Christianity,  Cinema,  Culture,  Film,  Paul Backholer

DC’s Superman, Marvel and the Search for Christ, the Saviour

“For I have come down from Heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).

Have you observed that film executives have occupied cinemas with superhero movies for more than a decade? These movies reveal an unacknowledged spiritual longing for a Saviour, someone more powerful than us, who can save us from ourselves or others. It’s the outward manifestation of an inward need; a blurred reflection of the God-shaped hole portrayed in film.

One of the greatest superheroes which reveal a repressed longing for Christ is DC’s Superman (Clark Kent). The imagery of the Superman movies is Christ-like by design by filmmakers. In the origins story of Superman (1978), his father echoes the words of God the Father, saying, “I have sent them you, my only son.” Superman has three names: Superman, Clark Kent and Kal-El. The name Kal-El has Hebrew origins and can be translated as “the voice of God” or “the light of God.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

In the 1978 movie, when Superman’s earthly mum Martha Clark Kent, encounters him as a child, she says, “All these years, as happy as we’ve been, how I prayed and prayed the good Lord see fit to give us a child.” That’s Hannah’s story in the Bible.

In her deep anguish, Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life”

– 1 Samuel 1:10-11.

When Marlon Brando (playing Superman’s natural father Jor-El), commissions him, there are echoes of God the Father, sending His Son to the world: “Live as one of them, Kal-El (Superman), to discover where your strength and your power are needed. But always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.”

In the Superman Returns (2006), the superhero discovers Lois Lane has won the Pulitzer Prize for an article called ‘Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.’ It’s like Nietzsche declaring, “God is dead.” Are you sure things will be better without Him? It’s a comforting thought for those unwilling to confront the responsibility of belief. Ultimately, Lois concedes earth’s need and begins a follow-up article, ‘Why the World Needs Superman.’

The twentieth century began without God and it led to a human rights disaster: two World Wars, the horrors of Communism and hundreds of millions of unwarranted deaths. We’ve tried the world without God and it’s going terribly, but what does it signify to submit to Him? C.S. Lewis describes the daunting prospect of coming to terms with the Almighty, saying:

You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England

– Surprised By Joy by C.S. Lewis, Geoffrey Bles books, p. 266.

In the new origins story Man of Steel (2013), a young Clark Kent struggles with his calling and power. He comes out of the shadows to save a bus full of children from drowning and people call it, “An act of God, Providence.” Just as Jesus Christ spent thirty years living in secret, Superman is told by his earthly father, “Clark, you have to keep this side of yourself a secret.” Confused with his calling, a young Clark asks, “Did God do this to me?”

As he continues to question his purpose, Clark speaks with his father, who says, “You are my son, but somewhere out there you have another father, who gave you another name and he sent you here for a reason Clark.” It’s the story of Joseph, God the Father and Jesus recast.  

In the relentless struggle with evil, a young Clark confesses his struggle to a priest, as he questions if he should surrender to a wicked power, General Zod. Inside the church there’s a window portraying Christ, surrendering in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Superman is also wrestling with surrendering himself to save others, saying, “If there’s a chance I can save earth by turning myself in, shouldn’t I take it?” The priest responds, “Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith first, the trust part comes later.”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths

– Proverbs 3:5-6.

Marvel movies are also spiritual allegories; good versus evil, with the demonic aliens invading earth and the need for a supernatural being to redeem us. That’s a reflection of Christ entering earth from Heaven to engage in our suffering and save us from our sin.

Jesus said, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness”

– John 12:46.

When critical, we may perceive Marvel films as an excuse for an ending with a puerile forty-minute CGI battle with no consequences for ruined cities and lives. But Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: End Game (2019) conveyed depth, unlike other superhero films.

The odd MCU villain Thanos is like a bewitched environmentalist, who wants to kill half of humanity as a sacrifice to the planet to return balance. To narrate his story, the plot of ten years of MCU films are weaved through twenty different superheroes and their adventures. Ultimately, all the superheroes pull together and a good man has to die to defeat evil. Put differently, the Church must fight as one in spiritual warfare within Christ’s victory and God wins in the end!

Marvel’s latest outing, Spider-Man: No Way Home, steers away from the endless reboots and carves at multiverse narrative that begins with, “Can I start again?” Everything has gone wrong for Peter Parker, but by messing with time with Doctor Strange, chaos is created. He’s forgotten, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The message of Jesus is that everyone gets a second chance and more. You can’t go back in time, but His mercies are new every morning. Repentance is fundamentally a chance to begin again.

By Paul Backholer. Find out about Paul’s books here.