More on Man of Steel

I am a huge fan of Man of Steel in that it is a flawlessly executed movie. However, there are some thematic elements that I found problematic, and I wanted to go into those.

Put bluntly, the film is fundamentalist. It’s anti-science, anti-progress, and deeply suspicious.

Where in other incarnations of the Superman myth, Krypton fell due to the ills of its society despite its technological achievements, in Man of Steel these technological achievements are implied to be the reason for the societal ills.

Kryptonians developed the technology to reproduce without requiring a woman to endure carrying and birthing a child. Then they went beyond this level to the point of specifically designing each person.

Jor and Lara don’t like chance being taken out of the genetic equation, so they decide to have a child naturally, including 1) not manipulating genes in any way and 2) having Lara undergo pregnancy and labor. Why they didn’t just do 1 and spare Lara 2 isn’t addressed. The issue is treated as black and white: either you choose genetic manipulation/science, or you choose the natural way/tradition.

When you compare and contrast Kal and Zod in this context, the implication is that a large reason why Kal is “good” and Zod is “evil” is because Kal was born naturally. You even see this in Kal’s upbringing as Clark. He seems to be innately good; he doesn’t appear to have learned his goodness from the Kents. The question is never “Should I be good?” but “How should I express my goodness?” Meanwhile, Zod even comes out and says that he is acting as he was designed to act, that he can’t fight his own nature. Zod can’t be redeemed; he must be killed to be stopped.

This, of course, makes the more general, dangerous implication that some people are born “good” and others are born “bad” and that it’s impossible for a person to change.

Man of Steel does some unfortunate things: it treats complex issues as black and white; it rejects progress in favor of tradition; and it paints anyone who diverges from what’s “natural” as irredeemably “bad”. In this way, I’m sure the film is appealing to people who’d prefer a homogenous society. To someone like me who favors diversity, change, and the benefit of the doubt, though, it’s pretty troubling.


  1. I can see how you can come to those conclusions, but I actually see it a bit differently. When you look at the implications of a society that has stripped all chances of “natural selection” and they force certain traits on specific houses, along with removing a woman’s ability to carry a baby to term, form that bond, go through labor and child birth, it could be said the complete opposite has happened from your points.
    It had been centuries (if I remember correctly) of this way of life on Krypton. Which would have been the tradition for *them*. So having Jor and Lara go against the grain and have a baby without their advanced technology involved, technically that could be a vote for progress, science and chance (which was outlawed by the Kryton high council).
    In a sense, their technological advances actually limited them from growing because they found one single method, and stuck with it. I just listened to this podcast with Kevin Smith and Grant Morrison discussing the new Wonder Woman series that’s coming out and how the same thing happened to the Amazons. They lived a life without man for centuries and without any real progress in their society from the wild card that man would throw into the mix (we are unpredictable, after all), they fell into a routine and things started looking exactly like how they did on Krypton. Not saying that man needs to be in the mix, but the dynamic of what we’re discussing makes sense in this case.
    Anyhow, Zod does mention that he was made this way, he was created to protect Krypton. I don’t necessarily believe that he was saying he was made to be “bad”, but made to protect his people at all cost, *no matter what*. That’s where the problem comes in, military action to the extreme, including genocide, is inherently wrong. I think that may be the angle they were playing really. The message I came away from Man of Steel wasn’t necessarily black and white for me. I think it took many jabs at a “military” mindset from an alien standpoint as well as a domestic. The message that was put out there was that we, as humans, don’t trust at all. Anything. Barely trusting ourselves for that matter. One of the last lines in the movie is Clark saying to the General: “You’re just going to have to trust me”. And frankly, with the announcement of Batman playing a heavy role in Man of Steel 2, I think we’re going to see exactly how much we DON’T trust Superman/Clark… atleast through Bruce’s eyes. But we’ll get there.

    1. Interesting points. I think you’re being relativistic about “tradition”, which is a scientific way to look at it (yay!). I was coming at it from a “there’s only one right way” standpoint. Meaning that even though Krypton had been doing it their way for centuries, their traditions were “wrong” because they didn’t adhere to OUR cultural paradigm. Ever notice how TV sitcom characters never get abortions, and also generally don’t use epidurals when a birth is shown? That’s because those things are outside of our generally accepted paradigm; they’re taboo even though they’re allowed and real life people do them. (Speaking of which, no pain medicine for Lara, either.)

      I do think the notion of what might happen if we found a way to gestate children outside a woman’s body is a very interesting one. I almost got into it in my post, but didn’t want to detract from my main point. Basically, there’s plenty of room for science fiction exploration of this sort of topic, and including it in the movie certainly gives Man of Steel more science fiction cred. I just wonder about the overall message that’s being sent. The topic isn’t explored deeply; it’s simply rejected.

      I cede you the point about cultural complacency. That also goes back to the standard Superman origin story.

      If the movie was overtly black and white and preachy, there’s no way I would be able to love it (and I do). It’s a great movie. I do think there are some subtle messages that appeal to a certain paradigm, though, whether by design or through subconscious bias.

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