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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Brave Look At A New Superman

“Man of Steel” is a shockingly ugly movie, filled with violence and destruction, reprehensible ideologies, and twisted takes on beloved, time-tested characters. It is also a supremely beautiful movie, filled with visions of grandeur, ideas that push the story forward, and a hero who rises above questions of identity and moral quandaries to protect those in need. Like the teens it caters to, it is a pulsing, heaving, aching mass of strong performances and vivid scenes. We lean forward to hear its huddled, whispered conversations, then cover our ears when it lurches, crashes, and explodes into motion. As the hero of my own life story, I heeded those desperate, pain-wracked calls, and made another attempt not just to understand it, but also to enjoy it.

In the first few moments of the film, we find Lara on the planet Krypton. She lies on a bed, her legs spread wide, as she struggles to push a child from her womb. Her screams ring through a darkened room as she gives birth to her son Kal-El. Her husband Jor-El stands beside her, holding her hand, and willing her strength. Hers is the first natural birth in generations, for on Krypton children are genetically programmed, their bloodlines, abilities, and purpose in life approved before they gestate in the bio-mechanical birthing containers of the Genesis Chamber. 

As Krypton's chief scientist, Jor-El recognizes how planning out every conceivable aspect of their society has led the World Council to develop and utilize every available resource, even the planet's core. In exhausting this last store of energy and materials, Jor-El tells the council it has pillaged their future. Others realize this too, including their chief military officer, General Zod, who intends to wrest control of his world and remake it in his own design. So Jor-El compounds the heresy of creating an unprogrammed child by stealing Kryption’s genetic library, downloading the information into his infant son's DNA, and sending young Kal-El off in a one-man spacecraft, knowing his planet may implode at any minute.

Kal-El hardly finds life on Earth easy, even when his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, give him the Human name Clark. With his enhanced Krptonian senses, he functions like a boy with ADHD, constantly inundated by stimuli you and I would never perceive.  Nor are his troubles limited to concentration in the classroom. His adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, continually rides Clark to rein in his super-abilities, to fit in with society, and above all, not to reveal who he really is. For most people, he argues, cannot accept anyone who stands out, who says or does things they don’t understand, and challenges their preconceptions and beliefs. 

Meet Lois Lane. As Martha means everything to Jonathan Kent, and Lara to Jor-El, she is destined to become Clark’s partner in love and life. She’s a hard-edged reporter who forces her way into a military-led archeological dig. She’s not afraid to stand up to the base commander, list her “rights” to be there, and then, with her steely gaze, tell him, “Now, if we’re through comparing the size of our dicks…” She drinks hard liquor. She leaks stories to rumormongering blogs (i.e. not The Dragon's Cache) when her boss refuses to print them. She may be as tough as any man, but she is also a Human, and therefore frail and weak in comparison to Clark Kent.

On her first night in camp, Lois follows Clark across the dig site, and into a spaceship buried in the ice. Clark shrugs off an attack by the ship’s robot guardian, but Lois is not so fortunate. She is bleeding internally, and will die unless she receives immediate medical aid. Clark must make a choice, and decide where he belongs. Will he embrace his identity as Kal-El, and use his Kryptonian abilities to save her life? Or will he be the Human his Earthly father Jonathan desires, and watch Lois Lane die.

And so we return to the beginning, and I wind down this musing on “Man Of Steel.” Kal-El’s eyes glow hotter and hotter, until they generate twin beams of light, which spear down into Lois Lane’s torso, and staunch her internal bleeding. Her screams ring through the dark corridors of the Kryptonian spaceship. The scene, like the movie, is cringingly ugly, hauntingly beautiful, and rich in ideas. It is a writhing mass of incompatabilities that craves our understanding, and challenges us to evaluate our preconceptions and beliefs. 

I’m not sure why I wanted to watch “Man Of Steel” again, but I did. Some might regard this as a valiant attempt to understand why the movie achieved such wide-spread acceptance. Others might see it as a heroic attempt to accept the latest evolutions in popular culture. Alas, my superior reserves of humility prevent me from commenting on either assertion.

Dragon Dave

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