Despite the warnings on Rotten Tomatoes, I found myself in the theater watching Man of Steel. I’d decided this was the film I wanted to see on my birthday and, critics be darned, I was gonna see it. Really should have listened to the critics this time.
For some reason I’ve been obsessed with superhero films recently. This is a genre to which I’ve not given an iota of attention or respect. Fantasy has always been a serious favorite, then somehow I began to dabble in other arenas. I could blame Chris Nolan, or I could blame my “sons” (my husband is a pastor and most of our congregants are young men). They convinced me to go see The Avengers with them, which led to research, which led to X-Men. What intrigued me about this group was the fact that their special powers rendered them at most dangerous, but at least lonely, outcast, rejected. Thrust together in community, they find the potential for love and acceptance, and the must decide whether to use their powers for good or ill.
The Man of Steel trailers promised something like unto this: scenes of a lonely young man struggling and wandering. Scenes of bullies and rejections. In the third trailer released (above), Kal-El’s birth mother is heard saying “He will be an outcast, they will kill him.” Lois Lane (Amy Adams) describes him as “someone who has spent a lifetime covering his tracks, for some he was a guardian angel, for others, a ghost who never quite fit in.” The first part of the film devolves the human side of Superman, emphasizing his powerlessness, being despised and rejected by men, versus the omnipotence that he must harness until the appropriate time. Then—Shazam!—he arrives. Savior!
Well… I sat in the theater puzzled, hearing the critics’ voices in my head. The script was stilted and too simple, such marvelous actors stuck by the words they were given. Spaces left open for wit and sarcasm were left gaping. Clark Kent goes from human to “divine” at warp speed with little transition, and we are left with special effects and fight scenes and NOISE… So. Much. Noise.
I never thought I’d say this but my favorite scenes all had Kevin Costner in them. Although the dialogue could have been better, Clark’s earthly father was touching in explaining the Whys and Whens of his existence. The first quarter of the film gives us a picture of a truly “human” Clark, the rejected loner having to disappear whenever his power gets the best of him. The humbled and alienated Kent allows the audience to enter in, to associate with while knowing something was going to happen. Then BANG… A couple rushed, obvious-Christ-image scenes, and Clark is assigned His Superman suit and we are off to bigger and better things.
A couple things: In addition to Costner, Russell Crowe and Diane Lane are as super as the script allows. I’m sure the special effects are good—not much for that myself. I am no Superman scholar, but the movie makes it seem as if the Messiah and Christ imagery is inherent in the DC Comics [Ed note: it is not! A perennial temptation, though]. While Clark’s assertion that he is 33 years old during one scene is one of the few attempts at humor during the film, some other references are about as subtle as a brick thrown to the head—and apparently Warner Brothers wants Christians to buy into it.
What haunted me during the entire film, however, was this: like Judas, this is how we really want our Messiah to be. We want to grit our teeth and find Jesus on the White Horse of wrath and judgment. Or we sit, scratching our heads like John the Baptist, asking “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” We are like the Early Church believers who expected Jesus to show up any minute and “restore the kingdom of Israel” in the way they imagined.
While the film’s writers and producers may have meant to accentuate the Christ imagery, this other fact is accidentally accurate. As modern day believers, we still want Warrior Christ, whose humanity disappears in unimaginable feats that we can see (and hear, much too loudly). We want supernatural signs and wonders, we want entertainment and action, we want public extermination of the bad guys with jaw-dropping special effects. As Russell Crowe’s heavenly father figure says: “He will be a god to them” and “In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
So, what happened to Isaiah 53?
“…He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces…he was despised…He was oppressed, he was afflicted…he was cut off out of the land of the living…he poured out his soul to death…”
Or Philippians 2?
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
It seems we naturally want this trailer, and not the one above.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, / neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, / so are my ways higher than your ways
And my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8-9)
As my friend and I were talking after church last night, I think we will be surprised and shocked when He comes again and we see Him face to face.