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)