I saw Man of Steel over the weekend. I really enjoyed it until the part where I hated it with every fibre of my being. Spoilers abound here, so be careful, but Superman snaps Zod's neck and then lets out an anguished cry that mirrored my own. Lots of people much better than me have written about it. I agree wholeheartedly with my friend Mark Waid's review, especially with his feelings on Jonathan's death. I encourage you to go read that.
But now, Zach Synder has come out and talked about it. Here's what he said.
And the why of it was, for me, that if it’s truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained. It’s just in his DNA. I felt like we needed him to do something, just like him putting on the glasses or going to the Daily Planet or any of the other things that you’re sort of seeing for the first time that you realize will then become his thing. I felt like, if we can find a way of making it impossible for him–like Kobayashi Maru, totally no way out–I felt like that could also make you go, ‘Okay, this is the why of him not killing ever again, right?’ He’s basically obliterated his entire people and his culture and he is responsible for it and he’s just like, ‘How could I kill ever again?’
Here's why he's wrong:
I don't think you need to explain a hero's code against killing. If you felt that needed to be explained, we had a ton of flashbacks to his farm life. You couldn't find one moment on a farm to establish why he became convinced of the sanctity of life? Elliot S! Maggin did it in Miracle Monday in one scene. You couldn't do better?
Moreover, putting Superman in a no-choice scenario where he has to kill cannot be a reason to create a code against killing. If it is, that means that the next time Superman is in a similar situation, he's learned his lesson and would do the opposite and let the people die, right? No, he had no choice, remember? That's the way you set it up.
So when Luthor cloaks himself in the rule of law and tells Superman that he's untouchable and will continue to do his evil things, what's he to do? He has no choice again. Snap.
Having Superman use the death of Zod as a reason to codify his feelings about killing means that Superman made the wrong choice in killing Zod. And if he made the wrong choice, it means that there was another way.
And do not use the Kobayashi Maru as your example. The whole point of that story is that there are always alternatives. You change the conditions of the test. You find a way to win. THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A NO-WIN SCENARIO!
The thing here is that Superman won't kill again because they won't write him into that situation again. And they didn't have to write this one either. Here's what they said about that:
Killing Zod was a big thing and Chris Nolan, originally, said there’s no way you can do this. That was a change–originally Zod got sucked into the Phantom Zone along with the others and I just felt it was unsatisfying and so did Zack. We started questioning–we talked to some of the people at DC Comics and said, ‘Do you think there is ever a way that Superman would kill someone?’ And at first they said ‘No way, no way,’ and we said, ‘but what if he didn’t have a choice?’
That's just lazy. I came up with three different ways to keep the drama while I was watching that scene and yet leave Superman's hands clean. You want to see them?
The dialogue way: Zod lands in front of Superman and gives his speech about defending Krypton and now it's gone. Superman says he's the last Kryptonian. Zod says "No, you're human."
(Heck, you really want to hammer home this Christ imagery? Say that the Kryptonians seeded Earth Children of the Gods style. Or maybe they bred into the populace, Battlestar-reboot style. Not all of those sleep chambers in the scout ship were broken. There are lines of dialogue that say that Kryptonians hadn't adapted to Earth's younger sun. So it stands to reason Kryptonian ancestors would eventually lose their powers and become us. So the Last Son of Kyrpton was sent to our world to save the life that his forefathers created. Boom. Mic drop.)
Either way, Zod can't deal with this and pulls out a weapon to commit the Kryptonian version of seppuku. Want more? Have Superman try to stop him! And when Zod succeeds, Superman lets out the same anguished cry. Lois asks why he tried to get in the way of Zod killing himself and Superman says that Zod was his last tie to Krypton, and now he's completely alone again.
Besides, deep down, Superman wants to save everybody. Of course, you could have bolstered that with more scenes of him saving other people. But that's another rant.
The violent way: Keep your disaster porn. Zod starts scorching Grand Central station and Superman, who has the upper hand at that point, flies them away. He heads toward the World Builder's reactor core or to the sun or to something that will kill them both. Because Superman would die to protect the world. That's what happened in Superman/Doomsday. Superman kills Doomsday and, as penance, loses his own life. It's a more extreme version of "hanging up your cape."
Zod could either resist and in doing so, throw himself into the fire, or he could push Superman away because, ultimately, he can't let the Kryptonian Codex die, even in such an imperfect vessel. Zod is dead and Superman is alone.
The DeMatteis way: Disaster porn abounds. Superman and Zod fight, the same way. Zod kills lots of people. And then, get this, he kills Superman. Or Superman kills him. It doesn't matter. Because we cut to Superman and Lois watching Zod sleep fitfully in one of those hibernation chambers on the scout ship. Superman's used that same mind/memory machine that Zod used on him to trap Zod in his own mind where he can keep reliving the destruction of Earth. Superman looks at Lois and say "Maybe one day he'll see the error of his ways."
"You really think so?"
Superman points to his chest. "I told you… this stands for hope."
(Named after the great J.M. DeMatteis, who used this solution when Martian Manhunter bested Despero back in Justice League.)
This movie has been polarizing and I think it's because, as opposed to every other comic book adaptation, there is one clear moment that demands an opinion. In my opinion, we didn't need to have that one moment.