Some Thoughts on Man of Steel

You know, fictional characters have made me much angrier than most people I know. I don’t usually have the urge to strangle someone but some of the characters I’ve seen lately make me want to swear a blue streak, too!

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For instance, Faora-ul from Man of Steel really ticks me off when she says to Kal-el,

You’re weak, son of El. The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if history has proven anything, it is that evolution always wins!

Can I please throw in her face the fact that her race is going extinct? And that humans, a far weaker race than Kryptonians, have continued to exist despite disease and war precisely because our morality prompts us to choose not to let the weak die? And on a practical level, that we defy evolution or try to use it to our advantage? Tch. She has no idea what she’s talking about.

More annoying by far, though, was General Zod. I have a measure of sympathy for him: he doesn’t want his people to go extinct, so he does what he thinks is best to save them. And perhaps the methods he uses to accomplish this make sense, as he was, in his own words, “bred to be a warrior.” Other than that, I find him totally unlikable because of his vindictiveness. He kills Jor-El just because he was angry with him; he tries to cause a computer program to feel pain just to satisfy his own anger; the same thing occurs at the end when he tells Kal-el that he’ll kill all the humans just because Kal-el thwarted him. Even though that really doesn’t accomplish anything besides giving Zod a sense of satisfaction, however short-lived.

But as much as I disagree with and loathe his character, I don’t like the way Zod died. I dislike it not so much for Zod’s sake as for Kal-el’s. Why? Because it sweeps the rug out from under all the parallels between Superman and Christ.

The movie-makers here know what they’re doing and they’re a bit heavy-handed with things. There are four instances that I recall in which the references are obvious. Firstly, Kal-el goes to a priest to ask advice on whether to turn himself over to the humans and/or Zod. His going to a priest for advice immediately connects him to Christianity. And not only does he talk to a priest, he talks to a priest inside a church. When Kal-el talks we see him positioned in front of a stained glass window depicting Christ.

Secondly, after he has turned himself over to the government, he unnecessarily yet casually drops the fact that he’s 33 years old. Thirdly, a remark that computer-program-Jor-el makes to his son in my mind points to Christ–

 Born on Krypton and raised on Earth, you had the best of both and were meant to be the bridge between two worlds.

This makes me think, of course, of the fact that Christ opened the gates of heaven for us. He became our bridge, and still is: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Lastly, there’s the general set up of the film: just like Christ, Kal-el came from another place, lived with a foster-father (and in Kal’s case foster-mother) and had a specific destiny, a mission, a role to carry out.

The movie practically hits you over the head and screams at you to see the parallels (there are more, but these are the ones that stuck out to me). THEN–and I’m sure this has to be intentional–Kal-el fights Zod, who gives the ultimatum “I die or you die,” and in the end, though very reluctantly, Kal-el snaps Zod’s neck. Then he gets hugged by Lois and we flash-forward to the future with no comment on his actions or feelings about what he did.

What he did in that instant was not very Christ-like. And no, it’s not like he had to just sit back and let Zod kill people. But couldn’t he have done something else? Couldn’t he have at least tried to flip him, or fly away with him, move his head without breaking his neck? Or even just put his hands over Zod’s eyes and take the hurt himself? I concede that Zod had better fighting training than Kal-el and was a force to be reckoned with. But Kal had been holding his own, and with his seeming reluctance to let anyone die, not even Zod, his action seems out of character.

I wouldn’t mind the end so much if there had been even a slice of commentary on how he regretted what he did, or wished he had found another way, or how he found snapping Zod’s neck distasteful–something to show that that was not how he liked to do things. But the only acknowledgment that things didn’t quite go his way is a hug from Lois.

Heck, Trigun‘s Vash the Stampede took a whole episode to recover from the fact that he’d killed another man, and he was in a situation worse than Kal-el’s. Vash even came to the rather Christian conclusion that though what he had done was wrong, he could be forgiven and move on. Rurouni Kenshin‘s Himura Kenshin is in the same situation: after almost twenty years of working as an assassin, he decides never to kill again and spends the rest of his life atoning for all the lives he took. He, too, struggles with what he’s done–heck, he wanders around Japan by himself for ten years!–but with the help of others comes to terms with it. If Man of Steel had had commentary some kind of commentary in this vein, it would’ve been much better. (Not that I think Superman would need to wander the solar system or anything.)

I should think it’s rather clear how this disturbs the parallels with Christ. Here I’m reminded of Caiphas’ words: “Nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish” (John 11:49-50). Yes, Christ was that one who died for our sake, who saved us, but He died–He did not just go strangle Satan and say, “Okay, everyone, you’re all good.” And though Superman is no Christ, he can be held up as a Christ-like figure: in fact, as far as I know, he has been treated as a Christ-like figure for quite a while. But now he’s gotten the post-modern treatment, just like all the other superheroes. Can I help it if it bugs me that we can’t have at least one hopeful superhero? I think the only one we have left is Captain America, and even he’s been given a traumatic past.

Now, I don’t mind having realistic superheroes–sometimes, you can’t save everyone. Sometimes, the world is horrible and awful and people die. But in a world that is saturated with those who are cynical and jaded, how are we ever going to change anything if we have no examples of hope?

***And now for a shameless plug for Rurouni Kenshin and Trigun. They’re two of my absolute favorite anime. Cautions for the young: very mild blood/violence and non-sexual partial nudity (i.e. seeing someone in the bathtub, seeing a man’s torso when you know he’s naked) in both shows, and in Trigun some rather revealing female outfits and Vash’s tendency to…what do I call it? Peeping Tom tendencies? TVTropes.org calls him a Chivalrous Pervert. Not a huge plot point but it comes up enough to be a problem for younger viewers. Essentially, Trigun isn’t for kids (especially not the manga); Rurouni Kenshin is more kid friendly. Both have good things to say!!

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4 comments

  1. medievalotaku · November 18, 2013

    Well, Superman breaking Zod’s neck just shows that all allegories break down and that certain enemies cannot be reasoned with. If I had been watching this movie, I would probably have been happy to see Zod’s demise, though.

    That comment on morality and evolution was goofy. I have heard it said that morality is part and parcel of human evolution: it helps people live together in community. Of course, being moral has more importance than just so that people can live in society, but that’s an evolutionist’s perspective! Faora-ul is more Nietzschean, who said that Christian morality kept the weak alive and produced the sas modern European.

    • Nami · November 19, 2013

      Stupid sunlight! I accidentally closed my tab and have to write this all over again! GRR!

      It is true that all allegories break down, but whether they do so in a satisfying manner and what comment they’re trying to make are, to me, important. I know that most people make movies just to write a good story and put on a good show. However, since the parallels here appeared so intentional, and one’s beliefs seep into one’s writing whether one intends them to or not, I assume the writers were trying to make a comment of a sort. I’m not familiar with Superman canon–Superman Returns and Man of Steel are the only Superman movies I’ve seen–but if I’m not mistaken, Superman as a Christ figure isn’t anything new. The writers knew this, obviously, and were using it, and then broke it down. I guess I just want a reason, I want to know why they decided to break it in the way that they did.

      I should mention that I found how they transitioned from the scene where Superman kills Zod unsettling even just a viewer: Zod gets killed, Lois gives Kal a hug and then we cut to another scene. Superman takes down a drone the military sent to find his house and tells the military officer he meets that he’s not going to tell anyone where he lives, that humans will just have to trust him. The transition was so abrupt. I had no idea if this scene was happening on his way home right after he defeated Zod, or at some other time. Thinking back on it, Superman’s return home would reasonably immediately follow his defeat of Zod, but when first seeing the scene I didn’t get that impression–I was a bit confused.

      I should also say that the same sort of hero-kills-villain happens in plenty of other superhero movies, like in Iron Man 3. Stark’s killing the Mandarin didn’t bother me like Man of Steel did because Tony Stark is no Christ figure.

      • medievalotaku · November 19, 2013

        Isn’t that always the way? The longer the reply, the greater the chance of it accidentally getting deleted. 😀

        I suppose Superman having to kill Zod is one way to highlight Superman’s humanity. He can’t exclaim “Saul, Saul! Why persecutest thou me?” and effect a conversion. He may have great power in the physical realm to defeat his enemies and right wrongs, but he cannot change hearts.

        Though, I might as well add here that this is a place where Kenshin Himura plays a better Christ figure than Superman. After all, Kenshin is unable to put Shishio down or make him cease his evil ways. What happens? As Kenshin merely parries a blow, Shishio burns up from his own inability to cool himself down. In the same way, the enemies of Christ are dragged into hell by their own sins rather than Christ having the desire to punish them.

        Just couldn’t resist making a point where Kenshin one ups Superman. 🙂

        • Nami · November 19, 2013

          Very true!

          And I am perfectly OK with Kenshin one-upping Superman–I like him better anyway =D

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