Man of Steel Screenwriter Explains Controversial Zod Death

The two most controversial scenes in Man of Steel are explained by writer David S. Goyer.

Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon in Man of Steel
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

When Man of Steel came out in 2013, the Zack Snyder-directed reboot of Superman’s origins became immediately controversial with fans due to two sequences.

In the first, a young Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) watches as his adoptive father Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) is killed by a tornado, with Jonathan covertly discouraging Clark from attempting to save him and possibly revealing his true identity as the Kryptonian alien Kal-El in the process.

The second and even more hotly debated scene involved a final standoff between the now-adult Superman and the villainous General Zod (Michael Shannon) in a Metropolis train station, with Superman forced to kill Zod before the latter can slaughter an innocent family.

While the Christopher Nolan-produced Man of Steel was advertised as a different, darker spin on the Superman mythos, fans rebelled against the presentation of both scenes, arguing that Clark/Superman would not let his father die, nor would he kill anyone himself — the latter a longstanding cornerstone of the comic book canon.

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In his career-spanning interview during the Saturday (July 25) portion of this weekend’s Comic-Con@Home event, screenwriter David S. Goyer defended both scenes while acknowledging that some fans might have been disturbed by them.

On Jonathan Kent’s death scene, Goyer explained, “(Jonathan’s) point was not that Clark should never reveal himself, that it was such a monumental decision that he has to be mature enough to think about the implications of what’s going to happen when he does do it.”

Goyer continued, “I understand that some people liked that scene and some people didn’t like it, and they say, ‘Oh, Superman could have figured it out.’ But what people have to remember is that Clark was only meant to be about 17 at the time.”

Saying that Clark was “untested” and “didn’t understand the extent of his powers,” Goyer added, “I don’t believe that Clark could have saved Jonathan without revealing himself…that was Jonathan’s point: ‘You’re not old enough, you’re not mature enough to take this on, because it’s going to change the world.’”

As for the killing of Zod, Goyer explained that the filmmakers wanted to put the young Superman in as difficult a situation as possible, saying, “Again, this is an immature Superman. This is the first time he’s ever flown, just days before that. He’s not aware of the extent of his powers. And he’s fighting somebody who won’t stop — (Zod has) said, ‘You can’t put me in a prison, I won’t ever stop.’”

Goyer maintains that the act of killing Zod is what actually leads Superman to vow he’ll never kill again, alluding also to a scripted but unfilmed sequence in which Jonathan takes Clark hunting and they kill a deer: “Young Clark is just gutted by the act, and Jonathan says, ‘It’s a powerful thing to take a life, even if you’re forced to take a life.’”

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Goyer said that the filmmakers themselves debated whether to have Superman end Zod’s life, even going as far as coming up with an alternate version of the sequence.

“The idea was that there was one of those sort of cryopods on the ship that ends up becoming the Fortress of Solitude that he is able to put Zod back into, and then throw out in space,” he revealed. “We did talk about it, and maybe some people would have been happier with it, but it felt like a cop-out for the story that we had been telling.”

Saying that he “absolutely understands that a lot of people had problems” with both scenes, Goyer maintained that they made sense for the Superman story that he, Snyder and Nolan set out to tell — which Goyer described as the cinematic equivalent to an Elseworlds alternate universe story.

“We were trying to tell a different kind of Superman story, a Superman story that hadn’t been told before, and it required us to take some big swings,” he said. “We talked about whether or not people would accept it. You know, the editorial staff at DC had accepted it. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake. But if you sit there and say, ‘I don’t want to take any risks, I’m worried I might offend a portion of the audience,’ I don’t think that’s a particularly healthy way to make a movie or a television show.”