Man of Steel Gives us a Superman for the Ages
- Stephen McGarvey Editor-in-Chief, Crosswalk.com
- 2013 11 Jun
“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s... Superman!”
We all know that famous line. And now the king of all superheroes makes his return to the big screen with this summer’s blockbuster hopeful, Man of Steel.
Born Kal-El of Krypton, adopted as Clark Kent by a humble Kansas farm couple, Superman is perhaps the world’s most famous superhero. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman flew into the comic book scene in 1938 with Action Comics #1 (later D.C. Comics) birthing America’s notable cultural icon. Over the past 75 years Superman’s heroics have been fodder for seemingly endless comic books, radio programs, TV shows, cartoons, novels, and films. He is the king of indestructible and incorruptible superheroes: unmatched strength and speed with an unwavering sense of moral justice.
General cultural consciousness not withstanding, the filmmakers of Man of Steel hope to bring Superman’s story to a whole new generation of superhero fans who are accustomed to a more gritty kind of hero. But will the fans of the brooding new Dark Knight or Iron Man and his inner demons take to a hero with such a historically solid moral center?
"[Kids] know the glyph [Superman symbol], maybe they wear the t-shirt, but they don’t really KNOW Superman," says Deborah Snyder, a producer on Man of Steel and wife of director Zack Snyder. "We start from scratch. You don’t have to come into the story knowing anything and I think that’s really great for the younger audience."
As a revised origin story for contemporary super-fans, Man of Steel attempts an enormous task. How do you truly reboot a character with so much history and not anger the loyal fans? How do you take a hero from comics past, now often considered boring, and make him relevant to modern audiences? How can someone one who is largely indestructible be relatable to those who are not?
Deborah Snyder was well aware of this challenge as she talked with Crosswalk.com at a recent press junket. "When you have this character that has these extraordinary powers, you'll never be able to understand what that's like. But he also has human qualities too. What can we do to make those qualities and struggles relatable to us as the audience? We asked ourselves what could we do to put him in our world to understand him a little bit more. And that was the start of it."
"Superman is about goodness," Snyder continues. "When striving for goodness you have to make a lot of choices and often those choices are complicated and messy and that's also what makes Superman more relatable."
Another aspect of Superman's history that makes him unique among superheroes is the prominent role his two fathers play in his story. Both Jor-El (Russell Crowe), the biological father who saves his life, and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), the earthly father who adopts him, have great influence over the man Clark Kent becomes. Man of Steel takes great pains to flesh out this part of Superman’s story.
"You have these two hugely influential characters with both his fathers," Snyder says. "I think when we meet Clark in this film he’s on this journey of self-discovery. He feels lost. He’s trying to figure out who he is. And he comes to realize that he’s as much a product of Krypton as he is a product of Earth. Basically these two fathers have really influenced who he is in such a profound way."
"You’re going to have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be," Jonathan Kent tells his son in one of the film’s most poignant moments. It is the parenting of the Kents that gives Clark the moral center to be "Superman." Snyder comments: "[The Kents] just try to do their best to do the right thing and to teach him what it means to be good. I always feel like I see [Jonathan Kent] in every decision that Clark makes along the way. I think that’s what makes this Superman so interesting."
In this the filmmakers hope they have imbued Man of Steel with an emotional resonance and character development not typical in a summer popcorn action flick.
"I think people expect to see the spectacle and great action. But I think people might not expect [a film] that’s emotional, that has depth," says Snyder. "[Clark Kent] comes to realize he has these two fathers and they have contributed so much to who he is... I think that's what makes you care about this character."
Director Zack Snyder has gone on record saying he wants his take on Krypton's last son to unpack the "why" of Superman. "I always felt in the past Superman has kind of been this unrelatable character," he tells MTV News. But Superman is much more comprehensible if "we understood his love of humanity and his morality... then we would 'get' the grown-up Superman."
"Superman is one of the truly special figures man has created throughout history," says Henry Cavill, the actor chosen to embody Clark Kent in Man of Steel. "He stands for hope, for the ability to conquer adversity against all odds. That's something we can always hold onto, no matter where we are in life or what’s going on in the world."
There is much to appreciate about Man of Steel and the character of Kal-El: the struggle to find a greater purpose in life... the desire to use your talents in a noble pursuit... the sacrifice of parents who put the life of a child ahead of their own.
But most notable is the idea that someone with the kind of power Superman possesses would use it to make the world a better place. As Christians, we believe that sin has corrupted the perfect world that God has created for us. We see far too many examples of powerful people using their strength for nothing more than their own self-interest, to the detriment of those around them. It’s uplifting to think that maybe, someone with the superhuman abilities of Superman -- someone whom no one on the planet could restrain by force -- would choose to use his powers for good. It's an ideal we all can strive for whether we have heat vision or not, and stories that celebrate characters who do should be applauded.
Be sure to visit the Pastor Resource Site for Man of Steel, where you'll find everything you need to educate and uplift your congregation including Free Videos, Sermon Outlines and Images!
Stephen McGarvey is the Editor-in-Chief of Crosswalk.com and the Sr. Director of Content and Brand Management for the Salem Web Network.
*This article first published 6/11/2013