When Superman fought General Zod during the climactic final battle of Man of Steel, thousands died.
Most of the damage to Metropolis was done from the terraforming world engine that was brought by the exiled Kryptonians, but still more lives were ended during the ensuing duel between the aliens in the sky. People from the streets of Metropolis – along with the audiences – watched in horror, helpless to stop the destruction of the city and its inhabitants. They wanted to blame Zod, but he was dead. So they shifted their blame and turned on the only other Kryptonian left alive. They turned on Superman, the very one who saved them.
A popular critique of the harrowing battle was how massive the destruction of Metropolis was. Superman should have stopped it sooner. But could he? Was he powerful enough, and if he wasn’t yet, who really is to blame for the destruction of Metropolis?
An analysis of the characters and events surrounding and leading up to the infamous battle reveal it is not Superman, nor even fully Zod, but Kryptonian culture that is to truly blame.
Kryptonian culture was about achieving the perfect Kryptonian society. They aimed to create a Utopian society, and in doing so mirrored many of the atrocities committed during the early 1900s in America by eugenics proponents. Designer babies, predetermined for each role by a seemingly all-powerful government. Each citizen had a purpose, and they could not stray from it. The Kryptonians had built the perfect Krypton, at the expense of the planet itself. To fuel their society, they pulled from Krypton’s core, which soon became a shell of a planet.
Zod was a general in the Kryptonian military. The leadership not only mandated military conquest and exploration throughout the universe, but also Zod himself, predetermining his very essence and purpose in life before he was born. But in his programming was their downfall. He was programmed to protect Krypton at all costs. And when no other option to him was left, he staged a military coup when he learned the damage to the planet the government had wrought.
Whereas Zod represented the power and force of Krypton, Jor-El represented its mind. He stood atop the pinnacle of their scientific advancements, and used that advancement to show what was to come for Krypton. Jor-El also performed as his genetics were designed. He found a way to save Krypton, but he also found a way to save them from the tyranny the government had become. Although natural childbirth was forbidden, he and his wife had a child and named their son, Kal-El, thus freeing their son from Kryptonian control of his mind and will. He then prepared a way to save not only his own son, but also future Kryptonians by infusing the genetic code of their entire race into his son. His final act was to send his son in an ark to earth, where he would grow in status and power, and lead the people from a position of power – a clear metaphor by Jewish creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to Moses.
On earth Kal-El has two competing desires. He desires to help others, by using his powers for good. But he also desires to obey his earthly dad, who tells him to keep his powers in check, out of fear of how people and the government would respond to his power. He tells him not to use his powers, at least not until he is ready. Not bound by the genetic will of the Kryptons, Kal is able to find his purpose another way. After watching Zod’s warning with the rest of the world, he still does not know how to proceed. His father Jor-El, told him not to trust Zod, while his earthly dad told him not to trust man. So he seeks guidance from a man whose profession is to know and understand, and teach how God calls humans to live. “Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later,” is the advice given from the preacher. He takes his leap of faith, and sets in motion the things to come.
Zod shows the now named Superman the plans he has for Krypton. His will is still bound by his genetics, so his plan is the conquest of Earth and reinstating Kryptonian society in its wake. Superman will save earth at all costs, and Zod will save Krypton at any cost.
Which leads to the battle for Metropolis.
After Superman defeats the world-engine half a world away, he returns to stop Zod, and in the process destroys the last hope of Krypton being restored. Zod’s sole purpose in life was ripped from him by Superman. “My soul. That is what you have taken from me,” Zod said before the climactic final duel.
As was previously established, Zod is a warrior, designed from birth to be the pinnacle of Krypton’s military might. So, equal in power to Superman, Zod is able to outmanouver him in the fight and destroys much of Metropolis in the process. At this point of his origin, Superman has yet to control his full power, so each time he attempts to take the fight from the city, Zod pulls him back down into the thick of it.
Even when his purpose is taken from him, Zod’s will still is bound to Krypton. Zod’s new purpose, and the reason for so much collateral damage is revealed by his line “If you love this people, then you can mourn for them.” It is this will, this purpose, this hatred by Zod which fuels him to go out of his way to destroy Metropolis.
And he does, as is shown in the film. He throws Superman through buildings, kicks a gasoline truck at him, and hurls a satellite from space toward the city in order to defeat Superman and destroy all he loved.
In their search for perfection, Kryptonians created a future they could not sustain, and a breed of warriors they could not contain. And in the end it is they who are to blame, not Superman, for the destruction of Metropolis.