Some segments of the film and comic community are being extraordinarily tough on Man of Steel. And some are, bizarrely, appealing to the Superman given to us by Richard Donner, Richard Lester and Bryan Singer.
I am not addressing the folks who are equally critical of those films. But the people appealing to The Donner/Lester/Singer version either have poor memories or are willfully ignoring celluloid history. I am about to really blow it if you have not seen the movie.
In the climactic battle, Superman kills General Zod. Mind you, Zod gives him no choice. Zod promises to pretty much kill every man, woman and child on earth. And in a final act of desperation, as Zod is about to incinerate a family with heat vision, Superman snaps his neck. It was not the best choice…but it was not cold blooded murder, either. One can certainly argue Zod wins. He gets the warriors death he wants.
However, what you cannot claim is that this Superman crosses a line. Superman has crossed this line in the comics and films long before the Man of Steel.
And specifically in the Donner version of Superman. Superman 2 ends with Superman tricking the criminals into giving up their powers. He then triumphantly, and with a smile, crushes Zod’s hand before tossing him over a cliff. Lois punches Ursa, knocking her off another cliff. And Non tries to fly, falling off a cliff. At no point does Superman try and save them. He cheerfully flies Luthor off to Jail. Apparently, in the novelization they survive and are hauled off into jail. Except novelizations do not count. It is not in the films. And nothing in the films hint they survive their fall. Nothing hints they are jailed. Of course, the Donner cut undoes the deaths because Superman spins the world backwards, undoing everything that happened. Which is a terrible idea.
In addition, there is the fact that the Clark Kent character of the Donner films is a bit cruel. In both versions of Superman II while Clark is powerless, he is beaten up by a trucker bully. Each film ends with Clark going back to the diner, insulting the bully and then humiliating him physically and verbally. So we can all get a laugh when Clark makes a joke about having been working out. The Donner cut actually makes this worse, because Superman has turned the earth backwards and undone all the stuff that transpired before this moment. So, he is beating up a bully who has no idea who he is or why he is picking a fight with him.
And yet, people have been praising Donner’s version of Superman in their attempts to slam the Nolan/Goyer/Snyder take. One thing that should always be understood? Clark Kent is not Superman’s Passive Aggressive disguise.
Singer worshiped at the ground of Donner’s take, which means we got a Superman deep;y tied to the first and second films. Superman II ended with Superman making a promise to never leave Earth in the lurch again. Until a few days later when he left the planet to search the remains of Krypton. Leaving behind a pregnant Lois, his elderly mother, his job and other stuff along with the whole earth…for five years.
The world of the Donner Superman is every bit as flawed as the Nolan/Goyer/Snyder Superman. And at least the Nolan/Goyer/Snyder Superman felt regret about killing his enemy.