The previous Superman movie, what was it called? What was it about again? Eh, forgettable. Except that Bryan Singer clearly played up the religious connections of Superman with Jesus. He did miracles, resurrected from the dead, heard prayers, yada yada. In this one, Superman is age 33 at the time of the current story, and the director places him in front of a stain glass image of Christ in a scene in a church where he struggles with his identity and purpose. We all now know that Superman is a metaphor for Christ, and Man of Steel has a couple of religious elements in it, but with a twist. And that twist is the ancient aliens myth.
Thanks to Christopher Nolan, no doubt, this Superman finally has a richer character development and deeper moral struggle at the heart of his story. Superman is taught by his father to suppress his instinct to retaliate in order to mature in his character so he is capable of handling such great power (Shades of Spiderman! That’s okay. It’s an appropriate theme). Superman’s father doesn’t believe the world was ready for a man of such greatness who would change the world. But young Clark just wants to do good and protect people. He must hide himself in his secret identity because such great power out in the open will only be exploited by others for selfish ends.
The General Zod character is also much richer and a more genuine character in this film than the one we know of from years ago. He is not a mere “villain” who wants to pillage and destroy, he actually wants to save his people of Krypton, which makes him much more real of a character. The only problem is, he wants to do it by displacing us in-the-way earthlings through genocide. The moral dilemma of do you kill others to save your own? Great moral dilemma, which Nolan is always good at.
And a particular moment in the film was quite satisfying. As Superman is fighting with a female bad guy – I mean bad girl – from Krypton, she basically says that his weakness is that he has morality, which they do not have, and that is why he will lose, because evolution always wins. I believe that this is probably the single most widespread idea in the hearts and minds of criminal behavior in our era. Namely, that they justify their immorality by an appeal to what they were taught in their public schools and colleges: We are mere animals and evolution means there is no moral truth that transcends power and survival of the fittest. So if that is true, then there is no justification for moral restraint. Superman is the pinnacle argument against this evolutionary religious philosophy. Nice.
At one moment in Clark’s moral struggle, he has to decide if he should come out of hiding, and give himself over to Zod, or Zod will destroy the world. Then Clark says he doesn’t trust Zod, or for that matter, humans on earth. Clark confesses who he is to a priest who then tells him he has to take a leap of faith before he can find the trust. Didn’t make much sense to me. Too weak of a spiritual understanding to have much meaning. But Superman’s overwhelming motive comes from a love for people to protect them. And the moral of the film is spoken by Jor-el that he believes everyone has the potential to do good with their choices. Pretty bland generic theme without much grist. And if you ask me, it really doesn’t address the fallenness of mankind.
However, this film hosts THE BEST mano a mano superhero fights YET. It makes The Avengers look like, well, a mere comic book. The power and destruction of their battling carries a formidable and fascinating weight to them. One cannot help but draw a connection between Superman’s fighting and the need to fight terrorism in our era, Islamists who would overthrow everyone and kill them indiscriminately for the advancement of their own religious Sharia culture.
Another element that is appropriated in Man of Steel is Transhumanism. On the planet of Krypton, they have overcome natural birth and now create babies in artificial wombs to be genetically programmed to be workers or leaders or what have you (Shades of Brave New World!). The cool thing is that Jor-el, Superman’s father, has Kal-el (Superman’s name on Krypton) born naturally because he values freedom of the human will to decide for itself rather than being engineered by those in power. Quite the indictment of our Socialist mindset of social engineering and egalitarianism. Egalitarianism is the belief that every person should have equal outcomes, not merely freedom to pursue whatever one is best at, but the redistribution of power and wealth and ultimately personal identity through things like multiculturalism, feminism, victimization and other “ism” atrocities taught in modern universities. But egalitarianism is an immoral fraud perpetuated by the hegemony because those in power are the ones who are “more equal than others.” (Another Orwellian reference, Animal Farm). Excellence is dragged down to mediocrity, the health and wealth of ALL is ruined in the name of helping the poor, male and female differences are denied and males denigrated, and the only thing that grows is Big Government, NOT freedom, and all in the name of equality.
Jor-el uploads his consciousness into a computer, which creates another cool way to keep Russell Crowe in the story and communicating with Superman, which I’m all for keeping Russell Crowe in as long as possible. Unfortunately, this transhumanist notion of the reduction of human consciousness to physical digital properties of ‘I’s and ‘O’s is ultimately a materialist belief that humanity does not have a transcendant or spiritual component to us. Oh well, you can’t have it all.
Now for my complaint.
My number one mantra: Movies are not made in a cultural vacuum. And in particular, franchise movies that keep getting remade, often reflect the zeitgeist of the time in their fresh approach to the retold story. And one of the dominant memes of this era is the ancient alien mythology. I’m not talking about alien movies in general, we’ve always had those. I am talking about the belief that was first made popular by Von Daniken in the 1970s with Chariots of Gods, which then became more popular lately with Zechariah Sitchin, and the Ancient Aliens TV series on The Fairy Tale Channel – I mean the History Channel.
Ancient Alien mythology is the belief that religions originated because ancient man was visited by aliens from another planet, and because he was too ignorant and unscientific, he interpreted aliens as gods, and that’s where we got our notions of deity! These “gods” exploited us to mine our planet for energy, and may come back. Lots of movies are built on this mythos, from Stargate, to Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull to Cowboys and Aliens. It’s all quite – a religious belief – these days – even by an increasing number of scientists. And they say Christians believe in made up stories! Sometimes I really think our “educated” sophisticated “scientific” culture is the most religiously superstitious ever.
I’m not gonna say that this movie is a propaganda piece for ancient alien mythology but merely that it reflects that zeitgeist in it’s new depiction. The entire atmosphere of the movie was that of Close Encounters with ships that looked like they were taken out of Prometheus (another ancient aliens story that literally claimed Jesus was an extraterrestrial alien!). So it’s feel is more about aliens and the destruction of natural resources (another zeitgeist theme of our era) than it is a traditional superhero story. But of course superhero stories are reflections of our cultural mythos. Jor-El, Superman’s Krypton father says that when his son gets to earth and experiences his extraordinary powers, the people will “think him a god.” But of course, we know better. He’s just an alien.
When Zod first makes contact with earth to try to get Superman, we see UFO shots and then Zod broadcasts onto all electronic media: “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” This of course is the meme made famous by Carl Sagan in Contact, which caught on with alien mythology. This meme represents the attempt of secular materialists to replace spiritual hunger with an alien mythology in order to satisfy the inner longing in man to be more than mere particles in the universe. If only we knew that there are aliens, then we would know we are not alone, and somehow feel better. Of course, any honest person would admit that this does not solve our loneliness one bit, because our longing is a spiritual longing. Two lonely beings does not solve loneliness, it merely doubles it. We know that if we are mere animals without moral transcendence in an evolving universe, then our entire existence has no meaning and is empty. THAT is the loneliness we feel. And finding other lonely aliens in need of redemption would never satisfy that inner emptiness. And that is why the Ancient Alien mythology is ultimately a dishonest “god” replacement that does not satisfy the inner need for spiritual redemption.
While it wouldn’t surprise me to see Christopher Nolan, the producer and story originator, to be challenging such secular notions, it would surprise me to see Zach Snyder doing so, since he completely derided religious belief in 300. So maybe this partnership reflects that tension in Man of Steel as well.