggle with the same issue that we do. On the other hand, I want there to be at least one superhero who will always be good.
Right. You want them to be somewhat human, with some of the same struggles that we all have to deal with but, in the end, they have to always stand on the side of goodness.
I love your take on movies (well, on life!)–I tend to agree and appreciate your perspectives. I am disheartened to hear that Superman must prove himself human and even dark. Rather like when Kirk kills that Klingon in one of the movies, after his son died. I was not thrilled with that turn of events. And this with a true superhero is even more tragic.
Awesome people think alike! Haha 🙂
Before the movie came out, I’d commented on another site that I hoped to leave the theater feeling like I could fly – just happy and delighted and all things good. But the movie didn’t leave me feeling that way at all. I could even have been okay had Superman seemed to grapple with his choice afterwards. He had a moment right after it happened, but then he went straight to, “You’re right mom, I did a good job!”
It was entertaining and action packed, but I found myself thinking a lot, “Wow, how many more people are getting killed during this fight…why are they fighting in the city…” etc. Their Superman didn’t seem as concerned with human life on the small scale as I was used to expect. They did a lot of things wrong with this film, and the last link I posted is a really good breakdown of those things, if you’re interested. In the end, it was just another superhero action flick.
I think you’re dead-on here (bad pun intended). In the end, Man of Steel makes Superman more like us rather than calling us to be more like Superman. This is exactly why he can’t function as the Christ-figure the film intends him to be.
Yeah, it only took me overnight to come to your way of thinking, haha. I don’t think too much about the Jesus angle, because I don’t tend to look for that stuff in these types of movies. But I feel you’re right about that as well. That just upsets me more though, because they get that even more wrong.
I am also on this kick about writers making choices that are more real-life than popular or mega-hit-making. So that swayed my perspective at first.But I realized that I need Superman to be all those superior and perfect things. We’ve got plenty of other places to find gritty, human faulty heros.
I know for myself, I am all too aware of human frailty. Even the best of human heroes miss the mark eventually since we are all imperfect. It is good to have a mythic character who NEVER misses the mark. It is a relief in a way to know this character is going to do things right. That is what makes him Super!
Exactly! That’s what I was trying to say but couldn’t quite get right – I found that I was ok that he was mythic. For a bit there, I thought I preferred the real guy. But after some thinking, I realized that we need something bigger to look up to, even if it’s manipulated to make it so.
I haven’t seen the movie. The premise of all these movies seems to be a “HERO” that inspires everyone to do better. I look at this as a displacement of responsibility. As long as we wait around for centuries we can catch someone great and hang our hopes on him or her to move the species forward……big deal.
I’m not saying fuck superheroes……if idealizing a being gets your spiritual juices flowing then cool, just don’t expect to build much on your infatuation. Ideally,everyone pulling together (and one of them has to be you) is what will bring about evolution. Step up and get gritty or recline with your popcorn and watch someone fake do all the heavy lifting……then wait for the usual assortment of climaxes that don’t seem to change anything.
AKA extra butter, triple salt.
Haha – you certainly do have a point, and I get what you’re saying. On my end of the theater (extra butter, light on the salt), I’m thinking about these movie characters as more inspiration than salvation. I don’t know how much of a difference these heros in movies/comics/whatever really make on the psyche of the masses, but I do want at least one who’s good to the core, and not just another pretty boy in a cape.