Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Movie Review: Superman Returns [spoiler alert].

Finding Christ-figures in movies can be trite and trivializing.

Some have taken the exercise so far as to suggest, for instance, that Sean Penn’s death-sentenced character in Dead Man Walking fulfilled this role. After all, they argue, the convict spread his arms in a crucifix pose as he died of the lethal injection. This extreme example brings to mind the admonition found in Dr. Robert Johnston’s Reel Spirituality: “There is a danger…in having overenthusiastic viewers find Christ-figures in and behind every crossbar or mysterious origin. This is to trivialize both the Christ-figure and the work of art.” (p. 53.)

Nevertheless, the Christ-figure in Superman Returns is unmistakable. The panoply of parallels is about as overt as a Christiana Aguilera music video.

For examples, Superman is sent from his celestial home by the “Father” to live as a human. His life is to help hapless humanity. He removes from the earth the deadly sin (represented by an ugly land mass hatched by evil incarnate) and falls back to earth in, you guessed it, a crucifix pose. He nearly dies (ok, the metaphor isn’t perfect) and then unexpectedly rises, so his followers can find only an empty tomb—i.e., hospital bed.

That the movie employs a Christ-figure does not make it trite or trivial, however. There is a positive aspect. “The Christ-figure is a foil to Jesus Christ, and between the two figures there is a reciprocal relationship. On the one hand, the reference to Christ clarifies the situation of the Christ-figure and adds depth to the significance of his actions, on the other hand, the person and situation of the Christ-figure can provide new understanding of who and how Christ is :’Jesus himself is revealed anew in the Christ-figure.’” (Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film, 112.)

In this instance, Superman Returns’ multi-faceted use of the Christ-figure is elegant and eloquent. The film soars in the imagery, and is aided by high production values, plentiful and credible action sequences, and a picture-perfect performance by Brandon Routh in the title character. By contrast, Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane is petulant and pitiable. Hopefully Ms. Bosworth will have an irreconcible conflict, such as being cast in a Deuce Bigalow filmic masterwork, when the next Superman installment is filmed.

I recommend Superman Returns highly, especially to those interested in Christology and Christ-figures in film.

Superman Returns receives an A-.