‘Man of Steel’ Ending Controversy & The ‘Superman II’ Hypocrisy

Published 2 years ago by , Updated April 8th, 2014 at 7:06 am,

Man of Steel Superman II Zod Death Superman Kills Man of Steel Ending Controversy & The Superman II Hypocrisy



Look around the Internet these days and you’ll hear a buzz about the new Superman reboot movie Man of Steel, and aside from some pretty divisive opinion about whether the movie is good or not (read our review), one of the biggest topics of discussion is the climatic battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon), in which Superman is faced with the choice of watching Zod vaporize an innocent family or killing the ruthless general – ultimately (and controversially) choosing to do the latter.

There’s been vocal outrage on the part of some fans who feel betrayed by the notion of a  Superman who kills – but is the outrage legitimate?

In recent days we’ve heard from Man of Steel director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer, who revealed to Empire that in an original version of the script, Superman returns Zod to the Phantom Zone prison where he belongs – until Snyder convinced Goyer and producer/story writer Chris Nolan that Zod’s ending should be more permanent:

….David, Chris and I had long talks about it, and I said that I really feel like we should kill Zod, and that Superman should kill him. The ‘Why?’ of it for me was that if was truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained… I wanted to create a scenario where Superman, either he’s going to see [Metropolis' citizens] chopped in half, or he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.

dark superman by eliaskhasho d338bj9 Man of Steel Ending Controversy & The Superman II Hypocrisy

Collider and other sites have been critical of such reasoning – and even Mark Waid, writer of one of the comic books that influenced Man of Steel‘s story, stated on his blog Thrillbent that he was NOT happy with that moment of the film:

Superman wins by killing Zod. By snapping his neck. And as this moment was building, as Zod was out of control and Superman was (for the first time since the fishing boat 90 minutes ago) struggling to actually save innocent victims instead of casually catching them in mid-plummet, some crazy guy in front of us was muttering “Don’t do it…don’t do it…DON’T DO IT…” and then Superman snapped Zod’s neck and that guy stood up and said in a very loud voice, “THAT’S IT, YOU LOST ME, I’M OUT,” and his girlfriend had to literally pull him back into his seat and keep him from walking out and that crazy guy was me. That crazy guy was me, and I barely even remember doing that, I had to be told afterward that I’d done that, that’s how caught up in betrayal I felt. And after the neck-snapping, even though I stuck it out, I didn’t give a damn about the rest of the movie.

To be fair, Waid does go on to give a more level-headed explanation, saying he thinks the film failed to establish Superman’s concern with ordinary people to with enough emphasis to “earn” that moment of snapping Zod’s neck, though he did acknowledge the character’s anguish in the aftermath (that now infamous scream). Superman’s lack of concern for collateral damage has been something MANY people have criticized Man of Steel for – so Waid (who knows the character pret-ty well) does have a point, perhaps.

…But I ask again: Does NOBODY remember Superman II?


The Superman II Hypocrisy

general zod Man of Steel Ending Controversy & The Superman II Hypocrisy

Richard Donner’s sequel to Superman: The Movie told a darker tale that centered on Superman wanting giving up his powers in exchange for a normal life with Lois Lane – until evil Kryptonians General Zod, his lieutenant, Ursa, and brute enforcer Non all start using their newfound super powers to wreak havoc on Earth (sound familiar?). The movie ends with the now famous scene of Superman, Lois, Lex Luthor, Zod and his minions all having a Mexican standoff in the Fortress of Solitude. Superman craftily uses his de-powering chamber in reverse, restoring his own powers and stripping the bad guys of theirs. He then proceeds to murder General Zod!

If you’ve (somehow) never seen it, watch the climax of Superman II for yourself:

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  1. Didn’t care. No innocents died in the city battle. It’s supposed to be an effing warzone and nobody died realistically. Not even Laurence Fishburne who escaped certain doom through a cliche ‘last minute rescue’ by Superman’s timely actions. Oh brother…

    • No people died? didn’t you see all those people engulfed by flames when the gravity pump activated? Hell, the death toll was probably in the hundreds of thousands when all those buildings got leveled in the fight

    • Sigh, watch the scene again where the device used to terra-form lifts constantly messing around with gravity lifting things up and down regardless of what it is *sigh* get good.

    • …What? No innocents died? Are you serious?

      Speaking as someone who loved the movie, 9/10.

  2. Zod didn’t represent the last of Superman’s race. Zod was a programmed soldier created in a lab from the DNA of their ancient ancestors. He lacked all the characteristics of a complete being. His morality was non existent, just like the soldiers that fought along with Zod. Just like every biological robot created to serve a purpose in a tyrannical futuristic regime. A society structured and ruled through a preordained system of dogma, hierarchical rule. This was a complete bastardization, a shadow of whatever people and society that once existed.

    The council of elders that mined out the core of the home world and caused it’s destruction were created for a purpose just like Zod was. When Zod seemingly made a moral out of order reaction and killed the council, it wasn’t because he truly cared or had morality. It was because his programmed position as leader charged him with a responsibility that superseded his hierarchical position. He was put into a position were he had no choice as someone charged with both the protection of his race and the means to use force to act. That’s why he killed the council members. I would submit his delayed reaction as proof of his inner turmoil given his duel nature, so much so that this reaction only happened as the planet literally began to destabilize and soon after explode.

    The only wild card that existed in this society was the concept of Hope. Just like everyone else in this society they where made in a lab and programmed for that purpose of hope. They hoped they might conceive
    against all logic. The natural birth of that child, Superman ,was still only the product of a genetically modified parental unit if not for the parents infusing the ancestral codex into the very cells and fiber of Superman’s being.

    It was only after the Parents where created in the form of Hope did conceive a child and infused that child with the Ancestral Codex did Superman truly represent the resurrection of his people. He was the combination of all the working parts of that society, and truly was granted his moral soul.

    This I believe should have been made clear to the audience when Zod had lost his people and purpose towards the end of the movie. He became a completely unmasked creature. Without a people to protect or an army to fight with him, he was a pure daemon without purpose. Completely removed of any false moral. This is when he took on the true form, an embodied representation of the technological nightmare represented previously by a planet destined for total destruction.

    Zod was his planet. Zod was hopelessness. Zod was death. Superman was his people, his ancestors and the Hope. Superman was life. When I saw Superman holding Zod’s head in his hands. When he was ready to snap his neck. I didn’t think he was being placed in a moral dilemma over ending a life. I saw Superman clutching death and hopelessness in his hands. I saw Superman attacking with moral righteousness a soulless monster. For the life of a planet he was charged to bridge the gap between, by a father murdered at the hands of a biological abomination that represented only a false shadow of his people.

    I believe the moral dilemma lies in a choice different than anything I’ve read thus far. Superman’s choice, “Do I kill the family and twist his neck?” or do I let him live. With his right hand under Zod’s neck, the laser beams travels left to right towards the family. Will Superman kill the family to end Zod’s evil, to stop the destruction that would wage an endless battle between the two? A battle that would cause the deaths of millions.

    Superman Twists Zod’s neck, killing the family and Zod in the process. He yells out in anguish at the death of the family. The only reason Superman could possibly being yelling out at this point. For a split second we see the laser travel up at a slight angle not clearly hitting the family.

    Do we see the family safe? No we don’t. As we most certainty should, given the importance of this scene. However we do see 3 black marks on the wall a bit later. This is all that is left of that family. They are dead and Superman killed them. Justly In my opinion.


    I just didn’t really see that part so well, and the family is fine. He was just sad he killed his good buddy Zod, the biological robot, hell bent on destroying humanity.

    Is it possible that everyone is so blinded with the concept, Superman doesn’t kill, that they wouldn’t even consider this possibility?

    I completely concede this stance If the lasers clearly miss the family. It’s just not what I saw. It was at a drive in theater, but i did see it twice.


    At the least it should have been more clear, they could have shown the family walking away. Otherwise Superman’s reaction was really mellow dramatic. It would make more sense to me that Superman rip Zod’s head off and boot it into the sun, give his girl a kiss, roll credits. At least just push him off an ice cliff like in Superman 2. I’m joking about the head ripping off part. Superman would never do that! I just don’t like Zod.

    It’s an interesting exercise, none the less. Sorry for grammar/spelling.

    • He killed Zod because there was NO OTHER WAY. Clark knew that. He knew that he had to end the last living member of his people because Zod wouldn’t stop until everyone on Earth was dead. IF there had been any other way, Clark would’ve found it. He chose the lesser of two evils. If Clark reacted to that act like it was just another day, that would’ve gone against his character. The tragedy isn’t that he’d killed a man, it’s that fact that he is alone now. I’d be screaming too.

    • Well, wow, Jason. That certainly is a fun exercise. And thanks for taking the time to put all that out there. I, for one, am impressed. I didn’t know all that info about The Elders and Zod or any of the Krypton history.

      Very cool.

    • That’s a really interesting interpretation.

    • This is an interesting theory.

      for me, however, it’s a bit less murky. While I can see the dialectic you speak of here (Superman being Hope and Life, needing to literally destroy Zod, who was Soulessness and Death), this was by far a more personal battle. And no, this was not merely a battle of Good and Evil, because you are right; due to the amoral [not moral-LESS, merely coldly logical without the interference of morals]nature of Zod, he was willing to destroy innocent people so that HIS charges could live. Superman had to make the call of letting currently living people die so that others could live, literally stamping out the mechanism that would spark that exchange [Zod]. Just as Zod could not allow Krypton to die, Superman could ot allow earth to die…but there was no way the two could coexist peacefully [due to Zod's programming].

      In the John Byrne Superman series, Kal -El is the very LAST Kryptonian in our dimension. However, there IS a universe where Zod & his followers came into existence and wold escape the Phantom Zone, then coming to that earth, decimating it. There, that earth’s Superboy had already died, so a heroic Lex Luthor created a clone Supergirl and sent her to OUR earth to get Superman for help [this is Matrix, the Supergirl of the 90s]. After defeating them, Zod alluded to the fact that they would not stop until they had escaped the Zone again and destroyed both that planet, AND Superman’s world. Given no choice, superman used Kyrptonite to execute the criminals, and was tormented by nightmares of it for years after.

      In a story some years later, “The Green Bullet”, which appeared in a DC JLA annual of 1998, there is a “back story” that takes place before Superman & Batman are close friends. Essentially, Luthor uses lackeys and a fake Kryptonite bullet at the scene to frame Superman for the murder of an extortionist in Gotham. Batman confronts Superman on the killing, to which Superman answers, with a tormented face:

      “I have sworn never to take a human life…. I made the vow after I was forced to execute three kryptonian criminals some time ago. If I hadn’t, they would have wreaked havoc on the planet.”

      This view on Kryptonian killing was expressed differently in the Richard Donner Cut of Superman 2: the villians DIDN’T die. Then again, they weren;t outright “killed” in the most known version, either. It was IMPLIED in the original movie, but what actually happened is that Superman threw them into the Abyss of the Fortress, essentially jailing them in a crystalline prison. At the very end of the [extended shot] scene, Superman mentally triggers the destruction of that part of the fortress, forever closing the door that would allow them to escape and negating the Power reversal chamber. They weren’t “dead”, but no longer “on earth”, either. An explanation for the second, Donner filmed cut of this same movie also explains:

      “Much of the extra footage was directed by Richard Donner. In the ABC-TV version, a U.S. “polar patrol” is shown picking up the three Kryptonians and Lex Luthor at the end of the film. Without this ending, it appears that Superman has let the Kryptonians die, though Superman has a strict code against killing and their deaths aren’t necessary once they are depowered.”

      I bring this story up to show that Superman didn’t “kill” the Kryptonians, although the ambiguous ending we are shown here does make it seem so. In truth, without reading either of these notes, few would understand that in Superman II he either [a] trapped them in some other state completely, or [b] turned them over to the authorities. All of these examples, however, from the comic to the movie, DO showcase his code against killing.

      Thing about it is, these version of superman have both reason, and history behind them for that code; in Man of Steel, this is a completely original and novice Superman. While it IS safe to say he was raised and trained against it, it hasn’t been ESTABLISHED yet that he has “activated” that code.

      As such, this very act could be the thing that TRIGGERS Clark’s stand against killing; having had to take the life of a mad super being ffor the good of others, it could torment him, and thus force him to set that rule in place just as it did in the John Byrne comic. And again, to an extent, one could see how it was “necessary”. By this, I mean there was no immediately available option or choice, as he had already used his pod to send Zod ‘s followers to the Phantom Zone.

      I don;t necessarily agree with a “killing” superman , either, but then again, I have some issue with a lot of this film, good as it was. Not the least of which is Lois Lane so casually figuring out Clark’s secret, and then being ALLOWED to keep that memory before he even STARTS working at the planet! To me, that is a direct shot at one of the other big conventions of the hero. But again, in the context of the story, one can see how it was necessary to a degree.

      but, back to the killing; given the options that were presented to him in this film, how, or rather, what other way do you see was there for this novice superhero to stop this equally powerful and arguably better trained opponent who was bent firstly on destroying the world to save his people, and then secondly on destroying the human race purely for vengeance? There was no real prison to hold him, and even if he was kept in the Ship superman found, that risked escape, murder of Clark, and then complete destruction of the planet later. So I’m curious as to see how this could have otherwise been resolved.

    • Where the hell do you get all this DNA crap from?! New 52 isn’t Superman canon. Its just one out of MANY possible universes that exist in the now shattered DC Universe that exists since the events of Flashpoint. Mark my words, now that DC has back its rights to everything the courts gave the family estates, its only a matter of time before s*** gets resolved and we see the bottled city of Kandor again. Its COMPLETELY easy to resurrect the established preexisting DC Earth 1 by going back to, as they have before during the Marvel/DC access era when the Amalgam crossovers lasted like a whole year, sequential titles picking up with what the next month’s number would be.

    • you are good dude you really could really think beyond the critics and other viewers my problem with your comment is your where you said superman showing concern for zod is pointless come on dude you are one of the very few keen observer of man of steel you know why he was in anguish he just did against the teaching of his both pa and ma kent and jor el what he just showed to the people whom he should lead that killin is a choice this what superman never does he never kill he is the picture of truth and justice he just showed injustice according to what he had learnt fro his parents

    • The family lives, they are cowering in fear as Zod’s body falls to the ground. I agree that it would have been a much more interesting moral dilemma had Superman been required to sacrifice the family to end Zod’s tyranny.

  3. wish ppl would just stop comparing MOS to Superman 2.whatever hapened in the former has no bearing at all on the latter.MOS is an origin story so you either live with the new Kal-El or you dont.Zack Snyder has upset the comic fanboys who wanna see the big blue boyscout do the same dance as in the comics.thats unrealistic at best.at worst it means were gonna have to sit through another Superman Returns.MOS has set the ground work for a great sequel were his actions will be defined by what happened with Zod.

    • I don’t know. I like to think his actions with Zod will haunt Kal on a deeper level. The government and such will likely not care about Zod anymore, but I think that death/murder will play a part in in inhibiting Superman for some time, in the next film.

  4. Okay. So I guess the family was okay. Zod’s lasers missed them. It looked like you couldn’t tell when i saw it. Tired of looking back here to only see kids fighting back and forth. I won’t be posting here anymore.

  5. Big win Kofi. Big win.

  6. All I have to say about this is that if Superman (Christopher Reeves) broke Zod’s neck when he killed him, it would have been MUCH more “controversial” than the scene in Man Of Steel… *GRIN!*

  7. The fight scene in the middle of Smallville, the two villains were takes on Ursa & Nom, frome S2? Notice the hot chick, loyal to only Zod & the big alien, that didn’t speak, was Snyder paying homage to Donner? There were a few more references. Hitchhiking to the Fortress of Solitude, the fight in the diner & the death of pa Kent (I know that was S1). Snyder did it with Dawn of the Dead, figured he’d do it for Donner. p.s. noticed the IHOP & Sears product placement? & Ma Kent is now a MILF!

  8. The fight scene in the middle of Smallville, the two villains were takes on Ursa & Nom, frome S2? Notice the hot chick, loyal to only Zod & the big alien, that didn’t speak, was Snyder paying homage to Donner? There were a few more references. Hitchhiking to the Fortress of Solitude, the fight in the diner & the death of pa Kent (I know that was S1). Snyder did it with Dawn of the Dead, figured he’d do it for Donner. p.s. noticed the IHOP & Sears product placement?

  9. The fight scene in the middle of Smallville, the two villains were takes on Ursa & Nom, frome S2? Notice the hot chick, loyal to only Zod & the big alien, that didn’t speak, was Snyder paying homage to Donner? There were a few more references. Hitchhiking to the Fortress of Solitude, the fight in the diner & the death of pa Kent (I know that was S1). Snyder did it with Dawn of the Dead. p.s. noticed the IHOP & Sears product placement?

  10. The fight scene in the middle of Smallville, the two villains were takes on Ursa & Nom, frome S2? Notice the hot chick, loyal to only Zod & the big alien, that didn’t speak, was Snyder paying homage to Donner? There were a few more references. Hitchhiking to the Fortress of Solitude, the fight in the diner & the death of pa Kent (I know that was S1). Snyder did it with Dawn of the Dead.

  11. The fight Smallville, were the two villains takes on Ursa & Nom, from S2? Notice the hot chick, loyal to only Zod & the big alien, that didn’t speak, was Snyder paying homage to Donner? There were a few more references. Hitchhiking to the Fortress of Solitude, the fight in the diner & the death of pa Kent (I know that was S1). Snyder did it with Dawn of the Dead.

  12. The fight Smallville, were the two villains takes on Ursa & Nom, from S2? Notice the hot chick, loyal to only Zod & the big alien, that didn’t speak, was Snyder paying homage to Donner? There were a few more references. Hitchhiking to the Fortress, the fight in the diner & the death of pa Kent (I know that was S1). Snyder did it with Dawn of the Dead.

  13. The first season of the old TV program he put a couple on top of a mountain because they found out he was Clark Kent. An accomplice stole super mans costume and they tried to black male him. They both fell off trying to climb down. Oh well.
    Episode “The Suit”

  14. can you see my avatar ppl !

  15. Superman killed General Zod and Zaora and Quex-Ul in Superman #22 in 1988 with green kryptonite.

    They were the last living beings of a universe (the enigmatic being Time Trapper created it for some dark purpose) and they had just commited genocide – the entire human race. Superman knew that they could figure out a way to visit his world and destroy it just as well.

    Moreover, the Kryptonians of this universe were individually more powerful than Superman himself.

    The quandary was higher, the stakes were larger, and the repercussions were far worse.

  16. Before anyone else uses Superman #22 as a reference, please read it. It’s been cited incorrectly every time.

    • I have owned it since the day it came out in 1988. I was a wee 11 year old who read Superman killing for the first time.

      In Superman #22, Superman killed three Phantom Zone Kryptonians with Green Kryptonite, after he depowered them all with Gold Kryptonite. They promised him that they would find a way to travel to his world and destroy it as well. That was John Byrne’s final issue, and Superman as a result of that murder, suffered a mental breakdown in subsequent issues.

      Game. Set. And match!

      • Come to think of it, Quex-Ul choked Zod to death before Zod could die of the Greek K radiation. But Quex-Ul subsequently died of the exposure, and Zaora died last, promising him pleasures as he never imagined. Surely, that is a technicality, but Superman set the conditions for Zod’s death.

        Read his final words:

        As the last representative of the law on this world it falls on me to act as judge, jury and… executioner. [opens lead can of Green K]

  17. Just Saw Man Of Steel… Give me Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve Please!!!!!!!! Terrible movie. The plot was horrible!!! The city is destroyed…Building after building leveled!! And the next day They are all back to work??? I don’t know what kind of movie that was but it was not a Superman movie. Zack Snyder does not understand the Superman mythology!!! So hyper violent and so unrealistic!!! Suspension of disbelief is one thing….By the end I was openly laughing at the screen!!

    • Yup.

    • You’d mentioned that the city was destroyed. It was the World Engine that did most of that damage.
      Honestly, what should expect from a machine whose purpose is to terraform a planet? Additionally, one should expect a lot of violence to take please between combating super-powered beings. And especially since most of the beings are genetically engineered soldiers of war.

      Seeing that this is only an origin story of a young “super” man, we shouldn’t expect to see our Superman right away. We need to watch the character grow and let the story progress. If Superman became the Superman in Man of Steel, what room will there be for character growth in regards to his becoming?

    • Agreed. Horrible movie

  18. The Superman II script does not say: Zod falls to his death. Later in the script, he is arrested by the Arctic Patrol.

  19. I am fed up with people using Superman II as a justification without digging deeper. Why didn’t Clark just kill Luthor while he was at it? The Phantom Zone villains were dangerous? They were powerless!

  20. Whatever. Ignorance is bliss. Go America.

  21. Far as I’m concerned Man of Steel was just a remake of Superman II with a weaker script and flashier outfits. Still waiting for a movie that surpasses Christopher Reeve.

  22. Fast forward to 3:45. This is a deleted scene from SUPERMAN II by Richard Donner. It clearly shows the 3 Kryptonians ALIVE. So no, Superman didn’t kill them.

  23. Maybe it’s just a good movie.

  24. In the Richard Donner’s cut they did in fact died. All 3 villains.

  25. No they didn’t! Bloody hell, watch the film. Superman turns back time and they’re returned to the Phantom Zone. This article omits that there are three versions of Superman II and he doesn’t kill in any of them.

  26. If you’re going to reference Superman #22 vol. 2, you should at least read it. Too many are on the wiki and are repeating what they fight at some site. Zod and company could have made any threat that they liked, Gold Kryptonite removes a Kryptonian’s powers permanently. That’s canon. Superman could have easily locked them up in his dimension with no problem. He could have let the Spectre judge them. It was a bad story then and a horrible story now, and if it’s the reference that so many need to accept Superman killing in his first outing of this reboot, it shows just how deeply flawed the film is.

    • Dunno why you are not replying to my comment directly, but I have it in my hands, and I am correct.

      Gold K was used to depower the Phantom Zone criminals.
      Then Green K was used to kill them (technically, Quex-Ul choked Zod to death first).

      Now, as for your weak handwaves:

      Superman couldn’t “lock them up in his dimension” because they, individually were more powerful than he was. They proved that genocide was nothing to them. Therefore it stood to reason that they would destroy his world just as they did to Superboy’s world.

      That it was a “bad” story does not mean it never happened. There’s precedent, and all the hand-wave in the world won’t change that. Moreover, I thought it was a great story that showed Superman to be more than just some Gary Stu that never experienced any moral difficulties.

  27. Superman didn’t kill Zod in Superman II. Some fan speculation was that Zod died because of the fall; but if you look at the actual set that would require an unexplained and off-screen bottomless hole through the earth. In addition to that Superman turns back time so the villains never escape the phantom zone and are thus alive.

    It takes a willful ignorance of the movie to say he killed Zod because you have to ignore the original script, ignore the directors cut, ignore the actual intention, use only one narrow version of the ending that was done by a different director; and then with all of that you have to assume that the fortress has countless off-screen bottomless holes that go through the earth and assume that the fall kills him.

  28. If you actually did some research you would know the kryptonian villains fall into water and are arrested. Sure we don’t see it, but a simple google search would verify it.

  29. I happen to own an old World’s Finest comic where Superman says he WOULD kill, if there was no other way.