After seeing the Man of Steel it is safe to say that it is the best Superman movie ever made. Granted, the bar wasn't exactly high. Don't get me wrong, the Richard Donner films are still a nostalgic treat to behold and, with cherished childhood memories attached, hold a special place in my heart. But those were of a different Superman for a different time; Jonny Prophet and I both agree those movies represent the often silly, and random super power possessing Supes of the Silver Age. The next two films were abominations made watchable only by adding RiffTrax to them. And then there is Superman Returns.
There are those critics and movie-goers that claim that Superman Returns was a better film than Man of Steel. On a cinematic "art house Superman film" (thank you Kevin Smith for that quote) level they are probably right. Superman Returns was shot beautifully and, like Ang Lee's Hulk, brought a more existential story with complex characters. But like Ang Lee's Hulk, it was boring. Why? Because audiences don't want to existential films about the Incredible Hulk and Superman, they want movies where they fight bad guys and destroy stuff. With the exception of moving a mountain of Kryptonite, Superman Returns didn't have a climactic battle. But I've already bitched about Superman Returns before.
So the big controversy now is...
At the end of the movie, Superman kills General Zod. Lots of ardent comic book fans are angry about this because as a rule Superman does not kill. Generally, yes this is true. There was even a great storyline in the comics where Superman fought an "extreme justice" super team called The Elite (an animated movie of the storyline was also made).
I am completely okay with Superman killing Zod. It wasn't done out of spite or in a 'Dirty Harry with a cape' sort of way. Zod vowed to kill every human on Earth out of revenge for Superman foiling his plot to resurrect Krypton at our world's expense. Zod went so far as to proclaim that the only way he could be stopped would be to kill him, taunting Superman's sense of morality. After a long fight, Superman was trying with all his might to restrain Zod, who was trying to kill a family with his heat vision. Seeing that he could not prevent Zod's heat vision from reaching and incinerating the cowering people, he could either watch as the family of four, including two children, were burned alive or he could end it right then and there. So he broke Zod's neck.
To be fair, Superman didn't take it well. He immediately cried out in anguish over his actions and the situation at large. General Zod knew that Superman had a strong moral code that prevented him from arbitrarily killing his enemies the way he and his fellow Kryptonian rebels did. In some sense, Zod may not have expected Superman to break his code in order to end his reign of terror. Perhaps the movie could have been written differently, but given the script and the plot, I feel Superman did what had to be dome. It's just like in Trigun when Legato forced Vash to kill him, or watch as the mind-controlled villagers killed Meryl and Millie. It was a bad situation but it had to be done. It helps mold the character. Superman can still be against killing, he clearly was before and I'm sure he will be after that point.
Also note that Superman has killed in the comics when he had to. The most famous example is when he killed Doomsday (at the sacrifice of his own life) to prevent the monstrous killing machine from leveling Metropolis and taking countless lives. It was a last ditch effort and I think the Superman in the comics would have made the same decision as the one in the movie.
I find it funny that nobody seems to bitch about Captain America killing people with guns or Iron Man killing numerous humans in their movies. Hell, I don't remember anyone complaining when at the end of The Dark Knight, Batman killed Harvey Dent in a very similar situation where the life of a child was at stake. Frankly, Batman's anti-killing policy is even more intense than Superman's when you think about it. Even after the Joker killed Jason Todd, paralyzed Barbara Gordon and killed Commissioner Gordon's love interest (at the end of No Man's Land), Batman still insists on the legal system handling the fate of the psychopath.
Was Man of Steel perfect? Definitely not. But it was highly entertaining and gave us the Superman movie I, and fanboys all over the world, have wanted for years... a movie we really hoped Superman Returns would have been. Superman didn't kill General Zod in any John McClane "Yippy Kay-ay" manner. I doubt Superman will kill anyone on film again (except robots or maybe Doomsday if they make that storyline into a movie). This was one of those formative lessons for a superhero, not unlike Spider-man learning his actions indirectly lead to the death of Uncle Ben. Had he killed Zod in cold blood, I would agree with everyone else that it was against everything Superman stood for. But that's the thing... killing Zod is against everything the Man of Steel stands for. That's why they wrote it into the movie the way they did.