This is the prequel, really. We begin on the planet Krypton, with Jor-El (RussellCrowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer), Superman’s parents, reluctantly sending off their infant son, Kal-El, on a spaceship to the planet Earth. Krypton, once home to a proud race of explorers and colonizers, has steadily descended into a squabbling, infighting techno-obsessed breed of artificial breeders: that is, fetuses are kept and harvested by the State, each injected with the DNA attributes the society feels is needed. It may be efficient, but no longer is there any randomness, chance or ambition to become something other than everyone else’s expectations. Jor-El and Lara produced the first natural-born child in centuries, and Jor-El also injected his son with all the attributes available, knowing that Krypton was going to literally implode, because the greedy government had begun harvesting the core’s energy. (Yes, the prophecies for our society are apparent.)
The infant’s spaceship lands somewhere in the middle of Kansas, where two doting parents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent, raise the boy they name Clark, well aware of his extraordinary abilities, but they teach him to filter his senses, concentrate his attention, be reluctant to show off, help when he can, and figure out what kind of man he’s going to become, and how he’s going to use his otherworldly powers. (The believing Christian imagines Joseph and Mary raising Jesus in a similar fashion).
Predictably, there’s some rebelliousness, but not much. Clark doesn’t really want to be the world’s savior, but his parents gently nudge him in that direction (see Jesus’ retort to Mary at the wedding of Cana). Clark, discovering the technology left behind by his dad on his spaceship, is able to communicate with his father’s spirit, and be assured about his identity and origin. (Yes, the human Jesus spent considerable time communicating with the spirit of his father, too.) Clark, as a young adult, becomes a kind of wandering nomad, taking odd jobs here and there, and moving on when people begin to take notice of him. He doesn’t really reveal himself to the world until he’s 33 (Hmmm).
Evil has visited the planet Earth in the form of a political refugee from the now-extinct planet of Krypton, General Zod (Michael Shannon), who was imprisoned in a space pod for insurrection, but freed when the planet exploded. General Zod wants the equipment that Jor-El left behind on Kal-El’s spaceship, the energy field and DNA insignia that will re-start his native population, of course at the expense of the hapless earthlings, who would be summarily removed and displaced.
Clark Kent must now decide whether he’s going to try to save the Earth, even if he has to sacrifice himself in the effort. He’s helped by some of the humans he’s encountered along the way, most noticeably Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a reporter for “The Daily Planet,” the primary newspaper of the huge metropolis called …. Metropolis.
Here’s where we seriously play with our CGI and 3-D toys, as the epic struggle between General Zod and Superman (but the “S” on my shirt really means “hope” in my language) involves lots of crashes, explosions, chases and earth-shaking firepower. The humans’ puny weapons have no effect on Zod or his minions; Superman must fight this battle alone (just as Jesus was very alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Mel Gibson was the one who, in “The Passion of the Christ,” showed him struggling against the power of evil).
Of course we all know how it’s going to turn out, even down to Clark Kent getting a job as a reporter on “The Daily Planet,” and only Lois Lane knowing who he is because of his big horn-rimmed glasses (one of those places where you just have to play along).
Romance? Just a hint. But our comic book superhero has never been as strong, charming, and resilient as in the slick updated epic called “Man of Steel.” Fantasy Christology, anyone?
RONALD P. SALFEN is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.