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13 June 2013

"Truth, Justice and the Christian American Way?" Analyzing the Last Son of Krypton (Film Criticism: “Man of Steel”)

Updated June 14, 2013
by Rob San Miguel, writing as Lois Lane?

The new Superman movie is out and it is a spectacular action movie.  It has all the stuff that makes a commercially successful superhero movie.  I am big fan of Superman even up to now but I do not just root blindly for my beloved fictional caped wonder.  For better or worse, Kar-El landed on American soil and grew up as a Kansas boy.  Fortunately, the last son of Krypton was raised by the ideal Americans, Jonathan and Martha.  They instilled in the orphan Kar-El the best of American values, the values that used to make America endearing to the world: freedom, compassion, peace, humility, equality, protecting the weak, faith in the goodness of people and belief in one’s potential to change the world for the better.  In actuality, these values are not exclusively American. They are also the cherished values of all the citizens of Earth.

Perhaps in the past, Kar-El cannot help but be an American.  His red and blue costume has always been the symbol of the American flag.  Kar-El, once he became Superman, used to declare that he fights for “truth, justice and the American way.”  Unfortunately, for the rest of the world, the American way, to be more precise, the Washington D.C. way, has also been the cause of suffering and destruction in many countries around the world.  America, as unfairly represented by its government’s policies, is sometimes the first to violate its ideals.

Kar-El is not a Native American. He is like the multitudes of immigrants who came from far places, escaping oppression, seeking a better and safer life, and the chance to thread a new path that is not predetermined by society.

Iron Man will always be America, corporate America to be exact.  Batman will always be in Gotham and Wonder Woman is yet to succeed in removing patriarchy even in the superhero universe.  However, Kar-El has the potential to belong to everyone.

I have always hoped that Kar-El will one day become more of a citizen of the world, but still honoring his American roots.  But he will also not be blind to the oppression of the American government.  Sadly, it may still take some time before Kar-El transcends borders and religion.  That would require a more daring and bolder director and producer.

In Zack Snyder’s version of Superman, Kar-El's Christianity is highlighted. For the first time, we see Kar-El inside a Christian church seeking advice from a clergyman. Being raised a Catholic, I thought the clergyman looked like a Catholic priest but my Protestant friend said that the look of the church and the image of Jesus Christ on the background is very Protestant. The clergyman may be a Protestant minister, which is possible because more than 50 percent of the people in Kansas are Protestants.   Correct me if I am mistaken, but hint of Kar-El’s religion has never happened before in past Superman movies.  This does make you wonder.  Luckily, for liberals, the minister turned ecumenical when he asks Kar-El, “What does your God tell you?” 

Interestingly, Kansas usually votes Republican, so are the Kents Republicans? And so indirectly, is Kar-El a Republican too? Does Lois Lane, which I assume is a liberal, know about this? However, Kar-El is against the death penalty unless to save more lives, so he may also be a Democrat. Maybe he is an independent.  I prefer to imagine that.  

The Superman myth has always had a religious tone to it.  Kar-El is the son of Jor-El, the foremost scientist and philosopher of a superior race. Jor-El sent his only begotten son to Earth, adopted by mortals, grew up as an outcast and a passion to protect life.  It is interesting to note that the new Jor-El and Kar-El are bearded men reminiscent of the male images of deities from Zeus, then Yahweh, and finally Jesus.  But then again, research studies have shown (including the one I conducted by Brun Magazine Philippines) that women find men with stubble as sexy and men with full beard as more fatherly.

But I digress. 

Kar-El also became known to the world at the age of 33, which is about the age Jesus became known as the Messiah.  Kar-El falls in love with Lois Lane, the Mary of Magdala of modern times.  No, she is not Mary Magdalene the sex worker.  If you read the Bible, Mary of Magdala was never a prostitute (to use an antiquated term).  Mary Magdala was a disciple, and rumored to be a partner of Jesus. Our new Mary Magdala is an accomplished journalist.

The American flag also still figures prominently in this new film. At times, Kar-El’s cape waves in the air like the American flag.  Scenes from American history are also present, from 9-11 to tornado disasters. 

In fact, this new Superman movie may be read as pop culture’s attempt to recover the past glory of America.  Kar-El may have finally embraced his Americanization.  Through Kar-El, who has now become Superman, America is rising from the debris and being powerful and magnanimous again.  The American interest takes center stage in the film.  As one general aptly puts it when he asked Kar-El, “How can we be sure you will not act against America’s best interest?”(1)  Kar-El replies, “I was born in Kansas, that is about as American as you can get.”

He then added, “You have to convince Washington …” The general replied, “Even if I wanted to, what make you think I could?”(2)  Kar-El answers, “I just have to trust you.” Like Kar-El, the rest of the world asks, "Can we trust Washington?"

Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” is an awesome action movie but foreign fans of Superman still wait for the day when the most powerful fictional superhero claims Earth as his home and not just Christian America.  But then again, this is just a movie and I am taking this much too seriously.  "Man of Steel" is just  one of the many Hollywood action movies that young children all over the world will watch. Hmm, I hope those kids will grow up as open minded as Jonathan and Martha Kent, and Kar-El’s Kryptonian birth parents. If not, Hollywood has once again brainwashed a new generation of non-American kids.  Certainly, I know I was brainwashed when I was a child.

Anyway, nothing is mere pop culture.

(1-2) This is not the exact quote. I may have missed out one or two words but this is the gist of the statement.

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