Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
In “Man of Steel,” young Clark Kent must train his senses, lest his super-hearing and X-ray vision all fire at once, leaving him overwhelmed by the overload.
Likewise, after years of reviewing films from a worldview perspective, I have trained my “senses” to look for biblical parallels and Christological metaphors in movies.
But training or not, my senses were in danger of being overwhelmed by the deluge of Messianic images and messages in “Man of Steel,” the fantastic new Superman movie now in theaters. The film is practically – and I believe intentionally – the story of Jesus in red boots and cape.
Now … I’ve heard plenty of negative reviewers gripe that this movie is all action, that it’s soulless, that it isn’t very good.
“Man of Steel” is the best Superman movie made to date and stands right up there with the best Ironman or Spider-Man has to offer (but not quite Batman: I mean, c’mon; “The Dark Knight” is on another level altogether).
Actor Henry Cavill brings a perfectly understated yet layered performance to the role of Clark Kent (a.k.a. Superman), playing a very hunky version of the character who is believably humble as the grown-up Kansas farm boy, childlike in the discovery of his ability to fly, powerful in his feats of heroism and raging in his battles against the villain. There are several scenes where Cavill is asked to calm those who are afraid of his character without any words, merely in the earnest, altruistic warmth of his eyes … and Cavill actually pulls it off.
And while it’s true the supporting cast is left woefully underdeveloped, this isn’t a story about Lois Lane or General Zod. It’s a story about Clark Kent. It’s the story of his struggle to fulfill his purpose in life, namely to be am incarnate mediator between his Father’s world and Earth and to offer himself up to save a world that would reject him for trying (hmm … sound familiar?).
Yet despite his extraterrestrial father’s plan, Clark is haunted by an earthly father who warned him he would be despised by men if his powers were known. The film’s several flashbacks reveal pivotal moments where these lessons were hammered home in young Kent, scenes that give depth to the character that help sustain the film’s final act, which, admittedly, does carry on the action for a bit too long.
What further sustains the film are the dozens of parallels between Kent and Christ, between his father and The Father, between Zod and Satan and more. Audiences who miss these metaphors will understandably think less of the film than I do, but audiences that understand the parallels will revel in the feast.
For example, the script is filled with clues to the Messianic nature of Superman, such as, “He will be a god to them [the people of Earth],” and, “You have another father who gave you another name. He sent you here for a reason,” and his father’s words, “You can save all of them,” words spoken right before Superman leaves the spaceship in a crucifix-like, arms extended pose.
Other parallels appear in the film’s villains, who think of humans as Satan does, muttering to the Christ-figure, “For every human you save, we will kill a million more,” and, “I’m going to make them suffer. I will take them all from you,” and, “If you love these people so much, you can mourn for them.”
Still other metaphors come as messages that run all the deeper when you think of Superman as a Christ-figure, such as his statement, “You’re scared of me because you can’t control me,” or his statement, “I’m here to help, but it has to be on my own terms.”
I suppose the Messianic metaphors should be expected, as Superman was created in the 1930s as a sort of Moses figure by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, two Jewish-American children of European refugees. Superman’s arrival as a baby in a “basket” from Krypton or his father’s Hebrew name should be clues to those origins.
But biblically, Moses was a type, a shadow of the Savior to come, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Similarly, “Man of Steel” goes beyond Jewish metaphors to a clearly Christian character, the movie even making sure you know he dons the boots and cape at the age of 33 (the age traditionally associated with Jesus’ ministry).
Sometimes the film even makes it too obvious. Clark Kent’s “Garden of Gethsemane” moment is actually filmed in a church, in front of a stained glass window, where over Kent’s shoulder is seen – what else? – Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps that kind of blunt imagery is needed for our biblically illiterate culture, but Christian audiences should be able to spot dozens of other ways the film draws a picture of Christ.
In “Man of Steel” the filmmakers have opened a wide avenue for thought on both the spiritual and the incarnated Christ’s human battle for the salvation of mankind, for discussions on humanity’s reaction to God and for evangelistic opportunities to explain the life and gospel of Christ in whole new ways. Whenever you make a character a clear Christ-figure, whether it’s Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars,” Aslan in “Chronicles of Narnia” or Clark Kent in “Man of Steel,” it means the film has moved beyond being “just a movie,” just entertainment, to a purposeful statement on what is true that must be pondered and evaluated by discerning audiences.
Many reviewers, as I’ve stated, probably missed this entire subtext or reject it as they reject Christ himself. Without these layers, the criticisms that the film is too “shallow” or too action-heavy make sense.
But with them, the film is fascinating. It’s entertaining. And it speaks of God, loudly. Though I won’t claim it was written by an author the caliber of C.S. Lewis, nonetheless, the metaphors and messages make “Man of Steel” a sort of “Chronicles of Narnia” for an “Avengers” generation.
“Man of Steel,” rated PG-13, contains about a dozen very minor profanities and obscenities and one use of the term “F-ing,” without the three letters that would make that an even stronger obscenity.
The film is light on sexuality, though it does linger on the hunky Cavill in a shirtless scene, has a few shots of cleavage, contains a couple of kisses, depicts a man patting a waitress’ rear end and shows a baby boy fully nude. Some of the characters wear form-fitting clothes, but it isn’t significantly revealing.
The film does not shy away from violence, however, and the third act is filled with non-stop fighting between characters of super-strength, crashing into and through buildings, explosions and more – comic book violence in a live-action movie. The buildings crashing will be reminiscent of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York City. Such violence would result in hundreds of deaths in the real world, but few deaths are seen in the film. The most disturbing piece of violence may be a being whose neck is snapped by another somewhat graphically.
In addition to the dozens of biblical metaphors discussed above, the film contains a dialogue on the amorality of evolution and a pastor/priest who briefly discusses having “faith,” but little overt religious or occult content.