Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013 by Russ Fischer
If you had questions about the portrayal of Superman as a hero in Man of Steel, you’re going to be interested in the latest comments from director Zack Snyder. The film concludes with a battle in Metropolis, during which Superman and General Zod pummel the hell out of one another, and in so doing destroy massive sections of the city. The aftermath looks recognizably like a real-life war zone.
For months, people have argued over whether or not Metropolis had been evacuated prior to the battle. If it wasn’t, then scores of people must have been killed in the battle. But if people had been killed we would have seen them in the film, right? We don’t see them, ergo there are no dead people. (And what of the idea that we would have seen an evacuation happen?) I got the impression that there are mass casualties, and the fact that the “hero” of the film did nothing to try to avert them was a source of conversation afterward.
Now comments from Zack Snyder suggest that, indeed, loads of people were smushed in Metropolis, all to enahance some sense of myth.
Snyder said the following to the Japan Times:
I wanted the movie to have a mythological feeling. In ancient mythology, mass deaths are used to symbolize disasters. In other countries like Greece and Japan, myths were recounted through the generations, partly to answer unanswerable questions about death and violence. In America, we don’t have that legacy of ancient mythology. Superman is probably the closest we get. It’s a way of recounting the myth.
A few things. One, mass deaths don’t symbolize disasters — they ARE disasters. And the “unanswerable questions” that myths once tried to answer are now mostly, well, answered. So myth has a different role now than it once did. (We know, for example, why people die in Man of Steel. Because: punching. And because Superman never takes the fight elsewhere.)
There are mythological qualities to Superman — he’s like a god come to Earth, after all — but this brief explanation only raises more questions. Does Snyder think that mythological aspect of the character would not have been established through the traits that have been part of the character in the past? Or is there something about how Snyder sees myth working now that requires mass death? Is he trying to relate Superman to modern war and disaster in a mythological sense?
I’m glad this quote is out there, not because it helps settle the “evacuation or no?” question, but because it furthers the line of questioning about just what Snyder wanted to achieve with the film. I’d like to think that, anyway — I’m hoping that the explanation above was really the thought process Snyder and writer David Goyer had throughout, because then I’d know at least that there was a thought process behind the destruction.
The audience reading is still important, and what’s in the film, as opposed to what Snyder says he meant, remains vague. I can’t see how anyone would look at the Battle of Metropolis and think “it’s cool, everyone was already evacuated,” but you can if you want to.
In this case, the film being vague is a shortcoming, because knowing whether or not Superman’s actions (or lack of action — IE a failure to try to move the battle) caused mass casualties directly relates to who this Superman is. And maybe that’s where Batman comes in for the next film; perhaps he sees Superman as a villain, and vice versa. But that would play right into Joss Whedon’s argument about the end of The Empire Strikes Back, and the questions of whether or not Man of Steel works as a film on its own becomes a new argument once we see whatever follows it.