"You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun."
The new Superman rocks. Let's just get that out of the way. Critics have had mixed opinions, but the word-of-mouth has been excellent. I've read a number of reviews featuring the foundational stories that gave birth to Superman (Moses and Gilgamesh), the increasingly overt Christian themes, and the hidden atheist message embedded in it. Since religion is already being dissected so vigorously, I will focus on another aspect of the film. In a world struggling to understand how to live well, Zach Snyder offers a story in which the importance of establishing a healthy ethical base takes center stage. Two key scenes set the stage.
Scene 1: After Clark saves the children in a school bus from drowning, his father gently chides him for taking the risk of being discovered. Clark rightly asks, "What was I supposed to do - let them drown?" Jonathan replies, "Maybe." His reason is the the world is not ready to handle someone like Clark, a seeming god among men. So until the world (and Clark, and perhaps most importantly Jonathan) is ready, Clark should hide his power and allow some tragedies in which he could intervene to play out. It's for the greater good.
Scene 2: Zod explains to Superman that the Kryptonian's evolutionary advantage has put them on a road to survival paved with the bodies of those who are not as fit. It's just the way it is. Zod was born to be a soldier, to fight for race and defend his people, and all that matters is that the Kryptonian race survive and flourish. Terraforming the earth and killing everyone? It's for the greater good.
If you are like me, you found the first scene to be poignant and the second repulsive. I suspect that's what Snyder wants you to feel. Zod is obviously a villain ("Boo, genocide!") but Jonathan is humble and nice ("Yay, loving parental concern!"). However, as the film unfolded, this consequentialist approach to life clearly revealed a potentially fatal flaw.