Jesus Christ Superhero

We live in the golden age of superhero films. While largely a product of risk-averse Hollywood, which is always seeking another franchise to construct or exploit, these films have proven to be bankable and generally entertaining. While The Dark Knight, for me, remains the pinnacle of the genre, The Man of Steel is a worthy entry into the canon.

As a character, Superman is not terribly interesting. We expect our heroes to win, but the nature of Superman’s powers make him nearly invulnerable. There are only a few ways to get dramatic tension out of the narrative arc: existential angst (“who am I and why am I here?”), the introduction of equals who pose a legitimate threat, or the vulnerability of those who surround him. Man of Steel manages to squeeze all three approaches to this particular plot, and largely to good effect.

Superman’s back story is told through flashbacks and the device works well here. Krypton is in planetary peril as Jor-El (Russel Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) send their son, Kal-El (later Henry Cavill) away to Earth with the explicit hope of saving both their people and to provide a model and hope for homo sapiens. His Earth parents, Martha (Diane Lane) and Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) do their best to encourage reflection and restraint in their precocious phenom. Mr. Kent, in particular, worries that people will fear and seek to hurt his son once they discover his true nature. This question, “what will they (people, governments, the military) do once I reveal myself?” becomes a dominant theme. Since Superman has no mask, and since his abilities are so remarkable, this is really a question of “when do I help people in public?”

We also are introduced quickly to General Zod (Michael Shannon), our antagonist, and his cohorts. Rival to Jor-El, Zod seeks to preserve the remnants of Krypton, though his coup fails and he and his crew are banished through a wormhole. Recognizing Jor-El’s son, and the material that traveled with him to Earth, as the last link to the past, they hunt him down, introducing the primary conflict between competing visions–Zod’s and Superman’s–for Earth’s future.

Finally, we meet Lois Lane (Amy Adams), our intrepid reporter, but here she is not merely the heroine in distress, though that does happen. She is, at least for a time, part of the solution. She is joined by her editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), but Jimmy Olsen is remarkably absent.

All of these things work well together. The special effects are quite good. I especially appreciated the way director Zack Snyder tried to portray Superman’s speed as being fundamentally inhuman. There is blur, to be sure, but we see Superman, and his enemies, execute several moves almost simultaneously, and before the humans can respond. And, as expected, many things explode–buildings, cars, planes, spacecrafts, and nearly anything else combustible. This is a very high quality popcorn film, but it also has a strong religious theme.

As Christians, we are often tempted to read too much into literature or films that portray broadly Christian themes. For example, because a film focuses on forgiveness does not mean it is about the forgiveness of sins in a soteriological sense, or movies about redemption are not necessarily a picture of the cross. Man of Steel, though, goes out of its way to make Superman a Christ figure. Beyond the trappings of the story (a father sends his son to another place so that he might save humanity), which have always had Christological elements, Man of Steel drops several explicit references to Christ which are unmistakable. Jor-El makes it clear that humans will see his son as a god, and, as such, he will have the opportunity to lead them away from the path of Krypton and toward a brighter future. He explicitly refers to Superman as a “bridge” figure between these tribes of humanoids. The story also makes it clear that Superman has had a sort of hypostatic union of his two natures, with his environment reshaping his physiology, even at a molecular level. He is clearly portrayed as the best of what both people have to offer. Also, we see that Superman, struggling with how and when to reveal his nature, notes that he has spent thirty-three years on Earth. Christ, in the Bible, commences his ministry in his thirtieth year and dies on the cross at thirty-three.

Two other visual references make the hints explicit. During one important scene, where Superman is asking a priest for advice about whether or not he should turn himself in to authorities, we see the character framed against a stained glass window that bears Christ’s image, most likely from his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he was seeking counsel of a sort about his impending sacrifice. Just after this prayer, Christ is betrayed and turned over to the authorities. Also, when Jor-El speaks of Christ as a ‘bridge’ figure, he tells his son he will be able to not only save Lois, but he will ‘save them all.’ At that moment, Superman emerges from the ship in a perfect shape of the cross, adopting fully the pose of Christ and his sacrifice.

FINAL GRADE: 2.5/3 eggheads.

20 thoughts on “Jesus Christ Superhero”

  1. Wow! I haven’t seen the movie yet, but that’s very interesting that they tried to portray Superman as Christ! I have never thought of looking at a movie through a Biblical perspective, but I am going to try the next time I see a movie.

  2. It was a great movie however there was one change from previous Superman media I did not care for.
    In most (maybe all) previous versions, the destruction of Krypton is depicted as occurring due to a natural phenomenon (supernova, aging core, etc.).
    However in this movie its destruction is attributed to reckless energy production on the part of the Kryptonians which destabilized the core, which seemed to me a thinly veiled reference to alleged”man-made global warming”, particularly with the mention that Kal-El could help Earth not “repeat the mistakes” Krypton made.

    Also, I could not help but give a bit of a smirk over the destroyed drone scene at the end. A reference to the NSA or drone strikes? Maybe.

    1. Nathan–did you also notice the general in command looks almost exactly like Barack Obama? I am not sure that was accidental…

  3. Well I’ve never seen or really had much interest in seeing any of the superman movies but after reading this, I sorta want to now. I have never thought of viewing a superhero through a biblical lens. But, the connection is very interesting! Now I’ll have to go watch it!

  4. I haven’t seen the new Superman yet, but I saw the last one they made a few years ago and didn’t like it. Superman has never really impressed me. He is fundamentally an invincible man, whose only weakness is Kryptonite (so we can make a pretty good guess that every movie will have Kryptonite affecting Superman somehow in it). While the references in the movie to Christ are great, I can’t help but feel awkward of the thought that my God’s Son is being portrayed as a superhero instead of who He truly is.

    Well, I have to agree that the Batman series is the best so far. It is a story of a boy who goes through the searing pain of the loss of his parents, fights it for years, and then rises above the struggle of his battles. It is a story of a normal man with no superpowers, just willpower and determination, along with morals and values he holds (well, until the latest movie, sadly).

  5. Very interesting post! Never have really looked for those things in a movies before! Thanks for the article!

  6. I have seen this movie and I really enjoyed it! The other day, one of my Facebook friends posted a website that is a Pastor’s Resource Site for “Man of Steel.” This website has things like sermon outlines, videos, and images to use for ministry resources. This is something I have never really seen before, and I thought it was interesting. I included the website below:

    http://manofsteelresources.com/

  7. I am getting ready to go and see this film, so that article was really interesting. I’ll have to watch for those scenes because I probably wouldn’t have really been looking for that!

  8. Haha! This is great! I love that you do random movie reviews. For my little mind that gets saturated with political jargon at an incredibly fast rate, it’s nice to have something to break up the political posts…so, as a person still working on being interested in politics, thank you! I too find it interesting how many movies out there today have content we view as biblically based. It’s incredible the ways people try to make their movie plots mirror biblical accounts. The similarities between Superman and Christ are astounding. I only fear that far too many people actually believe in Superman over the Savior of the world. :(

  9. I was fairly discourage last week and my mom took me to see Man of Steel the day after it came out. Oh my goodness, I don’t know when I’ve been as encouraged by a movie as this one! The undeniable theme of HOPE was the happiest think for me! For a while I saw Superman not as Jesus but as who WE are supposed to be in the world. But then when the 33 years comment and the stepping back into the shape of the cross events happened, I decided it was Jesus (: Oh my goodness, I enjoyed this movie SO MUCH. I’m incredibly glad that it was made! I am a theology student at Cedarville, so I couldn’t help but identify a few heresies in the “theology” of Superman, but just as a laugh aside to myself (:

    Beyond this, I was encouraged by the positive examples the movie provided on GOOD FATHERS. There was the theme of unconditional adoption which was a blessing, but also the encouragement, the sheltering, the integrity, the kindness and love. My goodness, with as much as our generation cries out in pain from fatherlessness, I’m sure there were few dry eyes in the theaters across the world. Oh my goodness, the HOPE made my week infinitely better!

  10. I watched the movie before I read the article and noticed some symbolism too. Of all the ages why did they pick Superman to be 33? That is when it hit me. I personally like Marvel movies better than DC Comics. Overall, it was a good movie. I can say this too. The actor who played Superman is hot. Two+ hours starring at him was well worth the price.

  11. I see Superman as being one of the most boring superheroes. However, after taking a literature class over May term, I really enjoyed the stories about people being Christ figures. I might just have to go see this movie. Thanks.

  12. Sounds like we need to talk! Where to begin. I won’t really touch on the over-done Christ-centered illusions (did you know they had a special showing for pastors that included a sermon to go along with the flick?).

    *SPOILERS*

    The first 45 minutes or so were terrific. The development of Kent (played well by HC) as a thoughtful, restrained, contemplative, concerned citizen was excellent. The flashbacks were well-paced and placed. The beginning appeared to set an intelligent, rhythmic tone that I anticipated would continue throughout.

    In other words, the beginning fulfilled my hope of a Memento/Dark Knight take on Superman (over a smash-bang, corny Avengers approach). Just as the trailers portrayed, this was going to be the thoughtful emergence of a gifted by complicated superhero, a confused man of character torn between of two homes. I was thrilled that this film was going to be answer to the mindlessness of Avenger type action flicks.

    And..then rest of the film betrayed the beginning.

    The Kent to Superman switch happens almost instantaneously, beginning with a series of painful plot failures and character abuses. Kent, after a 5 minute explanation from his data-byte Dad, finds a suit (different in nearly every way from all other Kryptonian gear) specifically for him, on a ship that landed tends of thousands of years earlier. The ship is never again discovered by advanced military forces that had previously suffered any expense to find the ship, forces led by generic military leaders from a generic desert military base.

    It gets worse. Once Kent wears the suit (and conveniently shaves), he simply Becomes Superman. The suit leads Kent to abandon his reserved and thoughtful character for cheesy lines (“Don’t play games with me, General” and “You’re a monster, Zod!”) and unwarranted bravado. Worse still, where Bruce Wayne is eased into his alter-ego through experience and trial-by-error, Kent’s first test is an intergalactic invasion! No matter – his remarkably brief training proves to be sufficient to defeat two highly-competent, highly-trained, well-regarded Kryptonian militants that nearly overturned their own planet’s civilization. That brief (and seemingly casualty-intense conflict) leads to a mindless series of Michael-Bay-esque booms and kisses that can’t match the robust beginnings of the film.

    Appropriately, the film culminates in an almost entirely pointless battle between Zod and Kent (one that requires a seething monologue from Shannon to even remotely justify) that contains some of the most obvious and overt foreshadowing of Superman’s all-of-sudden weighty decision to kill someone. Though his decision eventually leads Kent to cry out in a way he has only once previously (the silly dog-related death of his Costner’s well-played Pa Kent), the audience can’t be sure why. Not only has Kent likely killed hundreds if not thousands of civilians, he hasn’t taken the time to develop an ethic of non-mortal-wounding. Again, in the case of Nolan’s Wayne, the first two films drive home this theme of Batman’s unwillingness to take a life, from the training center in Nepal to the Joker’s interrogation room. Kent and Zod’s “moment” benefits from none of the above. The fact that Kent kills him an an manner inconsistent with everything we know about Kryptonians makes a terrible scene even worse.

    Don’t forget the many “technical” failures in the film: the pathetic introduction of atmospheric limitations for Kryptonians, a concept no where else considered or discussed in Superman mythology; the complete meaninglessness of Metropolis, the key city of the genre whose cityscape (and presumably its population!) is decimated by Superman and his foes in 20 minutes; the wasted time on forgettable characters (try to remember the names of any generic military character) and daily planet personnel better suited for easter egg entrances; and the very human neck-breaking death of an immortal Kryptonian. I could go on.

    The film was portrayed in previews as a Nolan-idea with Snyder-visuals, It emerged more Bay-esque, Avenger-like, but without enough corny humor to sand down the cringing moments. I’m glad I watched, and am hopeful Nolan plays a bigger role in the second film, but I can’t say that the film warrants such high praise.

  13. Has anyone thought about the ‘superman’ (i.e. Christ-like figure) who people will view as their savior in the end times? An incredible man, able to convince the world and win them to his side, many perceiving him as God. Incredible power, signs, and wonders, deluding and deceiving the people. (2 Thessalonians 2)
    Think ‘Man of Steel’: starting out humble, harnessing incredible power, doing great things, convincing the people. They believe in him, honor him, hold him high above all things. “He saved us” – remember that line?

    Then his other side is revealed. Superman gone bad, with the world seduced by his former goodness. The rest of the story, yet to be played out.

    The unsaved world will be looking for their superman, when all hell starts breaking loose. As they continually get conditioned that Christ is not the way, where will they turn?

    Hopefully, we are thinking, Bereans…

  14. Well the bible says in matthew 24:4-5 “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.”
    see thats what is going on today with super hereos movies like this one. If you want Christ-like figure then go to the Word of God its all over in the bible not these mystric non christian films

  15. I had not caught all of that when I first saw the movie, but now I want to watch it again to look for all the comparisons!

  16. When I saw Man of Steel I did not notice the references to Christ, so I thought that this article was very interesting. However, I have to agree with Jonathan that this is probably the worst Superman movie I have ever seen and, not to mention, not a very good representation of Christ. In every other Superman media that I have watched, Superman is a man torn between two identities who must learn and uphold moral values. What I took from this movie is: get rid of your enemies (as long as you feel a little guilty about doing it) and don’t bother protecting innocent lives. I don’t think I have seen a movie where more innocent bystanders were needlessly slaughtered for the sake of defeating one villain. What happened to the Superman who saved all the innocent bystanders and captured the villain? I would never look up to the Superman depicted in Man of Steel as a Christ figure. What if Christians were just casualties on the war against Satan?

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