*Spoiler Alert: Warning, this blog discusses specific, key scenes in Man of Steel.
This past weekend Man of Steel, the latest revamp of Superman, opened with great box office success. Having just returned from seeing the film I can say that I highly enjoyed it, both as a story and for its visual effects; though there were a few moments too corny for my taste.
Yet spectacular special effects and cheese aside, what intrigued me the most about the film were the rumors of strong Christological and biblical themes woven throughout the movie. One pastor has said, “When I sat and listened to the movie I actually saw it was the story of Christ, and the love of God was weaved into the story.”
As a Christian, I believe there is great value in telling a good story that communicates truths about whom God is and who we are as humans. I believe that any truly good story will reflect the greatest good and true story. We long for tales of redemption, hope, and sacrifice, weaving them into our imaginative worlds because we instinctively know this world of reality is not how things should have turned out. We create mythical stories of super-men who redeem the world because it reflects the real story of Jesus, the God-Man who has worked the redemption we seek.
All of this led me to sit through the movie and ask myself: is Man of Steel the story of Christ? Is it a “Christian” movie? The answer to this question is both yes and no, which I will try to unpack in what follows.
Yes, Man of Steel is a Christian Movie
One theme throughout the movie is that the world is not strong enough to bring about the salvation it needs. General Zod is too strong for humanity; nothing can defeat him. The world needs someone who can protect and guard them with a strength they can never have. At first the world rejects Kal-El, but soon they learn to trust him and to see that his purpose on earth is to protect them. He can give them the safety and salvation they need, if they will let him. This is the theme in the movie that most clearly parallels the Christian message. The world needs a savior, and they have the choice to accept or reject him.
There are other clear Christological parallels woven throughout the movie as well. When Clark Kent’s Krypton parents name him we’re told, “His name is Kal, son of El.” Whether this was intentional on the writers’ part or not (I tend to think it was) one of the Hebrew names for God is El. To add to this element, the “S” which humans will take for “Superman,” is really Kal-El’s family crest meaning hope. In other words, Kal-El was born the son of God whose family crest identifies him with hope. This is clearly Christological as Jesus is often called the “Son of God” who in his life, death, and resurrection offered hope for humanity.
Like Jesus, Kal-El had two fathers. One father, his heavenly one, sent him to earth to do what was right and to fulfill his purpose. The other, his earthly father, sought to raise him with a strong sense of morality and responsibility, preparing him for his savior status yet to come. Through his fathers, Kal-El comes to grips with his two identities, one human and the other not of this world.
Also like Jesus, Kal-El did not fulfill his purpose until he was 33 when he was willing to sacrifice himself for the world’s salvation. In one compelling scene, Clark wrestles with how he can fulfill the role he knows he’s called to. He sits in a chapel discussing his true identity with a priest. A picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is directly behind him. In a very real way, this scene was Clark’s Gethsemane as he found the strength to go and fulfill his purpose. Later, as he sees the image of his Krypton father for the last time, he lifts his arms in the shape of a cross and floats with determination to his destiny.
These are all very good and compelling Christian images. But this, in my opinion, is where the similarities end. I would disagree with the statement that Man of Steel is the story of Christ. You may think I’m nitpicky and over-analyzed the movie (it is, after all, made by Hollywood). But when it comes to the message of Christianity, a little nitpicking might be a good thing.
No, Man of Steel is not a Christian Movie
Throughout his childhood and up until he’s 33, Kal-El struggles with his identity. It isn’t until he meets the ‘mind’ of his father uploaded in a Kryptonian ship that he finally learns his true potential and worth. Yet there is no sign that Jesus ever had the same struggles. On the contrary, at the young age of 12 we’re told he said, “I must be about my father’s business,” and throughout his earthly ministry he was very clear to all who would listen that he was the Son of God who came to die and rise again. Kal-El sacrificed himself not knowing how the story would end. Jesus laid down his life, enduring the cross, with full knowledge of the outcome.
Kal-El faced an enemy that was as strong as he was to save the world from the evil they threatened. He “died” to save the world from the plans of Zod. Jesus, however, did not face an enemy that was on the same level of strength as his own. The enemy he faced was a grain of sand in the ocean of his presence. Jesus did not just defeat his enemy at the last-minute. He had defeated his enemy before the battle even began. Unlike Kal-El, Jesus never lost control for a second. He never had his strength sapped because the atmosphere changed. When Jesus laid down his life, he was in control from start to finish.
Most importantly, the enemy Kal-El faced was a threat outside of earth. The innocent world needed saving from the evil aliens. Jesus did not come to save the world from an outside threat. He came to save the world from the threat that resides here, within each of us. He died for the Zod’s of humanity, including me and you. This, at its core, is why Man of Steel is not a Christian movie; the “why” of sacrifice. Why did Kal-El sacrifice himself, and why did Jesus die? The fictitious savior “died” to save morally superior humans. Jesus, the true savior, died to save a morally corrupt world. Kal-El fought to protect the innocent. Jesus defeated death to rescue the damned.
In conclusion, there are many strong Christian themes throughout Man of Steel that point to the beauty of Redemption. Yet, we shouldn’t lose sight of how the movie distorts the Christian message as well. Superman may seek to protect the world from the evil out there, but Jesus came to eradicate the evil within. Jesus isn’t Superman. He’s the God-Man. Like Kal-El, the world must decide whether to reject or accept him.
What do you think? Is Man of Steel a “Christian” movie?