June 19, 2006
The Second Coming of Superman: Finally, a "Christian" movie not marketed to churches
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.
Granted, Narnia was written by C.S. Lewis with intentional Christian symbolism. But even less overtly Christian films have also been marketed to pastors and church leaders like "Cinderella Man," and the heretical "Da Vinci Code." (This Spring I couldn't read a Christian journal or webpage without Mona Lisa or Leonardo himself staring back at me.)
Having suffered financially in recent years, Hollywood seems eager to win the evangelical market with family-friendly, wholesome, biblically illustrative films. This looks like a job for Superman! But, strangely, Warner Brothers has chosen to ignore churches and pastors in their marketing campaign for "Superman Returns." And for this I say to Warner Brothers, Brian Singer, and everyone responsible for creating and distributing the movie, THANK YOU!
Thank you for not using the church as a money-making vehicle.
Thank you for not hijacking my church's mission to make disciples by using it to make consumers.
Thank you for not replacing Christian art, symbols, and icons with movie posters and advertisements.
Thank you for not trying to interfere with the ministry of preaching God's Word by offering pastors rewards for mentioning your film in a sermon.
Thank you for not filling our children's ministry with Superman plush toys and kryptonite bracelets.
Thank you for not telling me "Superman Returns" is the greatest outreach opportunity in the galaxy.
Thank you for not asking me to rent an entire theater so our members can invite non-Christians to see the film.
Thank you for respecting the integrity of my faith.
And thank you for letting me enjoy "Superman Returns" simply for what it is - a good night at the movies.