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‘Man of Steel’ Ending: What Would You Have Superman Do? (Spoilers)

Posted: June 16, 2013 at 9:17 am   /   by   /   comments (24)

Man of Steel High Res Movie Poster Henry CavillI am a big Superman fan. When it comes to DC comics, he is only second to Batman – because let’s face it, Batman is the best. But in all seriousness, Superman is an amazing superhero. He is also an American icon, who has fought for truth, justice and the American way for over 75 years.

Leading up to the big release for Man of Steel, I found myself watching trailer after trailer, hunting for new stills, hoping to get a glimpse of our hero in his new red and blue. When the first teaser trailers came out, narrated by Russel Crowe and Kevin Costner, they nearly brought tears to my eyes. They were perfect. Those teasers still send chills through my body, even after seeing the film twice.

The second official trailer came out, and gave us our first real look at the film. We see young Clark Kent, and get a glimpse into his struggle with being different. “You just have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be Clark,” Jonathan Kent tells him. “Whoever that man is, he’s gonna change the world.” It just kept getting better and Better. And the third trailer was no exception, and is probably one of the best trailers I have ever seen. I hadn’t been this excited to see a movie since The Dark Knight Rises.

When it came time to finally see Man of Steel, stakes were high and expectations were even higher. Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan and Warner Brothers built this film up so much for me that they had better deliver. And when I left the theater, there was no doubt it my mind that they had done it.


So why were so many negative reviews coming in? Why were the top critics around the country split down the middle on Rotten Tomatoes? Was this not the best Superman film ever made? Many would argue no. Until convinced otherwise, I would say yes. Spoilers ahead.

One of the biggest complaints that i am hearing, which is getting an overwhelming amount of the blame, is the ending. If you are reading this, you should have already seen the film, and know that Superman kills General Zod. Zod threatens the lives of several humans who are caught between him and a battle with Superman, and aims his heat vision directly at them. Superman has him in a choke hold, and begs Zod not to do this. But in the end with Zod’s promise to kill every human on Earth, and his sights no more than a foot away from his victims, Superman has to make a decision that he had never hoped to – to kill.

If you or anyone was in the position that Superman was in, what would you do? By choosing not to kill Zod, which would have ultimately meant the death of several others on a smaller scale, is that not killing? By making the choice not to save a life, are you taking one? That is a philosophical question that is up for debate, but in either case that is the one that Superman faced at that very moment. And he did something that he obviously regrets having to do, as he yells out in agony after the deed is done. But what other choice did he have?


You can argue that Superman should have never been put in that position in the first place, never having to make the choice. But even so, look who he was dealing with. Zod is from Krypton, chosen to be a warrior, and has trained for years to do so. He was literally born for it. Physically, he is Superman’s better. Even though Superman has had more time to adapt to Earth’s conditions and understand his powers, it doesn’t take long for Zod to figure it out. And it makes sense; again, Zod was the general of the entire army on Krypton. How could someone with no military training compete with their physical equal, who was bred to kill. And I commend Superman for doing as great as he did. The point is, if Superman didn’t kill Zod he would have killed those innocents there – and wouldn’t have stopped until either he or everyone on Earth was dead.

Now let’s look at Superman’s past. For those who are saying the film went against everything that Superman stands for, let’s look at what he has done in the source material and previous films.

  • In Superman #22 (1988) by John Byrne, he kills the three Kryptonians after they commit mass genocide. The choice was no easier to make then, but it is once that he has to live with.

    Superman Kills Kryptonians 22 John Byrne


  • In Superman Volume 2 Issue 75 (1993) Superman has to make the decision to kills Doomsday, or let him kill countless humans. He even says, “For Lois… and Jimmy… For this ENTIRE CITY… I’ve got to put this guy away while I still can!” He isn’t talking about putting him behind bars. In the end, he kills Doomsday – ultimately sacrificing his own life for the lives of the people he loves.

    Death of Superman Vol 2 No 75 Cover   Superman Vol 2 no 75 Kills Doomsday


  • In Superman 2 (1980) Kryptonians Zod, Ursa and Non escape from the Phantom Zone. They come to Earth, forcing the president to kneel before them and plan to enslave the planet. After taking Lois hostage, Superman lures them to his fortress of solitude (with the help of Luthor). There he tricks them into losing their powers, and defeats the three of them.
    Superman crushes Zod’s hand, throws him hundreds of feet in the air and lets him fall to his death. Non tries to fly and attack Superman, and he lets him fall to his death. Lois actually kills Ursa, by punching her and letting her fall to the same doom as Non.  The argument can be made that we never “see” them die, as we do in Man of Steel, but I think the demise is obvious with their powers gone and them falling from such heights.

Superman does not ever want to kill. But he also does not want to let people die. Saving people is pretty much what he is all about, and if it comes down to making the ultimate sacrifice – it is a decision that is not taken lightly. You can make the argument that Superman didn’t kill for 50 years in the comics. But remember that this is a reboot, and Superman didn’t have 50 years before killing Zod. This is a young Superman, one who hasn’t had decades to come to terms with his powers and why he is on Earth. It shows in the scene where he lets his emotions get the best of him, when Zod threatens Martha Kent. An inexperienced Superman flies through the air full force into the general, pummeling him through buildings and gas stations. He causes explosions, puts the lives of several at risk. This is the Superman we are dealing with, and one that will have to grow as he learns from his triumphs and failures.

Yesterday, Entertainment Weekly wrote an article titled “What ‘Man of Steel’ gets wrong about Superman (hint: that ending).” The first thing you see is this image from Action Comics #583:

Superman Doesnt Kill Alan Moore What Ever Happened Man of Tomorrow

Using this as proof that Man of Steel is a failure because Superman kills is absolutely ridiculous. Why? Because the panel happens right after he just killed someone. “I killed him Lois! I Intended to kill him!” Of course Superman “shouldn’t kill,” and nor does he want to. But the fact of the matter is that he has done it before, and he hates himself for it. Here is the entire page, with the aforementioned panel in context:

Action Comics 583 Superman Kills

The question at hand is: with Zod on the loose, and the lives of billions at stake, what would you have Superman do differently. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments.

Previous Comments:

  1. Case closed. Excellent retort. You should email the relevant portion to Entertainment Weekly with that comic panel in context. Seriously, I bet they would publish it in the mail bag section.

  2. THX1138

    “By choosing not to kill Zod, which would have ultimately meant the death of several others on a smaller scale, is that not killing?”

    People who make this argument are overlooking how so many buildings were being smashed up during the fight. How many off-screen deaths do you think occurred? Where was Superman’s agony when these people were killed?

    Oh, right, they’re just “collateral damage.”

  3. Stephen

    What bothers me most about Superman killing Zod is the fact Zach Snyder and David S. Goyer are creatively bankrupt. The Superman I know would’ve found a way to stop Zod without killing him.

    Man of Steel bent over to give audiences what they wanted and make money for Warner Brothers instead of telling a story that was actually good and giving people a role model to look up to. By killing Zod Superman was brought down to his level and there was no true victory, nor did the movie devote more than 10 seconds to show how killing Zod changed Superman.

    These two articles provide a more in-depth analysis on why Superman should not have killed Zod, and I hope they cause Kevin Brackett to change his mind.

  4. Scott

    They wanted to show Superman killing Zod because they thought it would appeal to people.

    What would I have had Superman do? I’d have had him keep fighting. The Superman I know would have never quit and never given in. Superman would have taken Zod up to the moon and held him there, forever, if need be. Superman is a tireless champion of truth and justice who is imminently capable of containing Zod in a never-ending battle. That is the sacrifice Superman would have made.

  5. Jen

    What would I have done?

    I would have had the portal to the Phantom Zone remain open for a bit, Zod attacks Superman and they fight in the crater until finally Supes knocks Zod out, Zod floats into the portal, and it closes. This isn’t a matter of ethics, this is a matter of terrible writing. If he hadn’t been in the situation in the first place, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Forcing him into that situation was completely pointless.

  6. J

    What ticks me off is that these people made such a big deal about the fact batman does not kill but then made odd circumstance that forced superman to kill in the very film.
    All he had to do was fly straight up to save those particular people.

  7. Jason

    To THX1138 –

    The buildings were all evacuated. As evidenced by Perry’s actions in the Daily Planet offices, “We are leaving, people!”

    And if you want to rage about Superman NOT killing Zod, you need to first complain HEARTILY about Superman killing Zod, Ursa, and Non in Superman 2 where they were COMPLETELY POWERLESS and very easily able to be HELD IN AN EARTHLY prison system.

    Man of Steel is light years beyond any previous Superman movie.

  8. joey1013

    Actually everyone who posted doesn’t know what the hell they are talking about. In Superman II yes Richard Donnor’s cheesy movie, Superman killed 3 kyptonians oops did I say that?. He took away their powers when they were powerless he thrown Zod down the hole to his death. Lois killed Ursa too. So stop with your Donnor worship and get facts straight. By the way Zod was killed by Superman all the time in comics. Comics trumps movies that are not based on them.

  9. Black C. Tzar

    To J–

    The whole point about Batman not killing is a much deeper issue. Batman doesn’t have super powers, there for he’s making a “mortal” decision – its always man vs. man so to speak. Zod is bred to withhold Krypton by any means, therefore Superman knows that to have him live means that he would kill all on the planet so that he could go about and try to recreate his home world. So it wasn’t about those 3 or 4 people right there, it was about the planet. So far, and only in the movies, Batman hasn’t had to face that dilemma.For more on Batman read this interesting editorial.

    Batman’s No Killing Policy – A Necessary Ideal or A Self-Serving Abstinence? –

  10. Cesare

    so…..the THOUSANDS that must have died in Metropolis during the battles, what, they don’t count?

    D U M B movie

  11. Tom

    Great article, thanks

  12. Jack

    Yes, you’re right about “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” Right before he says that he kills someone. BUT, right AFTER that he willingly gives up all of his powers. Why? Because once he’s allowed himself to kill, he can’t trust himself. Because once he’s allowed himself to kill, he risks becoming a fascist. If murder is a solution for him then why should he do anything else? There’s nobody he couldn’t kill. Also, the movie didn’t do a whole lot to show me that Superman tried anything else, or cared much about the city he was leveling and the thousands that died there, so the decision didn’t feel earned, or feel like it had much consequence. Killing a villain is an easy out (from a story perspective), and it’s bad writing. It doesn’t require sacrifice. It doesn’t make us consider justice, or mercy, or any of the things Superman is supposed to stand for. If the bad guy dies, we don’t have to ask any more questions. That’s a pretty shallow definition of justice if you ask me. The movie shouldn’t have let the story go there, except that it was more interested in disaster porn than character.

  13. Jack

    As for Batman, the issue of Batman killing was actually my biggest problem with Batman Begins. At the end when he and Ra’s are on the train, he says “I can’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.” Um, YES YOU DO HAVE TO SAVE HIM. That’s what Batman does! Again, it’s about justice. A dead villain doesn’t have to answer for their crimes. They’re just… over.

  14. Alex

    During their battle Zod made it clear, “There’s only one way this will end . . . either you die or I die.” If Superman spared Zod, he would simply kill again.

    As Alfred once said, “Some people cannot be reasoned with, some people just want to see the world burn.” If Bruce had only listened to that and killed the Joker when he had the chance, a lot of lives in Gotham would have been spared . . . perhaps including that of Rachel, and Harvey would have remained on their side.

  15. Nick Charlick

    Sick and tired of everyone moaning about Supes killing Zod. It was his only way out. If he didnt kill him the people wouldve been friend and Zod would just kept on killing. Now to me thats known as Genocide. The point of the scene follows on from what Zods right hand women says earlier in the film ‘The problem you have Kal is you have a sense of Morality’. Clark didnt want to kill Zod as you can tell from the Scream of agony at the end, but it was the only way to save earth. End of Story

  16. Trunks929

    This is the best Superman film to date. However, I’m pretty sure the reason the reviews were split down the middle wasn’t because of the decision to kill off Zod–100% sure.

    what about: lens flare? shakey camera work? poor character development? action sequences that drag far too long (yet no one really gets dirty).

  17. JeDi

    maybe these critics wanted Superman to just wrap Zod in a giant cellophane “S” and throw him in an Earth jail where he can get out in no time, more powerful and angrier….yes that makes more sense than choosing the lesser of two evils, kill Zod and save humanity or let him live and watch him destroy everything you’ve ever known. This shouldn’t be a question of morality, but a question of doing what is right for the greater good….even if it means destroying the source of evil by snapping his neck.

  18. Jimster

    Superman doesn’t kill Zod in Superman II, no more than he abandons Luthor to the freezing arctic cold.
    A deleted scene, used for TV airings of the film as well as the restored Donner Cut, shows both the Kryptonians being arrested by the authorities just outside the Fortress.

    Regarding this being a “young Superman”, I’d just like to point out that Clark Kent in the first Superman film was twenty eight years of age during the events of the first film (eighteen when he builds the Fortress, followed by Jor-El explaining that ten years have passed since when we see Superman in the suit for the first time), and if the same time has passed between Superman I and II in movie time as real-world time, then he’s thirty by Superman II.
    By comparison, the Superman in Man Of Steel is established to be thirty-three years of age, a whole whopping three years more than Superman II and five years more than in Superman. You cannot say that this is a “young Superman”. It’s practically depressing that he sat on his powers that long because “the world wasn’t ready for him”.

  19. matthew berriman

    I think its great, I have to believe that in my lifetime there will be a Dark Knight Returns film and we need a superman that will do these sort of things for the good(?) of the people, E.G tearing off Oliver Queen’s arm.

  20. Ryan

    The issue of killing Zod is only part of the problem, as pointed out the collateral damamge and 1000s of people killed by Superman and Zod due to Superman not taking the fight elsewhere is a much bigger issue. Thanks Superman Protector of Earth, great protection when you level most of a city and kill so many innocents.

    As for what would I have done in his situation? Well for one, how’s about fly straight up? Oh, the people are safe and Zod is alive. At that point you can put Zod in the Phantom Zone and be done.

    Also the issue in the comics of killing Zod. The one mentioned most is after Zod has exterminated an alternate Earth, been stripped of his power, and has told Kal that he WILL get his powers back and kill everyone Kal holds dear. THAT is no choice. And he even banishes himself for a time becuase of what he did.

    Hell in this movie had he just taken the fight out of the city he never would have been in that situation.

    Also to the person that said the buidlings were empty. Ok for one, it’s sometime AFTER the spider ship thing shows up before Perry says that and Perry White evactuating the Planet does not mean the whole city is empty. Have you never watched anything that shows that many people trying to leave at once? GUess what, they can’t get far fast, so many people were there and would have been killed BY Superman.

  21. Max

    Its sad that after this concise and detailed explanation of the truth about Superman, people still don’t get that Superman is not what you think it is, it is what is in the pages of comic books! And in those comics he has killed! So please stop with your nonsense about the Superman idea you formed in your head and understand and accept that you need to read the Superman Comics before you open your fat mouths again!

  22. Juanjo

    I totally agree with your review, it’s a shame some people watched the movie expecting something they’re familiar with; nostalgic nonsense. Best Superman movie ever, one of the best superhero flicks ever, I can’t wait for more

  23. John F. C. Taylor

    I’m okay with the ending. After all, the movie wasa a cheat anyway. I mean, word for word dialog straight from the animated show. That and the costume. Almost black latex instead of the blue and red cloth. And Russell Crowe. His version of Jor-El looked like some scruffy bum, not Kryton’s most brilliant scientist. Give him a shave.

  24. afrocut

    Thanks you just proved the problem with the movie..
    1). Superman never thinks. He’s portrayed as someone who uses brawn to solve things . “i had no other choice” is what many killers say to make them selves feel better. He had him in a choke hold,he couldn’t knock him out? Cover his eyes? Fly him up through the ceiling? Eye beam the back of his head ? Smash his face into the floor? Nope, kill.
    2). The last panel you use is evidence of why it was bad. Once he kills he gives up his powers. In every incident of him killing ,he has gone into the movie he movies on instantly and smiles and says “im from Kansas.” wtf!? Where is superman’s brains? Where is all the lessons he learned from his adoptive father? Where is everything that makes him…super?