If you haven’t seen Man Of Steel yet, don’t read this article because I’m going to be discussing a major spoiler in the film. SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
Superman fans are still in shock from the final moments of Warner Bros’ Man Of Steel, in which the iconic hero with an impenetrable sense of justice makes a choice that leaves blood on his hands. Not only does Superman kill in Zack Snyder’s dark and violent take on the DC Comics superhero — he allows what seems like thousands of humans to die during Zod’s 9/11-esque assault on Metropolis and their building-smashing final fight. The heavy moral justification and death toll has sparked controversy among comics devotees around the hero known for 75 years for going out of his way to protect humanity. Have Snyder, producer Chris Nolan, and writer David S. Goyer spun the greatest American superhero on a path too dark for hard-core Superman fans?
Nolan’s brooding take on DC’s Batman in the Batman Begins trilogy gave WB its first hit in the modern superhero era and set a darker tone for comics-based superhero tentpoles to follow. But despite his influence on Man Of Steel it was Goyer and Snyder who insisted that Kal-El kill. “If you’re going to revitalize an iconic figure like that, you have to be prepared to slay some sacred cows,” Goyer said in a recent Empire podcast. “Originally, [Nolan] didn’t even want to let us try to write it. [Snyder] and I said, ‘We think we can figure out a way that you’ll buy it…’ I think it makes some people feel uncomfortable, other people say right on, but that was the point.” Of course, DC Comics famously offed Supes in 1992 to shake up decades of canon. And technically he has killed his enemies before — in the comics and arguably in Superman II.
Clearly Man Of Steel has done huge global business. Some critics and fans have complained that it’s not terribly fun and a downer, but WB is sitting pretty atop record-breaking box office and an A- CinemaScore. (The studio declined to comment for this article.) Most audiences are looking for popcorn fun and aren’t concerned with nitpicking, one studio insider says. It’s no coincidence that Man Of Steel overperformed with a $116M Father’s Day weekend, with parents and children buying tickets en masse to the PG-13 pic. WB isn’t talking about whether the already-in-the-works Man of Steel 2 or the eventual Justice League will pick up on the heavier tone set in Man Of Steel or build on Superman’s existential murder crisis. But the piles of cash speak loudly enough. Even if hardcore comics fans are put off, Goyer has admitted the aim was to corral general audiences: “Hopefully what we’ve done with the end of this film is we’ve gotten the mainstream audience, not the geek audience–hopefully we’ve redefined Superman.”