Instead of writing a review of Man of Steel, I decided that I wanted instead to focus on the symbolism within the film, specifically the film’s comparison between Superman and Jesus Christ. Before any trailer for Man of Steel aired, I pointed out to many of my students that Superman is a rather Christ-like figure: He came from the Heavens as their only son to be the savior of mankind. He was raised by parents that were not his own, Jonathan and Martha Kent. I would be remiss at this point to ignore the fact Jonathan and Martha’s names begin with J & M, the same initials that begin the names of Joseph and Mary, Jesus’s parents. Obviously, at some point someone wanted the reader or audience to make the comparison between Superman and Christ.
With all of those comparisons already in my head, I was curious to see if Man of Steel would push that imagery to the forefront, or leave it in the background. I didn’t have to wait long to find my answer. After a very well done opening sequence establishing the destruction of Krypton, the audience is immediately introduced to an adult Clark Kent (sans spectacles). Upon first meeting Clark, we see that he is among a group of fishermen, which itself is a reference to Christ. It was at this point that I figured that the film wasn’t going to shy away from the Christ imagery. The film goes on to establish that Clark is 33 years old (a significant age for Christ), and gives the viewer flashbacks to his youth, which shows that he struggled to find his place in the world, much like Christ would have done at a young age. One has to remember that Jesus was a child of two worlds (Heaven and Earth), just as Clark is a child of two worlds (Krypton and Earth). Clark’s parents, especially his father are shown to be incredibly protective of their son because they know that one day, he will grow up and save or change the world. Not unlike Joseph and Mary knowing the destiny of their son.
One of the things I found very interesting is the fact that the movie strongly points out that Superman derives his power from our yellow sun. Extending that metaphor, one might extrapolate that Superman derives his power from the Heavens, like Jesus. And much like Jesus went to his Father for guidance in the garden of Gethsemane, Superman goes to his place in the snow for guidance from his father. At some point both characters reach an understanding of who they are, and what their importance to the world really is. When Superman does recognize who he is, he immediately ascends and takes to the sky.
This brings us to the character of General Zod. A character, who betrays Superman’s father, and is hell bent (and yes I use that term appropriately) on ruling, not unlike Satan who refused to bow before God, and was cast out of Heaven because of it. In Man of Steel, Zod is cast out of Krypton to wither away in the Phantom Zone; much like Satan, he strikes back at humanity to achieve his revenge. Yet this is where the similarities end. The film becomes very action oriented and a very un-Jesus like, knock down drag out fight (which is incredibly entertaining) takes place.
I thought that this was a very well-done film, but what stood out to me was that in an age of cynics and atheists, here a film which does not shy away from the similarities between its protagonist and Jesus, it actually embraced them. Superman has always been one of the most purely good Superheroes, perhaps his creators and/or the director of the film just thought if they were going to give people an ideal to live up to, perhaps it should be Christ-like.