Sunday, July 5, 2020

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Man of Steel Scene 8

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 8 (the trial of General Zod) of Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder.

  • Light and sunset
  • Homage to Superman: The Movie and Superman II
  • Zod's outburst and personal vendetta against the Els
  • Black Zero and the Phantom Zone
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<Transcript below>
Welcome, fans of Man of Steel, to the Justice League Universe Podcast where we analyze the DC Films produced by Warner Brothers studios. You can follow the show on twitter @JLUPodcast. My name is Alessandro.

In this episode, we are focusing on Scene 8 which is the trial of General Zod following the launch of Kal-El’s escape pod into space toward Earth. The scene transitions from the blinding light shining on Zod to the bright glow of the giant sun in the background of an establishing shot.  We see a quick shot of the Black Zero ship hovering directly above the council’s tower. It’s silhouette against the big sun of Krypton as it descends slowly over the city is a foreshadowing of the future fate of Metropolis. The sun setting in the background is also symbolic of Krypton having had its day, and now that day is coming to an end.

We immediately know the focus of this scene as we hear a voice say General Zod’s name. It is the council member who had earlier asked Jor-El what he would have them do about their depleted resources and the coming crisis. In a reversal of fortune, it is now Zod being tried and punished accordingly by the council. The charges are murder and high treason. We don’t know how many other crimes Zod might have committed in pursuit of his mutiny, nor likely does the council, however we saw the crimes of murder and high teason ourselves a couple of scenes earlier when Zod stormed the council, shot one of its members, and proclaimed himself the new authority.

Just as the blinding light and the sun were a visual transition from Scene 7 to Scene 8, we also have a visual link in terms of the blocking of the characters. At the end of the scene at the citadel, Zod was standing in the foreground with Faora and the rest of his soldiers were spread out in a circle behind him. Now they are in a very similar position, with a key difference being that they have wrist restraints.

The overall scene is reminiscent of Zod’s trial from Superman: The Movie and Superman 2.  But unlike those movies, in Man of Steel we actually got to witness in this film the crimes that landed Zod in the Phantom Zone. He is sentenced to 300 cycles of somatic recondition. This is actually pretty interesting wording. We’ve come to understand that the Kryptonian race views genetics as somewhat of a be all, end all of who they are. There’s little in the way of spirituality or self realization. They assign jobs based on those genetics and are expected to adhere to specific traits according to their roles in society. They rely on the codex to essentially program babies before they are born. But we’ve also seen Kryptonians defy those roles, Jor-El in particular as well as Lara. Somatic reconditioning by its definition suggests a repairing of the body, in this case on a cellular level akin to each Kryptonian’s initial programming via the codex.  However this not only ignores potentially psychological or spiritual origins of Zod’s deviance, but it also suggests that he is acting against his programming when in actuality it is his programming that led him down this path.

Speaking of Kryptonian culture, this entire trial is basically an indictment of their failed system. Jor-El had been trying to warn them about the imminent destruction of their planet, but the Kryptonian council members were still caught up in their traditions, their ornate garb and protocols, and, as Zod pointed out, their pointless debates. Even now, as they are even closer to their destruction, they are still going through the formalities of a trial and sentencing when in fact everyone on the planet is already sentenced to death. It will turn out that Zod and his crew were lucky to be sent to the phantom zone. They are doomed to survive a bit longer than the rest of the Kryptonians.

But in the moment, Zod is not happy about it at all. He lunges forward and yells at the councilman, “You won’t kill us yourself. You won’t sully your hands, but you’ll damn us to a black hole for eternity.” The reference to a black hole is helpful to the general audience, so that people can follow along with the gist of what’s happening even if they’ve never heard of the phantom zone. Another nice thing about this line, in addition to showing Zod’s trademark fury, is that it foreshadows the conclusion of the movie when Superman actually does sully his own hands by killing Zod himself. In that way, Superman is showing an evolution beyond old Krypton. Not that execution is better than permanent banishment, but Zod at the end of the movie presents an immediate threat and Superman is willing to take the necessary, direct action. This contrasts with the Kryptonian council that takes indirect action with Zod and they don’t take any actions at all with respect to the threat to their world.

Zod continues, saying that Jor-El was right that the council is a pack of fools. So in this way, Zod and Jor-El actually see some of the same flaws in the Kryptonian system, even though they differ dramatically in how they want to fix those flaws. Zod then moves over toward Lara for a more personally dramatic moment. “You think your son is safe? I will find him. I will reclaim what you have taken from us.” So this line shows that Zod, per his programming, is still fixated on trying to save Krypton using the codex, and it previews the remainder of the main plot. But he also accentuates the personal dimension of that plot, with the unresolved battle between Zod and the House of El, with Zod yelling multiple times for effect, “I will find him!” Lara stands strong but this must be worrisome because the safety of her son out in space must be constantly on her mind. And you can see tears swell up in her eyes as she thinks about her vulnerable baby boy out there all alone. As for Zod, Sam especially likes the voice crack from Michael Shannon on the final line, making it more memorable and showing him to be a bit more unhinged.

Zod and his loyalists are engulfed in a black ooze-like substance encased in a crystalline shell that looks like ice. The icy look helps the audience to understand the concept of being frozen without needing to grasp the details, fictional or not, of being in stasis. They are then encapsulated in pods which look remarkably like male genitalia.  Zack Snyder has jokingly commented that there are many reasons for their appearance.  But we can glean from the rest of the film’s allusions that Superman is a child of two worlds, Krypton and Earth, and that Krypton is his symbolic father that has sent its seed to Mother Earth to nourish and birth Superman.  Additionally, these pods are also the physical manifestation and representation of Kryptonian society’s machismo that has led to their demise. It could even be a social commentary on how men are leading our planet to its demise which would be ironic for those who accuse Zack of objectifying women, most recently with the Amazons’ costumes in Justice League.

The pods launch upwards into the ship’s cavity.  Once securely inside the Black Zero, an elaborate launch is initiated which helps to convey the power of the ship.  Given its formidable nature, Sam points out that it seems odd they would send the Black Zero into the Phantom Zone as well wondering if they couldn’t have sent a less valuable ship with the prisoners on board.  While we don’t have enough information to really assess the reason for this, we can always speculate.  It could be anything from respecting Zod’s position in the military guild given their adherence to customs and tradition, to requiring the shielding of such an advanced ship to protect the prisoners in the harshness of the Phantom Zone’s environment.

The Phantom Zone has been depicted in various ways over the years.  The design used in Man of Steel, while different from the flat, 2D glass plane of the Donner films, still keeps that 2D geometric sensibility here, though now it’s the portal that is a 2D triangle, rather than them actually being stuck in a 2D shape.  The prodding tentacles of the Phantom Zone projector embody an organic element which is ironic given the practically lifeless state the Zone’s prisoners are subjected to.  But it is an interesting concept and one could presume that these tentacles are either imbuing or coating the ship with some kind of energy for it to exist in the zone, or more likely they detect the shape and size of the object entering the Zone in order to know how large of a portal to open to keep it stable. After all, as Zod offhandedly remarked, they are essentially being sent into a blackhole which is like an unstable vacuum.  And we actually see such a singularity, as Emil Hamilton describes, later when the two phantom drives collide, sending Zod’s men into the Phantom Zone.

End of Episode:

That’s our analysis of Scene 8 of Man of Steel. Next we have the destruction of Krypton and the final scene of this extended prologue.

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