In Defense Of The Now Infamous 'Tornado Scene' In MAN OF STEEL
My thoughts on what is probably the single most controversial/ridiculed/misunderstood (take your pick) scene from a comic book movie in 2013. Read on for my take, and beware of SPOILERS if you haven't seen the movie (obviously).
This is the scene that has unequivocally divided fans down the middle and has even prompted some diehard Superman supporters to admit that it was stupid and nonsensical which I find really disappointing, personally I think it was one of the most poignant scenes from a comic book movie in recent years.
People will inevitably bring up Jonathan's death by heart attack in the original Superman movie as the perfect example of how to deal with the situation of mortality when it comes to Superman but there is really no specific way Jonathan should die, both of Clark's parents died of undisclosed causes when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first wrote his back story, they left it totally ambiguous so any interpretation is just as legitimate as any other.
Let's just establish what purpose Jonathan's death scene in Superman The Movie served, that Superman was based on the silver age Superman, the strongest Superman that's ever existed, he was practically an omnipotent and omnipresent God capable of doing anything and everything without even breaking a sweat, so it was important that Jonathan's death scene in Superman The Movie demonstrated that even Superman couldn't fix everything, it was important to show both him and us that he was not a God, his powers had limits.
Everyone knows that David Goyer likes to write in themes, Batman Begins (Fear), The Dark Knight (Chaos), The Dark Knight Rises (Pain) and the Man of Steel (Sacrifice) so keep that in mind, it's important to understanding what purpose Jonathan's death scene served in the Man of Steel.
When Jonathan was talking to a young Clark Kent about saving those kids in the bus, he said,
"There's more at stake here than just our lives Clark and the lives of those around us."
Retrospectively, this was clearly foreshadowing the tornado scene which would drive the entire narrative of the movie forward, Jonathan sacrificed himself for Clark and if you want to know what Jonathan was so afraid of, just watch Flashpoint Paradox, his fears were justified, Clark was still too young, too malleable, too inexperienced, too impulsive and too clueless to survive the weight of the world on his shoulders and Jonathan knew it, Clark was still just a boy at heart.
Now, remember what I said about how Jonathan's death scene in Superman The Movie helped demonstrate the limits of Superman's powers, this was especially important because that silver age version of Superman could sneeze away entire solar systems, manhandle planets and smash through dimensions but Superman in the Man of Steel was considerably less powerful so the same approach wasn't as necessary as it was in Superman The Movie.
In the context of the Man of Steel, Jonathan's death scene is all about sacrifice, not only Jonathan's sacrifice but it was also setting up Clark's sacrifice later on in the movie, learning limitations to his powers mattered little in the Man of Steel because he wasn't so incredibly overpowered to begin with but to learn about sacrifice was paramount for the narrative and development of Superman. Clark sacrificed himself, at least according to Jonathan, for the Earth and in the end he sacrificed Krypton and the future of his own kin, for us, for Earth.
The fact that Clark could had done A, B and C in the tornado scene is what made that scene so strong, It was a conscious decision by Jonathan and it was not a fluke of destiny ie a heart attack, basically it made the man of steel who he is and who he will become, Earth's greatest champion, because let’s face it, when Clark finally becomes Superman he sacrifices himself for us 100% and I think Jonathan gave him the courage to do that, Jonathan taught Clark his most defining lesson through his own death and I think that's rather poetic.
Clark sacrificing himself for the safety of Earth when Zod first shows up demanding Kal El present himself or else, Superman destroying the world engine on what was very likely a suicide mission, Superman destroying the scout ship, the genesis chamber which was Krypton's only chance at living again and Superman ultimately killing Zod, the last of his brethren, it was all about sacrifice, that's what Jonathan's death taught Clark, selflessness in the face of insurmountable odds which is the absolute epitome of Superman and what he represents.
Jonathan's death scene was the underlying pulse of the entire movie, Sacrifice is what the Man of Steel was all about, Superman sacrificing himself, his people and Krypton for us, the ungrateful humans, now that's some powerful storytelling.
Jonathan taught Clark his greatest, most valuable and most painful lesson through his own death, whether Jonathan realized it at the time or not simply doesn't matter, both death scenes were very well done, they were both set up to illustrate two very different narrative structures that would indelibly shape the last son of Krypton into our hero.
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