He can’t ask people to kneel before him if he’s a liar. Michael Shannon, who portrayed Superman villain General Zod in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, reprises his role in the upcoming DC Comics movie The Flash, but the actor sounds less than enthused about his return engagement. In an interview with Collider, Shannon was asked about returning as Zod, and he had some harsh criticisms for his role in The Flash and movies that feature the multiverse:
“Yeah. I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t quite satisfying for me, as an actor. These multiverse movies are like somebody playing with action figures. It’s like, ‘Here’s this person. Here’s that person. And they’re fighting!’ It’s not quite the in-depth character study situation that I honestly felt Man of Steel was. Whether people think that’s crazy or not, I don’t even care. I really felt like Man of Steel was actually a pretty sophisticated story. I feel like The Flash is too, but it’s not Zod’s story. I’m basically there to present a challenge.”
I can see what he means about the multiverse. One of the criticisms often leveled at the concept is that it removes stakes; if there are endless versions of a character from different universes or timelines, does it matter if he lives or dies? Zod is an example of that; he died in Man of Steel when Superman snapped his neck like Steven Seagal in a bar fight, yet through the magic of the multiverse, he’s back to menace The Flash. Maybe it works in the movie, but from Shannon’s perspective, I understand his aversion to it; he played this character, he died as this character, and now he’s got to do it again. And if what he says about how the movie uses Zod is true, it’s doubly reasonable. Zod is Superman’s enemy; he has ties to Superman, and their conflict resonates with both characters because of their shared Kryptonian heritage, among other reasons. Now, he’s up against a superhero who has nothing to do with him other than causing his “resurrection.” Again, this can work, but the film has to go to great lengths to tie the hero and the villain together somehow. The Flash has a lot of characters to balance, so I can see Zod falling by the wayside, relegated to “bad guy the heroes have to fight,” and Michael Shannon not being satisfied with that.
For an example of how this can work (and I know some – perhaps most – disagree with me, which shows how precarious a line this is to tow), look at Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. Thanos is killed at the beginning of the movie, his work complete and unalterable. But when The Avengers go back in time to gather the Infinity Gems from the past and undo his genocide, they inadvertently alert Thanos from the past, who then shows up for the final battle. This works for me because it explores what someone would do when he knows he’s destined to fail. Initially, Thanos is proud of his future success even after he sees himself die. (“And that is destiny fulfilled.”) It’s when he realizes that The Avengers will still find a way to undo his work, that the beneficiaries of the utopia he creates will be so ungrateful that they’ll cheat time itself to rob him of his victory, that he gets angry. Endgame is about second chances, and while The Avengers get a second chance to fix their biggest failure, so too does Thanos. He now has the opportunity to ensure his ultimate victory by wiping out everyone and recreating life from scratch; the man who was willing to kill half the universe is now determined to kill the other half, too, so he can ensure everyone will acknowledge that he knows what’s best for them. Thanos grows and develops through the fractured timeline, the “undoing” of his death (in terms of storytelling), becoming more evil… or maybe just revealing the true depths of the evil that was always within.
Something like that could be done with Zod in The Flash. Not in the same way, of course; this Zod will have no knowledge of what happened in Man of Steel. But time should be spent tying him into Barry Allen’s journey. I mean, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a link between Barry going back in time to save his mother, which leads to dire consequences, and Zod trying to resurrect his people by decimating another world. He could mirror Barry’s mistake in that way, with Zod knowing full well the consequences of his plan and moving ahead anyway. But maybe they don’t explore it, satisfied merely with presenting a Kryptonian as an unbeatable enemy for Barry and the others. That’s too bad if it’s true.
On a final note, elsewhere in the interview, Michael Shannon talks about Ezra Miller, and the quote features a corrective “[they’re]” when referring to Miller’s pronouns, suggesting that Shannon referred to him as “he,” or in this case, “he’s.” The dude keeps it real.