Man of Steel is merely one more problematic, over-the-top incarnation of Superman, a character who spends the movie walking the uncanny middle ground between E.T. and false Messiah. Riddled with theological and ethical error, and just unpredictable enough to fall below expectation, Man of Steel has nothing of significance to offer, and nothing of insignificance better than watching a couple of aliens crash through every second building in Metropolis.
Superman’s parents send him to live among the people of earth, saying “he’ll be a god to them,” and neither he nor the average earthling are hesitant in adopting the plan.
Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El’s life is wrapped up in the idea of being the ultimate role model for planet earth. His goal isn’t even so much about saving people’s lives (see Strong Moral Confusion, below) as it is about his biological parents’ charge to “give the people of earth an ideal to strive for,” to “guide them” morally, to “bring them hope.” The faithful of planet Krypton entrust Superman with all of their “hopes and dreams” and give him a mission to “make” a better world than Krypton was. The problem with Superman’s life mission is that in real life God has already accomplished all of these things through Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is the only one who can accomplish them. Man of Steel implicitly but strongly argues that Superman (not Christ) is the answer to the universe’s problems.
There are three allusions to deity outside of the off-color claim about Superman. One is from a bitter Superman/Clark Kent who asks his foster father if “God” did this to him, and the only answer he gets is an instruction to center his concerns on himself. Another is from a woman who is considered a hazard to Clark’s destiny for attributing his powers to “an act of God” and “providence”. The third is merely a man in a clerical collar in a building with stained glass, whose only advice to a troubled Clark is for him to follow his gut feeling, and have faith in the goodness of humankind.
Statements are made about Superman being “free to forge his own destiny,” and about his potential resting on “the element of choice, of chance.”
Strong Moral Confusion
Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman is held up as the epitome of virtue. He is “an ideal to strive for,” “the best of both worlds,” a “guide,” even a “god” (see Strong Humanism, above). This “ideal”, however, is depicted committing criminal acts for his own selfish ends. Clark (who is portrayed as being indifferent to the elements) steals clothes from a private individual. This is immoral, and a legal misdemeanor. When a man insults him and a girl he works with, Clark goes out and spears the man’s semi truck full of logs. This is immoral, and a felony. He destroys millions of dollars worth of government property, just to prevent people from finding out his street address. Also a felony. Additionally, Clark commits résumé fraud, lying about his work history in order to get a job, again for his own benefit.
After a young Clark saves the lives of a schoolbus full of kids, his foster father Jonathan Kent scolds him for getting into a situation where his superpowers could be found out, saying that maybe it would have been better to let them die. Later, Jonathan takes this mindset to its logical conclusion, and stands in the path of a tornado, refusing to let Clark use his powers to save him. Clark obeys, and watches as Jonathan is killed.
The reason that Jonathan was in the path of the tornado and Clark and his foster mother Martha were not, is that Martha sent Jonathan back into the tornado to save the dog, and he went. Jonathan died for the sake of the family pet. This is positively, not negatively portrayed.
Evolutionary Cosmic Pluralism
The only thing the good guys and the villains agree on in Man of Steel is an understanding of the universe that is at odds with God’s truth.
From the beginning of the movie to the end, Superman is understood by everyone and everything to be a nonhuman from another galaxy. There is constant differentiation between the Kryptonian “race” and humanity, and Superman’s unearthly powers are explicitly attributed to his alien nature. The problem with all this is that Superman is a sinful nonhuman. Because in reality human sinful nature comes from the first Adam, salvation can only come from the second Adam, Jesus Christ, as fully God and fully man. For Superman, a morally-responsible nonhuman, there are only two options. Either he goes to hell when he dies because Atonement is by Christ the human, for humans, or he goes to heaven just for doing a good deed now and then. The first is too unpleasant to make for good entertainment, and the second is heresy.
The Kryptonians believe in Darwinian evolution, which is portrayed as true by virtue of its being believed throughout the universe, and a villain credits evolution with the physical and moral difference between Kryptonians and humans. Both the Earthlings and the Kryptonians use old-earth age references, whether twenty thousand years or one hundred thousand years.
As an aside, despite the good intentions behind any attempts to draw parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ, the comparisons are at best useless and at worst morally repulsive. Superman is an obviously sinful man, not a sinless Christ. Superman is born of a sexual union between two mortal, finite parents; Christ, the eternal God—the Son of the eternal God—incarnated in a non-sexual act by the power of the Holy Spirit. Both Superman’s earthly foster father and his Kryptonian biological father end up stone dead by the end of the movie; God the Father cannot die. Superman can never be human; Christ was (and still is) fully human, as well as fully God—which is also something Superman can never be. Superman only ever saves people’s bodies; Christ saves both their bodies and their souls, eternally. The list could go on and on.
Superman’s biological father Jor-El is dead. Partway through the movie, however, Superman and Lois discover the means to summon Jor-El’s consciousness. Jor-El’s body is apparently no more, but his disembodied spirit can still interact with the physical world, and the main characters take advantage of the opportunity to seek advice and protection from the dead.