Man of Steel (2013)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-6; L-1; S/N-1 . Running time: 2 hours 22 min.

You

shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
Exodus 23:9

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Kal-El (Don t call him Superman in this version!)

back in Smallville.
2013 Warner Brothers

The crew that has re-invented the Superman franchise—led by director: Zack Snyder and screenwriter David S.

Goyer adaptation of the story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan—might have given us the perfect start-up of a new series had they lightened up a bit. The personal story of Kal-El, aka Superman (though we scarcely hear that name in this film), is wonderfully depicted, but the lighter side of the story is lost amidst the seemingly endless numbers of mano-a-mano fights that wreak havoc on their surroundings, and which are enhanced by the pounding music of Hans Zimmer. Except for a brief sequence in which he is learning to fly, there is no scene of wonder like the one in an earlier version in which Superman conducted Lois Lane on a nighttime flight around Metropolis.

This version deals mainly with the events before Kal-El became Clark Kent the reporter at the Daily Planet. Although we already know something of the story of Jor-El (Russell Crowe), this film fills in more of the details of the politics of Krypton, as well as the child’s birth. The new villain is a General Zod (Michael Shannon), leader of a party opposed by Jor-El in regard as to what to do in the face of the impending destruction of Krypton. He emerges later in the story as a truly interesting villain in that his intentions are not just for his own enrichment, but also for the welfare of the Kryptonians who have survived with him the destruction of their home planet. As he says later in the film, “No matter how violent, every action I take is for the greater good of my people.” Unfortunately, if his plan to settle on Earth succeeds, it will mean the elimination of humanity. This guy is not into sharing.

After the new-born child is sent in a pod to Earth, the film jumps ahead 33 years to a fishing boat on which an itinerant Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is a crew member, who soon flies off to rescue some men trapped on a burning oil rig. There follows a series of action scenes punctuated with flashbacks to the Kansas farm where his foster parents Jonathan nd Martha Kent (Kevin Costner nd Diane Lane) are raising him to fend in a world that tends to persecute anyone different. Realizing his amazing powers of Xray and laser vision and superhuman strength, Jonathan urges Clark to hide his powers, even when attacked by school bullies. An early scene in which the boy, then 9 years-old, is so terrified by the discovery of his Xray vision that he bounds out of his class and hides in a closet is very touching, with Martha coming to the school to lure him out of the closet. He says,” The world’s too big, Mom.” She replies, “Then make it small. Focus on my voice. Pretend it’s an island out in the ocean. Can you see it?” Reassured, he answers, “I see it… “ We should all have mothers so wise and understanding!

Jonathan not only advises the boy to keep his super powers secret, but also seeks to instill positive values in him. When the boy is 13 he tells him, “You just have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be, Clark. Whoever that man is, he’s going to change the world.” And, upon showing the boy the pod that brought him to Earth “You’re the answer, son. You’re the answer to “are we alone in the universe” . At this point (or later—can’t quite recall) the boy protests, “Can’t I just… keep pretending I’m your son?” “You ARE my son,” his father answers, “And I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason. And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.” The older Kent is so obsessive about secrecy that he chides Clark for using his super strength to save his fellow school bus riders from drowning when it plunges off a bridge into a river. “What was I supposed to do? Let them die?” After a brief pause, Jonathan replies, “Maybe.” Fortunately, the mother of one of the rescued boys attributes Clark’s extraordinary strength to being “an act of God.” Clark will live to regret his father’s urgent advice when, during the approach of a massive tornado, he holds in check his impulse to rush to the rescue.

Jor-El, even though he has died amidst the destruction of Krypton, re-enters the picture numerous times via some kind of computer mumbo-jumbo that enables him to communicate with Kal-El. Like Jonathan, he sets forth a lofty goal for his son, “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.” Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in this version is different from the traditionl one, supposedly being the winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and thus much more self-assured. Dispatched to investigate mysterious happenings, she meets Clark. It isn’t long before she discovers his secret powers, but, holding in check her desire for a scoop, she does not write his story. Laurence Fishburne is under utilized as Parry White, except in one sequence when he calms everyone and comes to the rescue of his staff trapped amidst the chaotic destruction resulting from Gen. Zod and Superman battling each other all around Metropolis. This sequence reminds me of an American general’s remark during our bombing and deforestation of Vietnam almost 50 years ago that we might have to destroy that country in order to save it!

It has been pointed out in the past that the story of Superman parallels that of Christ. This is certainly emphasized in this version, with Clark being 33 when he at last assumes his guise as a reporter. The above words of Jor-El underline this, as well as his conversation with wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) when they are about to launch the pod containing their infant son. Jor-El, “Goodbye, my son. Our hopes and dreams travel with you.” She, “He will be an outcast. They’ll kill him.” He, “How? He’ll be a god to them.” However, people of faith will see that Kal-El (interesting that in Hebrew one of the several words for God is “El” !) is a different kind of Messiah from that of the four gospels. It is physical strength and power that is paramount in this comic book hero, which should not be surprising in that its originators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were writing mainly for a juvenile readership. Superman uses force to combat his enemies, not the moral/spiritual force of Jesus of Nazareth. However, the decision for Kal-El to follow the guidance of his two fathers to use his powers for good is certainly in keeping with Christ’s desert experience of temptation. And those who accept the theory of the Gospel of Mark’s “Messianic Secret” will be intrigued by Jonathan’s admission that his son keep under wraps his super powers. I even saw in the film a touch of the emptying and servant- assuming role of the “kenosis passage” of the second chapter of Philippians.

The filmakers’ jerky hand-held camera technique is offsetting at times, and for me the 3-D is not worth the extra price (gouging). And, as I wrote earlier, it would have been nice if director: Zack Snyder had included some of the lighter touches of earlier Superman films, and a lot less of t
he destructive violnce that makes this film a dubious choice for young children to see. I strongly recommend that parents see the film first before taking a child below the second or third grade level to this. Those working with youth can have a field day leading their charges in a discussion of the theological themes in the film.

For Reflection/Discussion

There are spoilers below!

1. You might want to begin by comparing Zack Snyder’s take on the comic book legend with that of earlier adapters.

2. What do you think of the parallels in the story with that of the story of Jesus of Nazareth? Some statements to consider: a. Jor-El: “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.” b. “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?” 3. And yet morally/spiritually, what do you think is the biggest difference between the two? In the past Superman does not kill the villain: what do you think of the change in this version?

4. How is the question of keeping his identity secret similar to that of other super hero tales, especially of the X-Men tales? What do you think of Jonathan’s statement to his son, “Share this: Facebook | Twitter | Permalink Hide options People are afraid of what they don’t understand.” How is such fear a part of prejudice, especially of racism?

5. What do we see of Clark’s restraint, especially in the scene if which the school bullies attack him, knocking him to the ground? What has happened to the steel fence post he has clutched onto? Note how this restraint is often a part of the Western genre in which the hero holds back retaliating against the insults of the swaggering villain, until…” Compare this to Paul’s concept of “emptying” in the Philippians passage.

6. We have concentrated on the New Testament, but what birth and survival story in the Hebrew Scriptures is similar to that of Kal-El’s? (Hint: see Exodus 2.) What clues do you see that the filmmakers have an optimistic view of humanity and its possibilities? From what we see of what has happened on Krypton, how does the film show there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom? The Kryptonians had lots of knowledge, but is this much good if wisdom is lacking? Any message for us in the depiction of the fate of that planet?