Man of Steel Zak Snyder (USA 2013) Henry Cavill; Amy Adams;
Viewed 16 June 2013; Empire Cinema Newcastle; Ticket £7.75
With underpants outside trousers I remember as young kid playing Superman with my best friend Sid Green. There were bouncy twin beds in the room he shared with his brother, and placing these beds a strategic distance apart, we could leap from one to the other, simulating the amazing feeling of flying through the air. Obviously this apprenticeship qualifies me to speak with some authority about Superman.
Needless to say Superman in the Man of Steel has moved on from the naff device of wearing his knickers outside his tights; he now wears a nifty set of combinations and is part of the huge armada of franchised superheroes who kitted out with full Visual FX move across planet earth scooping up buckets of money for the studios.
I've seen a few superhero movies this year. Each of scenarios has given to their protagonist a USP (Mad talk for Unique Selling Proposition). A USP which defines in a fuzzy way, something of the nature of the character. Batman, plagued by self doubt, was about self redemption; Iron Man 3 was a Scientology techie parable; And Man of Steel? Superman embraces the Messiah myth. It's not so much Jesus saves. It's Superman saves.
The writers of Man of Steel have appropriated the Jesus story. Like the ice cream pedalled in the multiplex foyer, it's a little soft; but both in script and in iconic imagery this re-incarnation of Superman represents him as Jesus, beard and all who waits for his thirty third birthday before coming out and revealing his true identity. Like Jesus, Superman/Clark Kent has a dual nature, half human and half Krypton, and listen to this, Clark Kent says: “ “I know what I came for, my father sent me.”
But why has the father sent his son? Because Superman has something to say to us Earthlings. He is come to guide us. Take a breath dudes!
Underpinning Man of Steel's script there is some heavy duty philosophy: the idea of free will. Free will is the very basis of Christian theology; no free will no Christ, because without choice, personal salvation makes no sense. And this is why Superman is sent to us: to affirm our belief in free will. Krypton was destroyed as the Kryptonites turned themselves into programmed biomorphic machines. Only Clark Kent born outside the Kryptonite approved birthing programme has free will, and he is sent to help us choose good not evil. Awesome! One hopes he has a better crack at it than Google.
Jesus as an idea is not only cued in the Man of Steel script, he is also represented potently in the movie's imagery.
As the Man of Steel goes about duffing up evil, his form he is captured in the glory of all those iconic classic poses associated with Christ and beloved of Classical painters. We see Superman in the Crucifixion pose, Transfiguration, Descent into Hell and the Ascension, to name but a few. The gorgeous hunk is not Superman but Saviour, and that letter on his cozzie that looks like an S, is in fact an ancient Kryptonite symbol meaning Hope.
Somewhere in the idea of Superman our Redeemer, there is the germ of an interesting idea. I wonder if a early draft of the script might have featured an imitatio Christi, but instead of Jesus throwing the money lenders out of the Temple, we would see Clark Kent join the occupy Wall Street movement, and and take on the evils of Gonzo drug fed Capitalism and Globalisation. No surprise the final draft of the Man of Steel script takes a more conservative approach, Jesus' philosophy honoured more in breech than practice, and the shooting scenario more a device for maximising the flash bang wallop of visual FX combat battle and destruction.
It is the Visual FX that draw the punters. I saw them in 2D and I am sure seen in 3D they are wondrously realised. But I have to say that I found the Man of Steel FX relentlessly overlong and repetitive. If I see another petrol tanker picked up and thrown again with malice aforethought I'll go mad. It happens again and again. And when two combatants equally matched with special powers fight each each other, the scenes stretch out into endless tedium. The only winner is boredom and the losers are the creative failure of the VFX people to find fresh creative inspiration, beyond that of repeating the same moves against different backgrounds.
I sometimes think that these big budget movies with their end of the world scenarios are witness simply to a general philosophy of fear that governs our collective psyche. A philosophy initiated by the Nuclear bomb which revealed the extrinsic power of science to destroy us all. A fear since fed by climate chaos, pandemics, economic crashes, food scares terrorism etc. At this point fear is a respectable and justifiable state of mind; as if we need to live in a constant state of fear in order to survive.
Conversely Man of Steel also reminded me of those psychological programmes which are used to help people overcome phobias, such as aversion to spiders. They are gradually desensitised so that in the end they are comfortable when placed in a room full of arachnoids. As I sat in the full cinema, gazing at the now familiar site of a razed Manhattan I felt I was in such a desensitisation chamber. Man of Steel felt as if it were part of a desensitisation programme designed to inure me with a complete indifference to violence death and destruction. Was this a CIA programme? As I biked home I wondered how Man of Steel would play in down town Damascus.
As we played at Superman, Sid and I at first had no thought for philosophy or fear. But one day a double landing on a bed caused the frame to snap, and we received a short sharp lesson in proto Nietschian aversion therapy from Mrs Sidney's accurate right hand. I understood at once the link between philosophy and Superman.