Sunday, June 16, 2013

Superman our Savior?

I went to see the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, under a little duress yesterday. Don't get me wrong. I love superhero movies, they really appeal to the fantasy lover in me and some manage to transcend the usual, let's-blow-up-everything-in-sight philosophy (see my review of Ironman here).

But really, how many re-boots of a story do we need? The Hulk got a TV series and two movies, Batman got a TV series and two re-starts. Spiderman's on his second recent restart (after a TV series as well). Then here comes Superman, having to prove he's superior with several TV series and THREE movie reboots!

To be fair, the second restart wasn't very good. There were plot holes wide enough to drive a train through and incredible leaps of logic. So I can understand the movie producers wanting to just forget that one and move on.

But the key words here are "move on." Don't tell me the same story all over again. Give me an episode. Not the same old story we've seen before.

WARNING: the rest of the post contains spoilers, so stop reading here if you don't want them.

So I went, expecting little that was new and much that was familiar: Jor-El sending his son to Earth as his planet imploded; the spacecraft and little boy being found by Midwestern parents who will raise him, his eventual move to Metropolis and the development of his alter-ego Clark Kent who gets a job at the Daily Planet.

All that was there, as expected. What was unexpected was the incredible backstory they filmed on Krypton. I suppose the producers wanted to get their money's worth out of Russell Crowe, an actor I don't really care much for. But, I have to admit, he was a powerful Jor-El. I found myself looking forward to each of his appearances as Superman's guiding force, once Clark accepts that he is not human.

The structure of the movie begins in a usual manner: on Krypton, filling us in on exposition. But once Krypton implodes, the movie's timeline shifts to an adult Clark Kent who moves from job to job, helping people and leaving as soon as people begin to suspect he's different. He's a man in hiding.

From there, the story alternates between present time and flashbacks to his childhood in Kansas. At first I was concerned. I tend to lose the main storyline if there are too many interruptions. But Zack Snyder, the director, handled them well and the story flowed seamlessly to get in all the story points. In fact, on retrospect, I think I preferred this structure to the straight, chronological storytelling that's usually used. Made this reboot something new.

But what I really wanted to talk about in my review were the incredible number of Christ references in the film. I noted the first one and thought, "Ah! An allusion. Nice touch." Then there was another...and another...and by the time he said his age (33) it was pretty obvious this remake wasn't just "truth, justice, and the American way." There is another, not-so-subtle subtext going on, from the way Superman hangs in the air, the dust haloing his body when he meets the US Army for the first time, to the wrestling with who he is (the "running away" section equals the 40 days in the desert Jesus took early in his career. And it is no accident that Superman comes out of the desert to meet with the Army - and the men who become his followers).

A good movie stays with you a while, and Superman did that last night, the Christ images weaving in and out of my consciousness as I toyed with this post in my head. Then, this morning I awoke my computer to check the headlines (my usual routine) and came across this story on CNN. I am not the only one to be hit over the head with the Christ references.

Now, to be fair, the article states that studios providing movie guidelines to churches is a regular practice. I know from experience the studios often put together study guides for schools, too. I have no problem with that. I just find it interesting that this movie has such an obvious parallel when I didn't see it in any of the other movie or TV incarnations that dealt with the man in the cape.

Not that it wasn't there. Heck, most superhero movies have savoir themes. Ironman does. So does the Odyssey if you really want to go there. Heroes are saviors. That's what they do. That's what we want them to do. People are in a jam and they need someone to help them out. Enter the hero.

But while Ironman had Biblical allusions, Jon Favreau (the director) didn't hit the audience over the head with them. They were subtle and you had to watch a few times to catch them. In Man of Steel, Snyder uses such a heavy hand that the allusions threatened to pull me out of the movie. And that's the objection I have. Let me find them, don't tell them to me outright. There's no art in that. And I like art in my movies (as well as a couple of well-done explosions).

All that said, it was a good movie and Henry Cavill is a good Superman (and, as one of the characters admits, "He's hot." I agree!). Amy Adams as Lois Lane is fun and I believe her every moment, even if she is in on his secret identity from the start (a story change I'm not sure I like). Kevin Costner has several wonderful moments as a dad trying to raise a special child and Diane Lane as Superman's mom has just the right balance of love and practicality. And yes, even Russell Crowe gave a good performance. :)

There is a great deal more to be said of this film, but I've only seen it once. I will watch this movie again and then I'll come back to discuss some of the other aspects of the film (the change in Superman's costume, a missed opportunity, the Colonel's sacrifice...among other things).

Yes,  in spite of the heavy-handed allusions, there were some levels to this film that are worth exploring deeper. Till then,

Play safe!

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