It means "hope"

It means “hope”

It’s easy to give in. The temptation resides within all of us to do what is best for ourselves and those closest to us. To exert any further effort takes sacrifice, takes selflessness, and takes a desire to do more good than most of us possess. However, we all have it within ourselves to make a choice, and for that, we need guidance. We need people to show us the way, and to show us the sort of greater good that can be achieved. We need people to teach us when we are young and impressionable, and also once we are grown and calloused. To overcome those temptations, we need to be taken by the hand and shown what can come when we allow ourselves to trust in something…in someone

In short: we need a hero.

MAN OF STEEL begins on Krypton. We watch the familiar story of Lara and Jor-El (Ayelet Zurer and Russell Crowe) sending their only infant son, Kal-El, to a distant world in a last-ditch effort to ensure his survival as their planet begins to die. This act of parental protection especially infuriates a Kryptonian general named Zod (Michael Shannon), who vehemently disagrees with Jor-El on the value of free will on Krypton. After acts of treason and sedition – which involve the murder of Jor-El – Zod and his platoon are sentenced to life in an off-world prison.

Kal-El’s spacecraft takes him to earth where he is raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). They name the child Clark and raise him to be kind, respectful, and humble. This proves especially trying when the human-looking-alien child begins to develop special abilities. As these abilities develop, they make Clark seem like a freak to the children around him, and also make him a target for bullying since he cannot fight back. At home though, he is raised with patience and given the values that will guide him as he learns about who he truly is and what he can do.

At age 33 Clark (Henry Cavill) has been wandering the globe alone. He commits random acts of kindness, often-times saving the lives of perfect strangers. His search for meaning eventually brings him to The Arctic Circle, where a Kryptonian craft is buried deep in a glacier.

Unbeknownst to Clark as he searches the globe for answers, a reporter named Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is two steps behind him. After encountering the same Kryptonian craft in The Arctic, Lois is in search of this mysterious do-gooder, wanting to know who he is…and more importantly, what he is.

Unfortunately for both Clark and Lois, before the truth can really go forth, Zod arrives on Earth. Seems as though when a Kryptonian court is destroyed with its planet, a Kryptonian criminal’s sentence is expunged. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave the criminal in a repentant mood.

Henry Cavill as Superman

One of the first thing that one notices about MAN OF STEEL is a certain lack of awe. The heroism of this movie doesn’t come with the usual spectacle. There are no worlds being spun off-orbit, no cars being lifted, no helicopters hoisted, and no airplanes caught. This time around, Superman isn’t out to stand with his hands on his hips and make us cheer. What he wants to do is embody bigger ideas and make us think.

He wants to think about who we are born as, and who we choose to be. He also wants us to think about what we’re capable of, and what we decide to do with those capabilities.

MAN OF STEEL puts a paradox in play that isn’t usually explored within the Superman Mythology, and it deals squarely with his ability to save lives.

When Clark is a boy, his adopted father warns him off about saving every life he can. When Clark asks if that means that he is supposed to let people die, Jonathan Kent hesitates but honestly answers “Maybe”. What he knows, but doesn’t dare admit out loud, is that there is a natural order to things…and interfering too often will come with great consequence. Later though, as Clark encounters the spirit of his birth father, Jor-El suggests that he can “save them all”. One wonders just how literal Jor-El is being, but the fact that he has just directly contradicted Jonathan Kent cannot be ignored.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how hard he tries, even Superman cannot be all things to all people. He is a god among men, and as we remember that, we must also remember how many prayers to God seemingly go unanswered. Sometimes though, as is the case with the lives Superman cannot save, there is a greater plan. Lives are not strictly saved by acts of bravery; lives can also be saved by inspiring others to be better.

Therein lies the reason to the Jonathan Kent/Jor-El contradiction: Superman cannot literally save people every time death is staring at them, but by inspiring humanity to be better, perhaps he can make people re-examine life on this planet, and make it a better existence.

There’s a duality to that idea, a delicate balance…and in some ways that difficult balance is reflected in the film at hand. It strives to be something new; taking the character tropes we know and bending them into a new direction. Doing so, however, feels jarring when audiences don’t get the trumpet flourishes and hero poses they expect. The film also wants to give us more action than this character has ever endured on-screen, but doing that comes at the risk of bloat, bombast, and effects-overload.

The same way Kal-El struggles to decide when and how to save mankind, MAN OF STEEL struggles to decide which is the best way to depict Superman’s plight. What one takes away from the film, as is the case so often, depends entirely on them.

What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on MAN OF STEEL.