Last week I saw the Man of Steel. It’s a story most of us are familiar with: a boy from another planet comes to Earth, manifests super powers, and through compassion for ordinary people, does what he can to help people without generally revealing who he is. Most of the time he’s Clark Kent, a modest newspaper reporter who works for Perry White and with Lois Lane. This movie reboots the story a bit, spending a lot of time on Superman’s origins on Krypton and the conflict with evil, personified by General Zod.
Patheos.com has a section dedicated to articles about this movie and its possible Christian connection; I’ll leave it to you to take a look at them and see what you think. My take is that this isn’t really a Christian movie except superficially, and the battle between Good and Evil in this flick is nothing like the real struggle of the faith life of a Christian.
There’s more I didn’t like about the movie than I liked. The method of storytelling, flashing back and forth between his childhood in Kansas and the grand scale events, is interesting and the look of the film is good. The score is very fine, but has John Williams’ score from the ’80s to compete with, which could be said about every character in the film. There’s far more combat and destruction than I wanted to see, I think if you took out the action sequences you’d have a half hour story in the midst of a 2 and 1/2 hour movie, and if I were a soldier and saw bullets bouncing off my target with no effect, I think I’d save ammo and fall back.
Several big things bother me. There’s an issue I have with the way Kal El is created: if this is a programmed race from every baby’s beginning, how did Jor El and his wife come up with the idea of going their own way? How did their thinking escape their programming: seeing your planet on the road to self-destruction would cause you to rethink, but where did the free will come from when nobody else on their planet seems to have it? It seems odd the Kryptonians are arguing as well: if a race is programmed by a superior intelligence, I think cooperation would be part of the basic DNA, even for the protectors.
However in the midst of massive system failure and loss of their civilization, Zod refuses to think about whether his priorities are moral or worthwhile. I wonder if there aren’t any other planets they could settle (which they did earlier in their history), but that’s not part of this story, so I’ll just mention it in passing. Zod keeps saying: “I’m bred to protect our race, this is what I do and what I’m doing to do.” The only counter argument is to convince him the operation isn’t worth it, there’s no real appeal to see the inconsistency in his own thought or to bring him to a new enlightenment that will change him his thinking. Telling someone their planet is dead and doesn’t deserve to be reborn seems a less than convincing argument on face value: I doubt I’d buy it if I were Zod. Being stuck in who he is, Zod’s going to plow ahead with his questionable plan until somebody stops him. Good thing Superman does.
My biggest problem with Man of Steel is it seems to reinforce the idea that once you’re labeled, there’s no change. Sure, Krypton is different than Earth, but SciFi is frequently about allegory, and I see a destructive ones here. Do only the elite have (or deserve) free will? Are the only alternatives a completely programmed race (Kryptons) or a completely random race (Earth)? Is Good diverse and Evil monolithic? Is authority always autocratic?
Is the question “Who am I?” the same as “What do I want?” Every since Ayn Rand, the answer seems to be yes, but I can’t buy that. Primacy of Self can be a trap (hello, General Zod) and what we want many not only be bad for others, it can also be bad for us. We need to answer the question of “Who am I?” in relation to others, and allow others to transform us. Clark Kent works on this through the movie, but no one else. General Zod’s way of thinking of himself was never really challenged, nor was it challenged for his minions, so they had no chance to change.
Hope is about being better, not only for ourselves, but also for others. Hope is gaining a greater good for all that doesn’t cost innocent bystanders. Hope is also making the effort to convert our enemies, even extreme efforts at times, but action movies don’t really have an interest in doing that.
I know many of you probably think I’m going overboard about something that’s meant to be entertainment, a good shoot ’em up that makes us feel good in the end. We all need a no brainer now and then. When we walk the boundaries of Light and Dark, if we deny the shades of Grey, we deny humanity, and if we deny the chance for transformation, we deny universal Sacredness. After all, Darth Vader came back from the Dark Side. How come Hollywood doesn’t recycle that story more often? I think movies about real transformation could make money, with or without action sequences.