Jesus Reborn as Superman

Man of SteelDespite my better judgement, I went to see Man of Steel yesterday. Comic book heroes are silly. I mean, really? You have super acrobatic abilities and can echolocate so you dress up in a red costume with DD printed on the chest? Really?! It makes no sense, especially given that both the bad guys and the police want to get you. But as they say: there’s silly and then there’s silly. Daredevil may be silly, but Superman is silly. He is arguably the silliest of all super heroes. But that isn’t bad; it’s fantastic! It’s in the same league with Elvis impersonators.

What you don’t do is take Superman seriously. And Man of Steel takes Superman very seriously. Deadly serious! There is almost no humor in the movie. The “S” that Superman wears on his chest means “Hope” on his home planet. Under normal circumstances, that would have been kitschy enough to pass. But not here! The first 20+ minutes of the film is spent with Russell Crowe channeling Richard Burton at his most serious. The powers that control Krypton have brought on environmental catastrophe. But he has a really great idea: they’ll all die. But they can feel good about it because he’ll send his new baby off to earth to repopulate the race with the natives. Or something. It all involves some kind of genetic codex that for some reason was in some kind monkey skull but in what maybe was supposed to be a surprise we learn it was transferred into Superman himself. Regardless, the whole sequence is ponderous, helped along by the worst Hans Zimmer score I’ve ever heard.

If you doubt me, check out this trailer which is a perfect representation of the film:

But the most important aspect of this opening is when Superman’s mother complains about blasting him off to earth. She says, “He will be an outcast. They’ll kill him!” And his father replies, “How? He’ll be a god to them!” Did I mention that the dialog in this film is really bad? Moving on… That’s not bad all by itself. But the rest of the film makes the metaphor concrete. The most brazen example is when Superman goes to a church to talk to a priest. There is a shot (I swear I am not making this up!) of Superman on the right and a stained glass image of Jesus on the left. And the shot is held a lonnnggg time! But there are all kinds of other examples. We constantly see him with his arms outstretched as though he were suffering on the cross. Plus there is lots of talk about the people not being ready to know the existence of Superman and how he is their savior.

The film even ends with Superman destroying a satellite the military has put up to locate his ice home or whatever. It is right out of the Tower of Babel. Oh the hubris of man!

There seems to be a trend in superhero films to go this “serious” road. The last Spiderman film was more that way. Thor is necessarily that way. (And therefore should never have been made!) But this is a wrong direction to go. If Hollywood wants to make serious films, it could, I don’t know, make serious films. But films like Man of Steel simply take their silliness seriously. A more interesting thing would be to create a badass Jesus come back from the dead. I realize that would offend Christians. But if they were paying attention, they’d be offended by Man of Steel.

Afterword

There is much more to say about the film. It is deeply disturbing. I’m particularly bothered by the Superman as Ubermensch aspect of it. Even though Superman is a “good guy,” he does define his own moral universe. He has no problem breaking the law for his own purposes. He is also shown to be one vindictive son of a bitch. I would be very worried indeed if he were hanging around on the planet. If Superman really wanted to be helpful, he would do what is shown in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon. (Check it out; it’s brilliant!)

Update (27 April 2015 12:27 pm)

Oh, and honest trailer:

6 thoughts on “Jesus Reborn as Superman

  1. The older comic-book movies are looking better all the time. Remember Richard Lester’s "Superman II"? Where unfortunately nerdy Clark Kent can’t compete for the girl of his dreams with manly-man Superman? And Terence Stamp, in fine form, hears the US President crying out, "oh, God," and politely corrects him: "Zod."

    The only good thing in "Thor" was the humor — the Earth women nudging each other over Thor’s monstrously huge abs, and Thor slamming a coffee cup on the table in a diner like a Viking calling for more mead. Just as the worthwhile bits in Iron Man movies are Downey’s sarcasm.

    With the movies based on Marvel comics, it’s easy to spot the culprit: Stan Lee, Marvel’s Gene Roddenberry. Creator/dictator, assuring nothing strays too far from his silly/shallow original vision.

    Superman’s darkness (I haven’t seen the movie and if God is merciful I never will) comes from something else — the success of those horrible, horrible Chris Nolan "Batman" movies. (In the second one, Batman is forced to make Sophie’s choice — yup, a comic-book movie referencing that — and I didn’t see the third.)

    Nolan is a skilled, truly evil filmmaker (along the lines of David Fincher.) His specialization in cruelty (anyone likable in his movies is abused, to punch the audience in the gut) somehow resonated with US moviegoers, and the nihilistic Batman films made huge money. Nolan went on to produce a TV series, "Person Of Interest," in which British-style CCTV cameras catch everyone everywhere doing everything, and the show is all in favor of it.

    Maybe it’s the legacy of crazies bombing NY and Washington. Americans, confronted for the first time with blowback, couldn’t process the simplest solution to terrorism (stop killing foreigners, save trillions of dollars as a bonus.) Instead, they gravitated towards morally dubious superheroes defending us from worse evil (Batman, Bush "the decider," "Zero Dark Thirty", everything Thomas Freidman writes) and insanely complex conspiracy theories. (Dan Brown’s career is due to this, even though his stuff is a witless picture-book version of Eco’s "Foucault’s Pendulum.")

    I remember seeing "Batman Returns" in (whatever year that was, a long time ago) and thinking, "this is maybe too dark for a comic-book character." Now, by comparison, it’s a delight. Christopher Walken especially. Dismissing his secretary, who will become Catwoman; "she makes a great cup of coffee."

    I like the older comic-book stuff better. I like old things! I’m middle-aged! I use my phone as a phone!

  2. @JMF – Something that often is lost in the comic book universe is that pretty much all of the characters are vigilantes. When I was younger, I was much more fond of the romantic hero. But now I see it as just another way that our society pretends that our institutions are hopeless. I just caught the first episode of [i]Under the Dome[/i]. A character says he knows the dome wasn’t created by the government "because it works." These strike me as extremely cheap shots. Most of what the government does, it does very well. Look at the Post Office: it’s amazing what they do. When the government doesn’t do a good job it is either because it is something it shouldn’t be doing or it isn’t provided with enough resources.

    If there were a superman around to save us, I wouldn’t want him. I’m not trusting. In the movie’s defense, it seems to understand the issue. What’s sad is that the audience I saw it with didn’t seem to understand it. They seemed to think, "Of course you can trust Superman; he’s a Good Guy!" But of course that isn’t the way the universe works. We are all Good Guys and Bad Guys at different times. And you give us a bunch of power and we turn bad really fast.

    I remember [i]Batman Returns[/i]. I like seeing Michelle Pfeiffer in anything tight. The last movie I saw was [i]Batman Begins[/i]. It was a thematic and philosophical mess. Similar to [i]Magnum Force[/i]. You just can’t do the "I’m morally ambiguous but not [i]that[/i] morally ambiguous" game. If you’re a vigilante, you’re a vigilante; don’t try to claim the moral high ground.

    • I haven’t read “Under The Dome” or seen the show — but I’d guess that if King had a character say that government/it works line, King was just filling his book with characters of all stripes; that’s what he does. He’s someone who’s said loudly, “tax me, I’m rich.”

      I suppose I don’t read all his books because what I like about them is how vivid his fictional imagination is; once he comes up with a plot where someone can time-travel to stop Lee Harvey Oswald, he gets into the details of how difficult that would be. So if a plot description of one of his books sounds good to me, I’ll check it out, and if it doesn’t, then no.

      I guess there’s a new show based on his JFK book created by J.J. Abrams, which is just barfy (I really liked that book!) He doesn’t seem to translate well to the screen. Although I did like “Needful Things,” but mostly for the performers.

      • That wasn’t a slam on King. I admire his politics and his writing. But I don’t read him anymore. I don’t read much fiction regardless. (I have On Writing sitting here waiting to be read.) I think it would be really easy to stop Oswald. You just have to befriend him. I think people do stuff like that because they surround themselves with like minded people. I don’t know much about him, but that was the case with Booth. I have to wonder if Booth’s family hadn’t ostracized him (over his anti-Lincoln rants) whether he would have gotten to the point of murdering the president. I certainly think engagement is a powerful tool.

        • No, I didn’t take it as a slam on King, only the “Dome” TV show, and it wouldn’t shock me if the show was dumb. It’s possible to make great stuff out of popular fiction (“Jaws” and “The Godfather” were better than the books) but that happens by deepening the books’ material. The novel “Jaws” had little of how the civic fathers placed tourism over safety, for example. Adaptations of King tend to focus on his clever plots and either ignore the subtext or substitute a different, duller one.

          Just futzing around on the Internet because it’s better than dealing with my bills. I could spend all night on this s**t! And I have!

          Even when I used to read, I didn’t read much fiction. Nothing against it, only that there’s constantly so many non-fiction books I want to read that fiction feels like I’m shirking. I used to at least enjoy the occasional Pratchett, but now I don’t even have the energy for those . . .

          • The novel Jaws really is much weaker. I appreciate the affair that the wife has and the whole issue of marrying beneath you and how she comes to appreciate what she has. Brody’s character is more believable, but less likable. But the mafia subplot is weak (and entirely typical of Benchley, who really wasn’t much of a novelist — although a fine writer). And the way the movie works with them being on the sea constantly works much better, although coming home each night actually makes more sense. Actually, now that I think about it, none of the characters are very likable in the book.

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