Man of Steel is 2013’s top story (not just movie).
I watched Marvel’s The Avengers again last night after seeing MoS over the weekend. MoS is better. It’s more epic, it’s more personal, it deals with deeper themes, it’s more emotive.
It’s not as clever and snappily written as Joss Whedon’s movie, but I don’t really care about that. If I’m going to sit through a 2.5 hour experience I’d rather have a few meaningful tears than a few meaningless chuckles.
People get stuck on the surface level of “he killed Zod! Superman doesn’t kill!” or “all those buildings collapsed, think of all the deaths” but they’re not seeing the race / identity issues deeply woven into the story.
Clark Kent is really named Kal-El and he’s from another planet. This is an alien being who is basically a God on earth (Earth’s “younger sun” makes him stronger.)
Shortly after he discovers his origins, the remainder of his people come to Earth — by the way, all of his race is dead — and try to take it over for their own purposes. They try to genocide the human race.
Now on the face of it, these aliens from Krypton (Kal-El’s home planet) are far superior to human beings. Their skin is diamond-hard, they move faster than the speed of sound, then can see through walls, breathe underwater and fly into space.
But they’re not morally superior because they’re willing to genocide 7 billion people to make room for their own society.
(Sound familiar humans??)
Kal-El is morally superior because his adopted human father (Robin Hood) taught him to dedicate his life to serving others. His dad taught him that his every action has a big consequence, which is true for all of us. His biological Dad taught him that he should aspire to greatness, and inspire the humans who needed leadership. His biological father (Robin Hood) says, “Help them (humans) build a better world than we (Kryptonians) did.”
(This has big implications for the future of human overcrowding by the way. Krypton dealt with resource constraints by starting genetic engineering and caste-system social control. Will we do better?)
With this superior moral instruction Kal-El defeats his own people to save the humans. He literally snaps the neck of the last surviving Kryptonian, because the guy has zero flexibility in his plans. He’s not willing to join with Kal-El, he’s not willing to spare any humans, he’s just programmed to do things in one way. So he dies.
This is very emotional for Kal-El because he’s now the last of his kind (so far as he knows).
But think of the moral strength it took to make that decision.
That is what makes Superman the best superhero. He always makes the right decision.
One of the last surviving Kryptonians (named Faora) has a great discussion with Kal-El while fighting him. She says, “Evolution always wins” and claims that the Kryptonians are evolutionarily superior because of their lack of morality.
But of course, it’s Kal-El is evolutionarily superior because of his moral instruction, and the story proves that out by showing how the inflexible surviving Kryptonians get trounced by the combined forces of humanity + Kal-El.
So what is the story really about?
- An alien from another world comes to Earth and decides he doesn’t want to take Earth over for his own purposes (although he easily could). That runs counter to the last 3,000 years of human decision making. Whenever we go into a new area with rich resources we just take it, by force if necessary. (Avatar also made this point well.)
- This same alien stops a racial genocide by killing his own kind. You have to think about how revolutionary this is: Zod is also of Kal-El’s race and therefore Kal-El has to see Zod’s life as somehow “worth more” than a human life. (Don’t tell me humans upon encountering extra-terrestrials wouldn’t pull the same shit they pulled with blacks, Native Americans, & indigenous peoples of all kinds throughout history: ‘they’re not human’.) Plus, as far as Kal-El knows, he is the last survivor of Krypton. For Clark/Kal-El to have the moral strength to see through this and kill Zod anyway is what makes him so “Superman”. This is like two Brits going into India and saying “Let’s exploit this rich continent” and one of the Brits saying to the other, “Sorry old chap, I can’t let you do that, these brown-skinned people are worth just as much as you.” (pulls out pistol and kills his buddy). Because humans totally have the moral courage to do that. Right??
- The story shows that might doesn’t make right. Clark gets bullied growing up (like a lot of us). He could easily trounce the bullies. He knows it. His dad knows it. But that’s not the point. The point is that he’s a God walking among men, and God doesn’t get in fistfights until another God shows up and threatens his Children. (Am I mixing the Biblical metaphors enough for you?) This point also goes against 3,000 years of human history that shows that humans pretty much always decide that might makes right.
- You can’t save everyone. Superman’s dad tells him, “You can save them. You can save all of them,” and then in the next scene we see dozens of buildings being flattened, undoubtedly killing 1,000s of people that Kal-El doesn’t save. The story is saying to us: Superman is not a God. He’s just an alien made really strong in Earth’s atmosphere and he’s still fallible. He is going to stumble, he is going to fall, but eventually, he will rise again . . . and we will race behind him, trying to live up to his example. He can’t be everywhere on the planet, saving everyone from stubbing their toe simultaneously, because Humanity, in order to grow up, needs to learn to save itself.
- Character is everything. Superman’s dad breaks the law to bring him into the world, and again to send him out of it. He speaks truth to power. Superman’s adopted dad raises him as his own (even though he could have just turned him over to the government) and gives him the best moral instruction he possibly can. Later, he sacrifices himself for his son, to protect his secret. As for Clark/Kal-El, after shirking his responsibility for 33 years and only rescuing people when he had to, he finally dons the cape and fully steps into his purpose of living a life serving others. Self-sacrifice, service, truthfulness, fearlessness, willingness to do the unpopular & break social conventions: these are all important traits that all men ought to cultivate in themselves.
It’s a rich story and if you didn’t see those points in it you should go back for a second viewing.
The human race is evolving. But in what direction?
That’s a question that each of us is deciding every day.
“You have to decide what kind of man you want to be. Because whoever that man is, good or bad, is going to change the world.”