How Two Scenes in Superman II Defined Heroism and Evil
A tale of two boys and two men.
In a previous post, I discussed a scene in Superman II (removed from most cuts) in which a boy named Willy is killed by the evil Kryptonians. I first saw it as a young child, and it made an indelible impression on me: probably in part because I identified with the boy.
An earlier scene with a boy also stirred and stuck with me.
In that scene, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are at the Niagara Falls investigating a story. Clark notices a boy named Jason playing dangerously on the railing overlooking the falls. Clark warns the boy to be careful. The boy’s mother pulls him away and scolds him for embarrassing her.
Later the boy resumes playing on the railing, testing his bravery. He calls for his mother’s attention. But she is busy stuffing her face with food and studying a tourist’s guide with the boy’s father. They both negligently ignore him.
The boy slips and falls off the precipice. Lois notices, and calls for help. Clark hears and rushes off to change to Superman. A crowd gathers as the boy (rather slowly) falls. Superman flies down and catches the boy. The crowd cheers. Superman puts the boy down. The shot of Superman descending with the boy in his arms looks iconic.
The boy says “Again, again!” as if his brush with death was an amusement park ride. Superman jokingly says, “Sorry, only one ride per customer.”
The scene where Superman saves Jason and the scene where Zod kills Willy are reverse images of each other.
Jason’s daredevil play on the railing is foolhardy, whereas Willy’s attempt to escape and get help for his community is heroically brave.
Jason’s parents are self-absorbed and oblivious, whereas Willy’s father selflessly and conscientiously confronts the Kryptonians to try to protect his family and community.
Jason ungratefully and disrespectfully takes his savior for granted. Willy is respectful, even to his killer—he says to Zod “Please, Mister General! Please let my daddy down!”
Superman responds to Jason’s childish folly and irreverence with grace and playfulness. Zod treats Willy’s demonstration of manly courage as an affront to his pride.
Superman saves Jason from his sins. Zod kills Willy for his virtues.
In these two scenes we have the story’s hero and villain—and heroism and villainy themselves—starkly contrasted and sharply defined.
This is why watching Superman II as a young boy was such a memorable and formative experience for me. It was a decisive moment in my moral education. Its vivid personifications of virtue and vice gave me clear models of the kind of man I did—and did not—want to become.
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