Superman is thought to be the ultimate American hero for many reasons. Man of Steel director Zack Snyder has compared his character to Jesus and said that he considers his origin story to be Biblical in nature, and Henry Cavill's co-stars have said that the actor personally embodies many of the virtues often attributed to the character.
With such a brave and morally resolute superhero at the center of Man of Steel, you might assume that the best way to make his qualities stand out would be to pit him against the most dastardly villains that the DC universe can muster, in order to make the contrast between good and evil shine. The main antagonist for the film is General Zod, a warlord from Krypton who was frequently pitted against Superman in the comics - but is Zod truly an evil villain or simply misunderstood?
CBM has published video interviews with two of the villains of Man of Steel, where they give their own perspective on the characters they play. Michael Shannon, who is cast as General Zod, has repeatedly said in past interviews that he doesn't consider the character to be a villain, which is probably quite a good approach for an actor to take; after all, it's difficult to truly empathize with someone if you consider them to be one of the bad guys, and if Zod believes that he's doing to best thing for his people then Shannon probably should as well.
The actor was asked about a previous statement he made with regards to Zod being misunderstood, and responded:
"I don't know if he's necessarily 'misunderstood' or just 'not understood'. I think it's all a matter of perspective, because if you're an Earthling, you're not going to like General Zod very much because he's basically willing to wipe you out in order to save his people, but if you're a Kryptonian you're probably like, 'Wow, that General Zod, he sure is doing the best he can.'"
Check out the interview with Shannon below (his comments on General Zod are at the 1:24 - 2:07 mark).
Playing Zod's second-in-command, Faora Hu-Ul, is German actress Antje Traue, who also starred in Christian Alvart's sci-fi horror Pandorum. Traue says that she deliberately did not read any of the comics in preparation for the film after a discussion with Zack Snyder, in which they agreed that it would be better for her to approach Faora from a fresh perspective. That character, Traue says, is a soldier without fear:
"As a woman, we always certain doubts and we think too much sometimes about ourselves... and all these things, they're not there for Faora. She's a bred warrior... Fear is a chemical reaction that was bred out of her and she doesn't have that. It's liberating to actually really think about it, that you're just a one-track mind, there's no filter, and there's no double meaning. She gets orders and she answers those orders without a question, and that's all she does. I tried to stay quite socially unattached, I spent a lot of time by myself shooting this movie, and just being focused on the training physically, being focused on my disciplines. It was more like the life of a soldier [than an actor]."
Check out that interview below (Traue talks about Faora's focus and fearlessness from the 0:48 - 2:08 mark).
While it might be argued that a set of purely evil antagonists work better in the context of a superhero movie, Traue and Shannon's descriptions of their characters actually suggest a far more interesting take on the clash of the Kryptonians. Previous trailers, as well as a tie-in book for the movie, have suggested that Zod will attempt to lure Superman over to the side of his own warriors, and that the hero will be tempted by the scope of power at his fingertips to rule over Earth with an iron fist (or perhaps a steel one).
For moments like that to seem real, it would actually be better if Zod and Superman's characters were not so distant from each other. They are both, after all, only doing what they consider to be the right thing. What separates them is really how they act and what their values ultimately are. In a recent Man of Steel TV spot, Zod is heard claiming that everything he does is for the greater good, and is subsequently called a "monster" by Superman. Yet many would say that "the greater good" is a noble thing to fight for.
Do you think that it's a good idea to have morally ambiguous villains in comic book movies, or do you prefer someone who you can really hate? Tell us what you think of these hints about Zod and Faora's characterization in the comments.
Man of Steel opens in regular and select 3D/IMAX theaters in the U.S. on June 14th, 2013.