*Hello all, just got back from seeing Superman is Jesus Our Lord in theaters. I mean, excuse my flippancy, but holy smokes was the religious allegory slathered on good and thick in the last forty-five minutes or so. In a way, it’s actually kind of funny - everyone thought Bryan Singer was going to make Superman gay, but it turns out he’s the Christ! Gotcha! Oh, and I hear from a lot of places that the whole thing is really heavily connected in homage and continuation to the 1978 Superman film, which I've not seen, so I can't comment.

Superman Returns


And no, I’m not talking about Superman as the savior archetype or anything - I’m talking lines regarding an Only Son arriving to awaken the spirit in flawed (sinful) humanity (delivered by no less than an actor literally beyond the boundaries of mortality - nice touch!), a brutal beating, a piercing of the side, a pantomime crucifixion posture (in the vein of that guy from Creed - you know), a death and resurrection, complete with an empty ‘tomb’ being discovered, and even a hardy concluding pep talk about how the descendants (followers) of Superman (Jesus) will face oppression and mockery and tough times ahead, but will no doubt pull through.

It’s forceful enough that it might have been really interesting, if (a.) it didn’t seem tacked on to artificially weigh down the tail end of the film with ‘depth’ and (b.) the allegory made much sense at all. Call me crazy, but the fact that Superman is physically present for much of the movie to physically save and educate us, and is then... well, physically present at the end to physically save and educate us in precisely the same way as before, kind of snuffs some of the effectiveness, you know? Hell, Singer even throws in an ascension in the final shot, with Superman beatifically gazing down upon the Earth from Above, but he’s just going to swoop down later and save stuff on his own, everyone knows that. It’s as if the Apostles returned to their hideaway following the parting of the clouds, only to find Jesus physically sitting there ready to take everyone’s order for lunch. It honestly doesn’t emerge as very thought through, and certainly doesn’t say much of anything beyond ‘wow, quite a deep film we have here what with Scripture and all!’

At times the film seems to be trying to mix different godly tales at once - there’s also a very explicit allusion to Prometheus, with Lex Luthor trying to steal ‘fire’ from the gods (technology from Krypton), though Luthor is (again, explicitly) decried as a false god, and his perverted ‘gift’ to humankind is returned to the heavens by Superman just prior to his dying for our sins. Again, this makes very little sense, as we seem to be mixing Ademic creation stories (as transmuted through the ‘Promethus/Lucifer = bad’ lens of the Judeo-Christian approach) with the arrival of the Messiah, though at least Luthor does wind up stranded on a big rock at the end (say, does that make Parker Posey the gnashing bird?!). It’s the surface that matters. The whiff of depth, not the dive itself. I think I've said something like that before in this very past week.

I guess I wouldn’t have noticed all this stuff as easily had the movie not made it a point to indulge in sludgy weepifying for much of its final third, as if to urgently inform us that yes, we might have had some fun, but Superman Returns is also a terribly powerful story as well! And, it’s not. It kind of has the surface elements, they play the soulful music at the right times and all, and characters cry, and it’s all kind of mythical/Biblical, but it’s wearing an ill-fitting disguise. It’s worse than Clark’s glasses. If you’re not going to be able to follow through on this stuff, why bring it up? That’s the silliest way these films can look, in my mind.

And that really saps my enjoyment, though there are enjoyable elements of the film. A lot of it is pretty campy, yet prone to sudden violence and ferocity, which I kind of dug - almost everything surrounding Lex has a certain childish, knowingly absurd feel, from his ludicrous five appeals from prison (no such thing as a court reporter or depositions either, I guess!), to his swindling the riches from that poor old lady, to that one henchman following him around shooting a video documentary on his grand conquests, to Parker Posey’s entire performance as a veritable gangster’s moll (which fits in with the slightly odd but pleasant feeling of the film taking place in several time periods at once, design-wise), yet Spacey nicely handles an undercurrent of real menace and anger. It really is a fine role for him. But then, you know, it’s time to put aside childish things and be really serious, instead of simply having serious bits, and unfortunately there’s not a lot of emotional or character work done to bolster those flimsy excursions into storied iconography.

It’s telling to me that all of the good character beats that I can recall are largely visual, like the bit with Superman following Lois up the elevator shaft with his x-ray vision, or the slow, sensual sweeps of the two flying around. A lot of care is paid to the visual side of things, with Superman varying his speed to not kill the people he's carrying around, or trying to position himself so as not to rip apart the many heavy objects he's trying to lift or steady. You can roll with the obvious questions that arise (like how the hell did that little plane survive the rising of the island?) when such love is poured into the special effects execution. I really liked how all of Superman's challenges are structured around how mighty he is in a defensive sense, and how much he desires to save people. These things hold up on a primal level, and the screen does them justice, though Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth never seem to be very present as actors. Maybe that's a trade-off for those visuals - but then, why all the fuss in the final stretch with so little to back it up?

It keeps coming back to that for me, doesn't it? A decent enough superhero blockbuster lunging hell(heaven?)bent toward resonance, but taking shortcuts, and looking sort of ridiculous. Bad ridiculous. Is this what people felt coming out of The Hulk? I've not seen that one. But when I walked out of this one, I immediately whispered to one of my companions "Superman is Jesus!" He groaned and shook his head. Yes sir.