Disclaimer: the following blog post compares Jesus to Superman for entertainment purposes only. If you’re either offended by this or you take it seriously, this blog post is the least of your problems. Please direct all death threats to the United States Senate.
Man of Steel, the new Superman reboot, is a terrific tent-pole summer film in that it’s got plenty of flash; there’s absolutely dazzling set-pieces, the scope is massive, and it features Henry Cavill in skin-tight spandex. There’s also a lot to love in there if you’re a DC Comics reader or a fan of the original Superman movies, especially with the way the planet Krypton and its culture are developed; however, you’re probably going to get the most out of Man of Steel if you’re prepared to accept that Superman is just Jesus Christ with the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
As an academic, I have literally years of training in seeking out contextual symbolism in different texts and laying it bare, but pointing out the messianic themes in Man of Steel is high school AP English-level work, as anyone with a functioning pair of eyes can see it completely clearly: the only son of a benevolent, far-off entity is imbued with supernatural powers and sent to act as the savior of the human race. Man of Steel takes this rough framework and runs with it into the endzone through some pretty heavy-handed reinforcement throughout the entire film; this may or may not ruin the movie for you if things like this bother you (by the way, there are SPOILERS ahead, so be warned!).
Poor Clark Kent. He grows up knowing he’s completely different, but not understanding why he can’t just be normal like all the other people in the world – why is it his responsibility to control his powers, keep them in check, refrain from hurting others, and safeguarding the world? This conflict is only intensified in the film when General Zod arrives in Earth orbit and demands Kal-El to surrender himself or watch humanity be destroyed. Why does it end up being his responsibility? Why does he have to sacrifice possibly everything for a people as cruel and capricious as us, with our Jersey Shore fixation and Justin Beiber mania?
Wracked with doubts, Clark seeks advice at a local church. Watching the scene carefully will reveal that in one shot, Henry Cavill is in the foreground while behind his shoulder, softly out of focus, is a stained-glass window featuring an image of Christ, all while Clark voices his doubts as to whether he should submit to Zod’s will. This echoes strongly with Matthew 26:49, where Jesus prays: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” as he seeks for a way to avoid whatever fate awaits him. Now Jesus as we all know ends up letting himself be nailed to a piece of wood by the Romans while Superman not only goes to war with the
Space Romans Kryptonians but wins; however,the correlation between Superman and Jesus is still there, and it resonates very strongly.
As if that wasn’t enough evidence of a strong, purposefully-made link between Superman’s portrayal in Man of Steel and Jesus, there are other reinforcing factors as well. In the interrogation room scene, Clark tells his ‘captors’ that he is 33 years old, which is the same age of Jesus at the time of his death. On top of that, cruciform symbolism is rampant throughout the film, with one scene in particular standing out: Clark is standing on the deck of the Kryptonian ship, looking out through a hull breach as Lois Lane’s escape pod careens out of control towards Earth. His father’s hologram tells him, “you can save her; you can save all of them,” and Clark, after a short moment of consideration, holds his arms out, closes his eyes, and swan dives out of orbit towards Earth, silhouetted in such a way as to connote Christ at Calvary – or maybe Scott Stapp at a Creed concert.
I don’t know why Zack Snyder chose to bring so many strong echoes of Christianity into his film, nor do I know why he decided to make the Biblical allusions so heavy-handed and obvious. Whether he was playing to the lowest common denominator in that Christianity is a major world religion that many Americans count themselves as, or was he simply embracing the “American” nature of Superman by reinforcing his status as a messianic figure, it may not be known without tracking him down and asking him what the hell he was thinking. Let’s ignore the more ironic measures here in the Man of Steel universe: the acceptance of the Last Son of Krypton’s existence puts an end to the whole The Earth Was Created By God In Six Days and the We are God’s Chosen People theories, but that’s not the point really. The important thing is that a blatant truth is out there and can’t be taken back – in Man of Steel, Superman is portrayed as Jesus with good hair, six pack abs, and the ability to beat the shit out of anyone who gets in his way. So much for turning the other cheek!