Thank you Hollywood. Thank you Warner Brothers. Thank you director Brian Singer. Thank you for leaving me and my church alone!
Next week the highly anticipated film "Superman Returns" debuts in theaters. Early reviews are incredibly positive, and some are predicting the return of the original superhero to the silver screen will break box office records. But the web is also chatting about the movie's apparently overt Christian themes. That made me wonder - why didn't I receive any marketing materials at my church? Why no posters, toys for the children's ministry, or helpful super-sermon ideas? Why wasn't America's comic book messiah marketed to Christians?
CNN's entertainment page is running an article titled "Jesus Christ Superman" that discusses the film's Christian credentials. Billed as a sequel to the original movie directed by Richard Donner in 1978, "Superman Returns" has a digitally resurrected Marlon Brando playing Superman's "heavenly" father that has sent is only son to earth as a "light to show the way."
In the new film, directed by Brian Singer, Superman returns to Metropolis after an absence of five years just in time to rescue humanity from cataclysmic destruction - a story line that could be seen as symbolic of Jesus' death and resurrection or his eschatological second advent. In one scene the man of steel is stabbed in the side with a kryptonite shard just as Christ was pierced by the Roman's spear. And another scene shows Superman with outstretched arms reminiscent of Jesus' crucifixion.
Finding messianic overtones in the Superman mythology is nothing new. As the CNN article points out:
[Superman's] comparison to Jesus is one that's been made almost since the character's origin in 1938, said Skelton, author of "The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero."
Many simply see the story of a hero sent to Earth by his father to serve mankind as having clear enough New Testament overtones. Others have taken the comparison even further, reading the "El" in Superman's original name "Kal-El" and that of his father "Jor-El" as the Hebrew word for "God," among other theological interpretations.
The Time article, "The Gospel of Superman" by Richard Corliss, says that Brian Singer's new movie emphasizes the character's similarities to Jesus even more than previous incarnations:
Earlier versions of Superman stressed the hero's humanity: his attachment to his Earth parents, his country-boy clumsiness around Lois. The Singer version emphasizes his divinity. He is not a super man; he is a god (named Kal-El), sent by his heavenly father (Jor-El) to protect Earth. That is a mission that takes more than muscles; it requires sacrifice, perhaps of his own life. So he is no simple comic-book hunk. He is Earth's savior: Jesus Christ Superman.
We shouldn't over look Superman's wholesome alter ego, Clark Kent, either. Raised in the conservative Midwest with red-state family values like truth, justice, and the American way - one could imagine mild mannered Clark Kent attending a church potluck after leaving the newsroom at the Daily Planet.
With so many biblical and conservative values to exploit, why didn't Superman Returns' producers market the film more directly at evangelical Christians? In the last two years Hollywood has enthusiastically used the church to advertise family-friendly and biblically meaningful movies. "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe," are the most obvious examples. Last December my mailbox was bombarded with Narnia merchandise, pastor promotions, and sermon ideas.