Man Of Steel – more good book than comic book
Danger – contains spoilers
Last night I went to see the new Superman film Man Of Steel. As superhero films go, it managed a just good enough job of attempting to reboot the Superman mythology, but it had none of the slickness, brash confidence and humour of last year’s Avengers. If anything it took itself too seriously, with a thick paste of grim stoic inevitability that made the Dark Knight trilogy look like Bachelor Party. Then again, this is a Zack Snyder film; he’s not going to have his characters resolve problems by taking a spoonful of sugar or singing a cheery tune. This Superman character had a dark if simplistic edge, a man of two worlds but neither, haunted by his powers and imprisoned by doubt – and without any shred of charm or personality. Superman’s nemesis, General Zod, was my favourite character, and the most logically constructed. This wasn’t a camp “kneel before Zod!” comic book caricature bad guy out for revenge, this was a man with a mission, to which every other consideration was secondary, even when it came to all life on earth. He didn’t hate the planet’s residents, they were just in his way.
A constant theme in the film which verged on creepy was the reference to religion. Right from the beginning, Kal-El was being bigged up by his dad Jor-El; he would be a god to the people of earth and guide them to peace. I know all dads have high hopes for their newborn kids, but at this point Kal-El was a couple of years away from being potty trained, so really Jor-El wouldn’t know if his boy would be Jesus in a blue suit and red cape or a corner crack dealer.
And this is who Snyder’s Superman is; Jesus with laser eyes. They couldn’t have laid it out any more obviously if they had put a big ‘J’ on Superman’s leotard instead of the trademark ‘S’. The difficult childhood, years rambling in the wilderness, the random acts of miraculous life saving, ticking all the boxes but the virgin birth.
Ah, the virgin birth. Here, it is nicely turned on its head. On Krypton, it’s people had their offspring through genetic manipulation, with foetuses grown in glowy bottles Matrix-style, their society considering the act of physical birth a heresy. In a world where all babies were born in essentially virgin births, Kal-El was born from his mother. Jor-El had decided that bottle babies were part of the corruption of Krypton and contributed to the short-sightedness that was causing the planet’s destruction. This is a clear reference to our own scientific advances in genetics and a clumsy attempt at critiquing the ethics surrounding the application of science.
Despite Jor-El’s lofty disdain for Kryptonian science (he also rides a kind of flying bug-lizard instead of machines), he uses technology to shoot his baby into space.
Once on Earth, Kal-El is raised by the Kents as their son Clark, and they never cease to keep blowing it up his arse about how awesome he is and how there’s a plan for him, that he was sent to Earth by his father for a reason, that everything happens for a purpose, and how he needs to choose good over evil. After all this, quite how Clark becomes such a narcissist is a surprise.
When Zod turns up on Earth demanding Superman be turned over to him or face an ass-whoopin’, in a fugue of doubt Superman agonises over what to do. Should he sacrifice himself for humanity? So he asks a priest, who goes on to tell Superman that he should have faith and follow his conscience. So he hands himself over, like any good stoic Jesus would do.
Just to reinforce how bad the bad guys are, once they have him they tell Superman how they’re going kill everyone on Earth, using a big machine which looks like a lemon squeezer which will turn the planet into Krypton v2.0, and repopulate it using some Kryptonian babies in bottles they had found earlier. The rationale for this, according to henchwoman Faora-Ul, is that Kryptonians are superior, more evolved, and past the need for emotions like compassion which they consider weak. That’s right, these Krypton bad boys and girls are space-Nazis espousing some kind of social Darwinism. Kal-El, brought up by god-fearing merka-loving Kansas rednecks, ain’t havin’ none of it, and gets his freak on smashing bad guys through walls and so forth.
There’s probably more that I missed, something subtle which would need a second viewing to catch, but there’s no mistaking that Man Of Steel is a Christian allegory, and will no doubt provide social scientists and film critics plenty to chew over, in much the same way as After Earth’s action tribute to Scientology.