Superman is the iconic superhero, the 1938 comic-book creation from whom so many caped crusaders take their cue. He has been in the public consciousness for 75 years; what can we possibly learn from Man Of Steel that would amaze a new generation? Wisely, its producers don’t try. Instead they strip back the accretion of a thousand storylines and aim at their hero’s essential wonder and purpose.
Man Of Steel’s screenwriter David Goyer says the starting point was to begin with the obvious – what would happen if someone like Superman walked on to the world stage? “He's an alien,” Goyer says. “If the world found out he existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history. Just his existence would change the face of the Earth forever.” And so it does.
The first act of Man Of Steel finds a teenage Clarke Kent trying to conceal his identity, to live a normal, productive life. As the adopted son of Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Clarke learns that he is ‘the answer’ to the question, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ He uses his unique abilities to save life where he can, but hides from the spotlight because he’s been well prepared by his stepfather that, “People fear what they don’t understand.” However the burrowing of an investigative reporter by the name of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and the appearance of a fellow Kryptonian called General Zod (Michael Shannon) effectively bring the cat out of the bag. Clarke must reveal not only who he is, but what his appearance means for humanity. In a secure government interview room, Lois Lane points to the conspicuous symbol on his chest:
Lois: What’s the S stand for?
Superman: It’s not an S. On my world it means hope.
Lois: Well, here it’s an S. How about Super- [microphone feedback]
Superman: Excuse me.
Superman not only stands for hope, it’s a humble one that doesn’t seek to shout its name. It’s hard to look at Goyer’s goal and Clarke’s deliberate understatement, and not think of the Christian parallels. It is, after all, a faith built on another self-effacing saviour. Jesus likewise works great wonders, reveals himself at just the right time, offers hope and ends by becoming “… the biggest thing that ever happened in human history.” Both he and Superman face criticism, suspicion and superhuman foes. However the results are not the near-universal love that Goyer offers his Man Of Steel. Why?
It has to do with the differing salvation these heroes offer.
Both Superman and Jesus act to end immediate suffering on numerous occasions, but this is not their primary purpose. Antje Traue taunts Clarke as the enemy Kryptonian Faora-Ul, that “… for every human you save, we will kill a million more.” But Superman knows that. In a Kryptonian spacecraft buried in the Artic (doubling as his famous ‘Fortress of Solitude’) Clarke has learnt his purpose is actually to make millions of super men and women. In the words of his real father Jor-El (Russell Crowe):
“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. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
Superman may help us unlock our "true greatness". By contrast, Jesus reveals there is no greatness to boast about. Sin has blackened the human heart to the point of spiritual death. We can never do anything for ourselves, no matter how great the example. It’s no wonder that Jesus comics are not rushing off the shelves.
Man Of Steel is an uplifting, exciting hymn to human potential. There’s no doubt it will remind us of what could be achieved if people were to selflessly devote themselves to the good of others. But it won’t ‘change the face of the earth forever.’ It can, however, point the way to the Son of God who’s already done that much, and promises even more to the individual who begins with His humility.
Watching Man of Steel with your kids
Man Of Steel is a safe watch for primary aged children and it provides excellent opportunities to separate fact from fiction:
- What sort of things do Jesus and Clarke have in common?
- Who does Superman believe is going to be responsible for making a ‘better world’?
- Why did Jesus die? (Because we can’t achieve what Superman thinks we can)
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