Man of Steel  is an Epic, Righteous, Legendary Masterpiece!!!

(Podwits contributor Luke Whitmire shares his personal reaction to the new Superman film.)

Man of Steel

In the pantheon of superheroes, Superman is the most recognized and revered character of all time. For seventy-five years his stories have been published in thousands of comic books, novels, a successful radio series, both short and full-length films, and a couple of very popular television series. Millions of fans have followed and devoured these colorful, artistic works with an incessant passion. Many have even claimed, “Superman defines pop culture.”

Superman is not only beloved as the monolithic ideal of truth, justice and the American way, but he is also beloved for his obvious allusion to Jesus Christ. Every now and again someone will get the opportunity to elevate the Superman arc with more real life content. Renowned writer Alan Moore flawlessly deconstructed and combined the paradigm with his grim writing style and acute societal observation. But, from the genesis of Superman, he has always been the hero who saves lives, therefore he is a savior. The  genre has always been more dynamic whenever the writer permeates his story with philosophies and social issues that resonate. When the ultra-heroes are real and relatable, their traits help bridge the gap between the comic book universe and the real world (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is a perfect example). In the universe of Superman, he has always been a hero who has paralleled Christ and many of his stories have payed homages to themes and stories in the bible.

Now the geek in me is coming out, so bear with me. There is a very strong religious subtext in the realm of Superman, especially in Man of Steel. For example, “Kal-El” is Superman’s Kryptonian name, and it sounds a lot like “Israel” and “Ishmael.” According to scripture, El means “god” (pagan or false), “God” (the true God of Israel), and sometimes “mighty” (referring to men or angels). When El is used to refer to the God of Israel, the term has additional wording to further define and distinguish Him from the false gods.The Old Testament patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob used El Shaddai (God Almighty) exclusively, referring to the monotheistic God of Israel and mankind. You can even claim that Superman not only parallels Christ, but emblematizes the  prophet Moses.

Man of Steel

Henry Cavill as Superman

The 1978 Superman film, directed by Richard Donner, had allegorical connections to the Holy Trinity between Superman and his father Jor-El. Also, Brian Singer’s 2006 remake Superman Returns was extremely overt with Christ symbolism. One scene has Superman dying and posed like Christ on the Cross as he falls from space to earth. The religious subtext has become a big part of Superman’s history, making him the dominant superhero who’s thematically messianic.

Man of Steel is the considered the second reboot and the sixth feature film in the franchise, and I have to say: this is the best Superman story ever put on celluloid! Not only is the Christ symbolism better and more overt, but the entire cinematic take on the icon is creatively refreshing and darker than any of the previous entries. This movie is majestic in tone and sublime in action. Not very often do we get such greatness so powerfully and vibrantly illustrated across the silver screen.

Planet Krypton is disintegrating into civil war as Lara (Ayelet Zurer) and Jor-El (Russell Crowe) welcome the planet’s first natural birth in centuries. Their race, once intergalactic explorers, genetically engineer newborns to serve in pre-determined roles. With the planet’s natural resources in depletion, Jor-El and Lara rocket their son Kal-El to Earth, as the ferocious military leader General Zod (Michael Shannon) orchestrates a last-minute coup to purify the race and start over. He’s sentenced to the Phantom Zone, but only after vowing to find Kal-El.

Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, Sucker Punch) creates a beautiful and meaningful origin story that really goes deep into the conflicted nature of the hero. He does a remarkable job giving us a portrait of a man who has needs and emotions, but also a God with a purpose who is intrinsically part of Earth. Snyder, Christopher Nolan (credited as producer), and writer David S. Goyer have really humanized Superman and have brought him to life in a way that no other director before could. Snyder is one of the few filmmakers who has an innate understanding of visual storytelling, and he knows how to compose and frame to elicit instant emotion.Superman in chains

One of the most compelling parts about Snyder’s vision is the keen focus on Clark Kent’s journey into becoming Superman. British actor Henry Cavill is absolutely perfect as Kal-El. For my own personal sensibilities, he brings more gravitas to the role than Christopher Reeve. The creative team couldn’t have picked a better actor to play this role than Cavill. He really makes the character his own, and conveys brilliantly the conflict of Clark’s place in the world. We really sense the identity crisis and confusion that envelop Clark before he transcends from ordinary man to the hero with a purpose and destiny. Also, Cavill brings a cagey physicality to Clark that works so well before he chooses to use the unlimited powers he manifests. Another fascinating element to Clark’s journey is how he struggles emotionally and reconciles the conflicting ideologies of his two fathers.

Kal-El grows up torn between two worlds, and struggles with the ideals and aspirations of Jor-El and his earthly parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). He goes on an existential journey, working odd jobs, never staying in one place and surreptitiously saving people. Clark hides himself from the outside world, overcoming the tension between his Kryptonian nature and his Earthly nature. Lane’s Martha adds a great depth as a guiding light to Clark. She is extremely believable as the nurturing mother who is impassioned to keep Clark on the straight and narrow path.

Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner are the driving forces who keep Clark from descending into moral blindness.The fathers mold and shape Clark into a larger-than-life symbol of sacrifice. What I gathered from these emotional poignant scenes is absence of passion, absence of conviction, leads to indifference, that will later lead you to the silence of death.

zod in chains

Michael Shannon as General Zod

The leader of the Zod squad, Michael Shannon, is pure destruction and malice as the towering General  Zod. His remarkable physical presence and wild-eyed look suggest extreme discomfort and apocalyptic force. The alien villain is a vile and complex antagonist for the Man of Steel. Zod even has a beautiful and lithesome female sidekick Faora (Antje Traue), who is “the right hand of Zod.” I found Faora to be the most satisfying to watch of the ensemble of villains. She has some brief moments of fury that are awesome. The Zod squad is a calculating, intelligent military faction of highly trained warriors.

Another remarkable piece of revisionism in the film is how Snyder and Goyer imagined Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and it’s a fascinating new take on the character. Lois has always been the competent investigative reporter who works side by side with Clark, but she could never deduce that Clark was Superman. This has always bothered me. In this film, Lois is portrayed as an efficient, intuitive journalist who is always two steps ahead. From the start of the film, she knows something is very unique about Clark, and she follows his tracks with precision. Adams makes Lois Lane much more appealing in this reboot. She is an awesome new breed of Lois.

The cast members add so much nuance and depth to Snyder’s impeccable mythmaking. Goyer’s screenplay alters the typical linear plot progression with a flashback structure to accentuate Clark’s journey as a little boy. We are also submerged in the beautiful, Gigeresque world of Krypton, getting a detailed look at the doomed planet. Even handheld camerawork is used throughout the film to double up on the gritty realism.

Sacrifice is the film’s strongest theme, what we do for the people we love and care for. How far would we go to assist the ones we have a deep connection with progress in virtue and tranquility? These tangible, relatable emotions allow us to sympathize with this Superman more than any other previous incarnation.

Superman has always been an extremely difficult character to establish on the silver screen, but one can sense Snyder and his team have used their creative capacities very well. As such, every aesthetic element and every character beat is thoughtfully uniformed to help us understand Superman’s place in our world. The balance and structure of the narrative components have a holistic sense of purpose and function, keeping the story and the sum of its parts cohesive. Suffice it to say the blend makes Superman really palpable.

SupermanMan of Steel is a profound spiritual quest of an alien who has lived among us for 33 years (the same age as Jesus Christ when he died on the Cross for the sins of mankind), and sacrifices himself—the reserved person he’s been, the person he has always known—by revealing his true identity to the world in order to save mankind. The world finally sees Kal-El, mankind’s “El.” I don’t know if the creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) intended for their prolific character to be a Christ figure, but it has made their creation within the comic book genre utterly singular.

The action in this film will not only blow you through the back wall of the theater; it will blow you sky high! I couldn’t believe the sheer scale of it all. Snyder has managed to create  the best epic battle sequences. He has raised the bar in terms of superhero brawls and manufacturing balletic warfare. The scale of the action is completely unprecedented, an enormously, viscerally powerful intoxicant to the genre. It’s cinematic insanity the last hour! Hans Zimmer’s soul-stirring score elevates the story and visuals to greater heights and dimensions. But the true power of this film is the emotional and spiritual connection.

My only complaints: The film is devoid of joy and humor, and there are a few rhythm and pacing problems in the storytelling.

Bottom Line:

A more cerebral take on the Man of Steel. Zack Snyder seems more inspired than his competition.This is the Superman movie we’ve been waiting for!

* * * * 1/2 out of 5 stars

Rating note: The film contains violence.