Now that Boardwalk Empire star Michael Shannon has been cast as General Zod in Man of Steel – Zack Snyder’s upcoming Superman reboot film – the Interwebs have been ablaze with the usual impassioned reactions, which encompass the typical range of “I hate it!” “I love it!” and “Meh.”
The biggest complaint – the one that has some fans making all sorts of dramatic/hyperbolic declarations - is that the inclusion of Zod in Man of Steel essentially turns this reboot – which is supposed to offer a ‘different take on Superman‘ – into a rehash of Richard Donner/Richard Lester’s 1980 Superman II film, in which Zod was also the primary nemesis.
However, does the simple inclusion of Zod automatically mean that Man of Steel is somehow doomed to run circles around an already familiar track? Certainly not, and today we have a few ideas to offer about how this Superman reboot might employ the character to a much different effect than Donner’s film did.
Who Is Zod?
If you’re not familiar with the character of General Zod, he has a long history in the Superman comic book canon, dating back to the 1960s. His origins have been revised several times, and there many “alternate universe” versions of the character, but the latest incarnation (developed by famed DC scribe Geoff Johns and Richard Donner himself) paints Zod as a military general on Superman’s home planet of Krypton. Superman’s father, Jor-El, was working with another scientist named Non to uncover the planetary disturbance that would ultimately lead to Krypton’s destruction. When the Kryptonian government learned of Jor-El and Non’s doomsday theory, they sent Zod and his troops to shut down the research. Jor-El began working in secret on the rocket to save his son, Kal-El (Superman); Non, meanwhile, tried to spread word of Krypton’s impending doom and was punished by the government by having his brain tampered with, leaving him a mindless thug (as seen in Superman II).
When Zod and his lover Ursa (who we know is likely to be featured in Man of Steel) learned the truth of Non’s warnings and his unjust fate, they sided with the tortured scientist and tried to overthrow the Kryptonian government, earning all three rebels a death sentence. Not wanting to see the trio dead, Jor-El proposed they be exiled instead of executed, and so he trapped them in “The Phantom Zone,” a pocket dimension that Kryptonians used as a prison. Eventually the trio were set free on planet Earth, and gained their own Supermanesque powers from the planet’s yellow sun. Endowed with the strength of gods, Zod and his team seek to conquer Earth and get revenge on the son of Jor-El for their imprisonment.
Zod In Superman II
In Superman II, General Zod was famously brought to life by actor Terence Stamp (see above) in a truly hammy performance that forever immortalized the saying “Kneel before Zod!” In Richard Donner/Richard Lester’s film, Superman/Clark Kent decided to give up his powers in order to reap the imagined rewards of a mortal life (read: marrying Lois Lane). When Zod and his cohorts showed up, Clark Kent realized that no matter what his heart may desire, there are certain threats in the universe that can only be stopped by Superman, forcing him to restore his powers in order to thwart Zod and ultimately serve the greater good.
This Superman II version of Zod was primarily used as an example of Superman’s own dark reflection – a suggestion that super-powered threats require a super-powered counter measure like Superman to deter them. Zod’s role in the film also reinforced a lot of the family themes that Donner and screenwriter Mario Puzo (The Godfather) started in Superman: The Movie – namely Superman’s father condemning Zod to prison in The Phantom Zone, and Zod’s subsequent views of Kal-El/Clark Kent based on his opinions of Jor-El, and what Jor-El stood for in the face of Krypton’s destruction.