Today, I went to see Man of Steel and was sorely disappointed by the ending. Anyone who has seen it probably knows why. Nearly ten years ago, Christopher Nolan gained notoriety revamping Batman as a more realistic and down to earth hero (especially after the god-awful outing by Shumacher). In 2005, we got to see the training of Bruce Wayne, saw his motivations, and even got a logical explanation for his toys (especially that cool Batmobile, the Tumbler!). Long story short, it was box office gold. So much so, that he did a sequel three years later. It was even darker, and raised serious questions about the limits of how far law enforcement should go in a free society. It also raised a few red flags about Nolan's own political leanings.
Nolan almost seemed to be endorsing things like domestic spying and saying that it's okay for the authorities to go over the legal line once in a while for the sake of protection. Because it was the end of Bush's term, this was seen as an interesting observation of the times. But very little was made of Nolan's own beliefs. That is, until the third installment came out.
Dark Knight Rises, in comparison to the two previous films, is arguably the weakest. It is also the most politically brazen in it's seeming endorsement of conservative politics. Bane with his "anything goes once you get rid of the authorities" attitude and the mock trials of Gotham's rich read like something out of an Ayn Rand novel. I'm not the first to notice this either. Matt Tiabbi wrote a scathing review of the movie for Rolling Stone at the time it came out basically saying the same thing. This was the first major red flag for me that Nolan is hiding something about what he really believes and perhaps is not the best person to put on a Superman movie.
Superman, from his recession era origins, started as a liberal champion of New Deal reforms. Knocking down old slums to force the government to build new housing projects for the poor. Ending wars by forcing the profiteers who start them to fight in them. An early story from the thirties has him disguising himself as a miner to trap the mines owner and his rich friends in one of his unsafe mines to teach him what his workers have to go through after one of them got injured. These are the values his creators, two poor kids from Cleveland, intended. Over time, he became the symbol of the status quo. An official member of the Metropolitan police force, membership in most countries on Earth (with the exception of those evil communist countries) and beloved the world over. Not endorsing any particular beliefs one way or the other. As it probably should be for a world protector.
As time went on super-heroes became more complex, first with the introduction of Marvel and it's "flawed" super-heroes, then with "darker" works in the eighties like Watchmen and Dark Knight, the basis for the Nolan movies and written by Frank Miller, another fringe Randian. But through it all, Superman stayed the same no sided hero he always was. A revamp in the eighties, in an attempt to make him more realistic, got rid of some of the sillier elements that got attached to him in the Silver Age, like Superboy and the super-pets. But one of the more clever changes involved turning Lex Luthor from a mad scientist to the more believable, for that era, villain of a corrupt billionaire. This was perfect for the Gordon Gecko eighties.
Through various incarnations on TV, like Lois and Clark and Smallville, we see this reflected. Luthor is the big man in the city until the flying alien shows up to steal his thunder. He has what Luthor's money could never buy. A natural ability. The latter show has Clark and the rich kid Luthor start out as friends after Clark saves his life in the first episode. And although it went off the rails in the later seasons, the idea of the rich kid from the city who is pushed by his father to be a Machiavelli and the poor farm boy with the powers of a demi-god but chooses to use them for the betterment of others shines through. This contrast is the perfect contradiction of liberal and conservative politics.
Clark has much but uses it for the betterment of all. Lex has much and wants more at the expense of anyone. It is almost impossible to make Superman a conservative in the modern sense. He is too giving; too kind. Contrast that with today's modern "every man for himself" attitude of conservative politics. And it is this attitude that I believe makes it impossible for a conservative to truly be a super-hero. Superman does not judge, he simply helps out where he is needed.
Nolan was an odd choice to direct a Superman movie in my opinion anyway. Just as with the Superman animated series in the mid-nineties, you have Batman fans making a Superman show. To those who never saw this version, they "humanized" Superman by reducing his powers to the point where he would have trouble lifting a car over his head. This was an attempt to make him easier to write for but it also made it clear the people doing it didn't necessarily want to be making Superman. To be fair, this got better with the follow up Justice League series that took place in the same universe but even then, Batman was still portrayed as the adult who makes all the rational decisions while the other heroes were still intimidated by a guy whose only advantage is he dresses all in black.
Making a successful franchise only works if the people doing it want to be doing it and not something else. Nolan got pegged to make the Superman revamp only because he did such a good job on Batman despite the fact that they are two different beings. So how does a Batman fan make a Superman movie? By making him "darker". Making him edgier with a darker costume and more complex origin.
In this origin, we see a Krypton in the throws of destruction due to, let's be quiet blunt, fracking of it's core. The planet has become unstable and is about to collapse and the only one who can see it is Jor-El, Superman's daddy. Not long after he warns the planets government and is roundly ignored, the government is nearly overthrown by general Zod, the leader of the Kryptonian military. His plans stopped, he is put on trial for treason and sent into space as punishment. But not before Jor-El sends his son to Earth for a better life.
The sequences of Clark growing up are your typical Superman fair. He is a child that has to hide what he can do and in some cases, can't control his abilities in school. Such as when he hears everything in town while sitting in class. He spends his youth wandering the world taking odd jobs. Nolan's "every man for himself" attitude is hinted at in a flashback when Clark rescues a school bus full of kids and his father chastises him for exposing himself despite the fact that he kept kids from dying. When asked if he should have just let the kids die, his fathers response seems to be "maybe". In fact, this is basically the only real role his human father has in the movie is telling his son to keep his secret no matter what. Even when lives are at stake.
When he finds out his true origin, Clark puts on the Super suit and goes out into the world. I won't go into the whole movies dynamics but the basic premise is that Zod and his soldiers escape their prison and find their way to Earth to find Kal. Fights ensue in both Smallville and Metropolis and long story short, once Zod masters control over all his powers, he poses a serious threat to Superman. Up until then, him and his people were seen largely just leaping into planes and people.
Towards the end, Zod has cornered a group of helpless humans and is threatening to sear them with his heat vision. Superman has him in a headlock begging him to stop but he refuses. With only seconds to spare before the beam reaches the trapped humans, Superman does the only thing he can think of...he snaps Zod's neck like a twig. That's right, the symbol of perfect moral virtue for the past 75 years, kills his enemy.
There were probably a million ways to end this movie. There were hundreds of Kryptonian ships flying around shooting up Metropolis. It would have been pretty easy to write an ending where one of them falls on Zod accidentally or have him get sucked into the Phantom Zone with the rest of his team (yes, that happened too). Instead, Nolan, the man who thought it's okay to wiretap every phone in Gotham and reduced the complexities of wealth and poverty to a bunch of ungrateful urchins like something out of Les Miserables sentencing rich people to be executed for nothing, decided to have Superman break the one rule no other version has ever done in any franchise. THE one rule of Superman. HE DOES NOT KILL.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is why conservatives cannot be super-heroes. Even in a franchise where killing is the biggest no-no of all, they do it anyway. Because law and order and all that. There are super-heroes who kill, make no mistake. Wolverine, Punisher, even Wonder Woman on occasion. But give them control over the one guy for whom killing is off limits and they still do it. This is the conservative mindset. The ends justify the means. No matter what. Because we have to send a zero tolerance message even if it means destroying everything that makes a character every child looks up to something he's not.