It struck me the other day that the most iconic Clark scene in Man of Steel isn’t any of his fight scenes. It’s not him killing Zod. It’s his first flight. It’s understandable, of course – it was beautiful, it was awesome, the music was amazing, and he looked so happy. But it’s interesting to think about how that is the scene brought up so often.
I’ve seen a lot of Twitter polls that question what people’s favourite DCEU scene is, and more often than not, the options are Wonder Woman’s No Man’s Land sequence, Batman’s warehouse fight, and Superman’s first flight. It really brings it home that Clark isn’t a fighter. Wonder Woman is a trained soldier. She’s the Amazon princess. She’s willing to fight, and even kill, for what she believes in. Batman is a brutal fighter, the badass normal. He’s determined and obsessive and fixated on eliminating threats to civilians, especially in Batman v Superman. That’s why their signature scenes are the action ones.
Clark isn’t like them. Yes, he’ll fight if he has to, but he does it in self defence, and in defence of other people. Never, ever preemptively. He never attacks first. He cares more about collateral damage. I’m not saying that Bruce and Diana are insanely violent and don’t care about other people, but at heart, they’re warriors. They solve their problems through attacking everything standing in their way, by cutting down barriers and fighting the people threatening the innocent. Clark’s instincts are to help, to save, to shield. He’s not a fighter. Partially, that’s a choice – he grew up among humans, and he was terrified of hurting them. But he never fights back against anyone when he has a choice, not with even a fraction of his full strength. His first instinct is to talk, to make peace instead of war – even when Lex was threatening his mother if he didn’t kill Bruce, he went to Bruce not to fight him, but to ask for help.
He doesn’t think any problem is too small to merit his help or that any person is too unimportant. His allegiance isn’t to any government or country, it’s to humanity. He’ll save people from fires and sacrifice his life to stop a monster and even save the enemy that had threatened his mother. He’s the guy who’ll use his last words to tell his girlfriend that she’s his world. No, as amazing as Clark’s fight scenes are, as well choreographed and memorable, those are just things he does sometimes when there’s no other choice. Who he is is a man that tries again when he doesn’t succeed at first. That flight scene that people remember most? He tried, and failed, then tried again. It was a moment of wonder, filled with hope and optimism and happiness. This was one of the scenes that best demonstrated that he is Superman.