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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Man of Steel

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Amy Adams and Henry Cavill star in a scene from the movie "Man of Steel."
"Man of Steel" (Warner Bros.), director Zack Snyder's take on the familiar narrative of Superman, has the makings of an engaging drama and features thematic elements that viewers of faith in particular can appreciate.

But this 3-D adventure's positive potential winds up being squandered in favor of endless scenes of high-powered brawling and the pyrotechnics of innumerable explosions.

We all know the basic outlines of the tale: Born on distant Krypton, as an infant the iconic comic book hero (Henry Cavill) is sent to Earth by his parents (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer) so that he can escape his doomed home planet's imminent destruction. Landing in the American heartland, he's adopted by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) who instill positive values and try to protect his secret.

In the version at hand, screenwriter David S. Goyer's script weaves back and forth in time to fill us in on these facts even as investigative reporter -- and future love interest -- Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is hot on the trail of the adult Superman's true identity. Though she's ultimately ambivalent about the consequences of unmasking the mild-mannered drifter -- his career as Lois' colleague still lies in the future -- intergalactic events overtake her.

General Zod (Michael Shannon), an old enemy of Superman's father Jor-El, arrives from space and threatens humanity with annihilation unless Superman surrenders to him. Flashbacks have already shown us Zod's fascist tendencies and his failed coup against the lawful government of Krypton. Ironically, the sentence of exile Zod and his confederates received as punishment following their defeat saved them from perishing in Krypton's apocalypse.

Zod's ultimatum brings the obvious parallels between Superman and Jesus to the fore, and neither Goyer nor Snyder shows any reluctance to highlight them. As he ponders whether to sacrifice himself to save the human race, Superman visits a church and seeks the advice of a clergyman. During their conversation, he stands against the backdrop of a stained-glass window showing Jesus at prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

Dialogue reveals in passing that Superman has reached the symbolically significant age of 33. And, as he launches himself into flight at one point, the superhero extends his arms in the manner of Christ on the cross.

Along with these theological flourishes, "Man of Steel" also includes plot details that touch on real-life moral issues. Thus Zod is committed to a form of eugenics that arose on Krypton in the lead-up to its disintegration. Under this scheme, children were bred to fulfill a predetermined social role and their lives before birth were spent not in their mothers' wombs, but in an artificial atmosphere within which they were nurtured en masse.

Superman's parents were completely opposed to this system, and saw to it that Superman became the first child on Krypton in many years born in the natural way. Their clashing views on this subject constituted one of the sources of conflict between Zod and Jor-El.

Flash forward, and Zod's motivation in tracking Superman down is shown to be connected to his efforts to perpetuate the race of their vanished planet by a return to his favored method of social and genetic engineering.

All of this might have been explored at some length had there not been a huge budget for special effects to expend. Or perhaps there was the lurking fear that adolescent boys would be bored by such subtleties.

Whatever the cause, all human interest the picture initially contains yields, in the end, to pure chaotic spectacle. Superman and his adversaries hurl each other about; skyscrapers are leveled and oil trucks ignited. Then it's on to more of the same in a different locale.

Oh, well, as they say on Krypton, it was nice while it lasted.

The film contains much intense but bloodless violence, a fleeting sexual advance and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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