So much has happened in the DCU in the last decade, that the movie that started it all – Man of Steel – now seems quite well-regarded, and is viewed fondly compared to some of the misfires that followed. However, when the movie was initially released – it was actually quite controversial – and it’s all down to that ending.
At the end of the first DCU movie Man of Steel, Zack Snyder made a huge decision about Henry Cavill’s Superman which many fans of the beloved DC character fundamentally disagreed with. He made Superman a killer. Supes snaps the neck of Michael Shannon’s General Zod to prevent him from frying an ordinary family with his laser eyes.
Breaking Superman’s “no killing” rule was not something that writer David S. Goyer or Snyder took lightly, and they faced opposition to their original ending – most prominently from producer Christopher Nolan. As Goyer told the Empire podcast (via IndieWire) at the time, Nolan initially said; “there’s no way you can do this.”
Snyder explained; “David, Chris and I had long talks about it, and I said that I really feel like we should kill Zod, and that Superman should kill him. The ‘why?’ of it for me was that if was truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained…”
The ending was then tweaked to include the imminent threat to the family; “I wanted to create a scenario where Superman, either he’s going to see [Metropolis’ citizens] chopped in half, or he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.”
Goyer said that once the ending was changed slightly, Nolan came on board with the idea. “I came up with this idea of heat vision and these people about to die, and I wrote the scene, gave it to Chris, and he said, ‘Okay you’ve convinced me.'” Goyer had run it past DC Comics for their approval, but some writers such as Mark Waid (Superman: Birthright) were outraged by the decision to make Supes a killer.
The controversy didn’t stop there, because Superman’s character became a lot darker than we’re used to in Batman v Superman, and he himself was killed off. Things got even messier with Justice League and the first Suicide Squad, and every DCU movie released since Black Adam at the end of 2022 has struggled at the box office.
James Gunn has now stepped in to launch a new era called Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters. All eyes will be on Superman Legacy to see how the most purely good, optimistic and hopeful hero will fit into the trend for most superhero movies to be dark and gritty. There’s also Aquaman 2 to come before then.