Man of Steel and Cross of Wood

Man of Steel is the superhero movie Catholics were waiting for, and it was worth the wait.

MPAA Rating, PG-13

USCCB Rating, A-III (Adults)

Reel Rating,  (5 Reels out of 5)          

Among the great Christ figures of world literature, Superman is our country’s best such figure by, literally, leaps and bounds. And Man of Steel is his best depiction yet, a towering achievement of both entertainment excellence and theological inspiration. It demonstrates how to make a Christological story the right way, complete with a villain that is both disturbing and appropriate for our post-modern age.

It is the end of the world, for Krypton at least. This world is dying in exactly the same fashion as ours: overdependence on science, disrespect for the human person, and unrepentant pride. Krypton is a haunting view of the secular revolution brought to its climax. The scientist Jor-El has a secret hope that will save at least one of his people: he and his wife have a son, the first natural birth in hundreds of years. The villainous General Zod calls this an act of “heresy,” because on Krypton children are bred for specific, socially conditioned lives and harvested only for the good of the state.

Fortunately for Earth, Jor-El’s son makes it to our planet and is adopted by a loving family in Kansas, taking the name Clark Kent. His supernatural abilities of flight, strength, and x-ray vision come from alien DNA but his dignity, goodness, and sacrificial love from human parents. Aware of his uniqueness, he patiently waits for years, learning to be human and helping people quietly. His decision to reveal himself comes in a conversation with a Catholic priest, a scene that is beautifully reminiscent of the Baptism in the Jordan and the Wedding Feast of Cana. Clark goes to the priest as if to receive confession, but there is no absolution. Instead, the priest affirms that he needs to trust that humanity is ready for him to begin his public ministry. If you needed any further proof that Superman is meant to be a Christ-like figure, Clark is 33 years old.

Superman has always been compared to Jesus, and he is certainly not unique in that sense, in literature or on film. Just in the last few decades, we’ve had The Matrix, Terminator 2, Harry Potter, and The Brave Little Toaster. Zack Synder’s Superman not only includes the traditional Christ-figure characteristics, but he feels like Jesus. He understands both the cosmic power and the need to cry when a loved one dies. Jesus never sinned but understood the horrors of a sinful world. His care and sacrifice were dutiful but also intimate and loving. 

Synder’s ability to create a compelling Superman is impressive enough, but the nemesis General Zod is also a wonder to behold and fear. He seems so familiar because he does not portray a stereotypical boogeyman but a current mindset that is both old (political and racial totalitarianism) and new (sexual totalitarianism). Like Satan, he has chosen to be evil when he could have been good. He fights Superman to create a vision of Earth formed in his own likeness and ideology. This gives Superman the opportunity to demonstrate a concept rarely seen in movies, especially superhero films: love of enemy. Zod is one of the last of Superman’s people. Our hero will not allow this monster to destroy the Earth and its inhabitants, but neither will he kill his enemy unless it is undeniably necessary.

Man of Steel represents everything that a great Catholic film ought to accomplish. It is a thrilling superhero film that demands overpriced candy and 3D glasses. Its special effects are amazing but rarely noticeable over the beautiful script, morally uplifting themes, and well-developed characters. People were wailing and gnashing their teeth a year ago when it was announced that Henry Cavill, who is British, would play America’s first son; we should have crossed the Atlantic a long time ago. No less impressive is Michael Shannon, who creates a villain of truly evil actions and intentions yet never manages to lose the audience’s pity.

I don’t give out many five reel reviews, maybe one or two a year. In order to get five reels, a film must compel the audience to leave the theater and change their lives. Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, asks the question: “Imagine how our world would react if they came face to face with this.” How would you react if you knew Superman was real? Well, he is. He really is! There is a super-man who not only can transform your life here but forever in the next. Synder’s man of steel is but a shadow of this man on wood. The best thing you can do this weekend is go to Mass and receive Jesus Christ, true God and true man. The second best thing is see Man of Steel.

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About Nick Olszyk 208 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online and listen to his podcast at "Catholic Cinema Crusade".