This post contains spoilers about Man of Steel, a movie still playing in theaters at the time of this publishing. If you have not yet seen the film and wish to keep the ending a surprise, I suggest you bookmark this article to read after you’ve seen it.
SUPERMAN RETURNS… AGAIN… FOR THE FIRST TIME
Remember Superman Returns? Remember how excited everyone was leading up to it? Remember when we all were swooning over Brandon Routh and how much he looked like Christopher Reeve? Then, remember how terrible the movie was?
It was awful. And worst of all, there was pretty much no real action. Sure, falling planes and giant Kryptonite islands and a kid crushed a dude with a piano, but there wasn’t any real superhero action.
I left the theater kinda disappointed. The movie was beautiful and it took some bold directions, but it lacked the real hero I had come to see.
Basically, Superman Returns did to Superman what Christians tend to do with Jesus: Make him a wuss.
Sure, a powerful and compassionate wuss, but a wuss none-the-less.
So, the next generation of Superman movies was derailed and we had to wait 7 more years to see the next attempt: Man of Steel.
From very early on, this movie looked like it was going to being the polar opposite of Superman Returns. It was starting over from the beginning. It was going to be darker. It was going to have action. It was going to change the way we saw Superman on the big screen in a way that hasn’t been done since 1978.
And it did.
Sure, Man of Steel had some flaws and had a semi-generic story, but this movie is a wonderful start to what I’m sure will be an amazingly successful franchise (and maybe even the start of a whole DC Universe of interwoven movies, a la Marvel’s current success).
And best of all, it really Super-manned up! Fighting, destruction, explosions, weapons, sonic booms, and no cheap usage of Kryptonite.
But… did it go too far? [SPOILERS AHEAD.]
SHAME ON SUPERMAN?
At the end of the one-on-one battle between Superman and an equally powerful Zod, Zod was using his heat-vision to attack innocent people. Superman gives him a chance to stop, but Zod refuses, and so Superman kills Zod.
In this moment, Superman screams, falls to the ground, destroyed over what he had to do. To kill, and on top of that, to kill one of his own people.
Most reviews I have read from devout Superman fans have come to the same conclusion: Superman shouldn’t have killed Zod.
And they were right. I agree. And you know who else agreed? Superman.
Maybe it comes from being in an overwhelming position of utter failure myself, but I knew exactly what Superman was thinking in that moment, and I could read it plain-as-day on his face. He was thinking to himself, “I lost.”
Superman did NOT win this battle, and to me, it was very clear that he knew that.
To the rest of the world, he was a hero. He saved the day by killing the villain that surely would have killed all of them without a second thought.
But to Superman, he had done something desperate in the heat of the moment and it was the wrong thing to do.
This was not the coming of age story of a hero. This was the story of someone wanting to do good, but not being prepared for the enemy he was facing.
You see, Superman is held in high esteem in comics. In fact, several of the most popular stories in the DC Universe have revolved around Superman NOT killing someone when others believe he should.
However, if we place a cop in a situation where a man was shooting at innocent people, the cop wouldn’t even give the man a chance before shooting him dead. And that would be the right thing to do. No one would question it.
But Superman is almost historically TOO good in this respect, never taking a life under any circumstances.
And we come to expect that because he is Superman! He is the hero of heroes! He can do amazing things to win without killing his enemy, but preserving life at all costs, even evil life, because Superman believes ANYONE is capable of good, of rehabilitation, of changing their hearts.
So, even though I believe Superman’s emotion and the tone after killing Zod was done correctly for the character, I wish he hadn’t done it, because Superman does whatever it takes to save a life.
But let’s take this situation and apply it to something else: Sharing the Gospel with others.
MAN OF FAITH
A guest pastor who spoke at my church this past Sunday asked us a couple of questions. The first was something like “Do you think it is important to share the Gospel with others?”
He said, “Of course, most of you would answer ‘Yes’.”
Then, the second question was something like, “Do you regularly share the Gospel with others?”
He said, quite correctly, that “Most of you would probably say ‘No,’ unfortunately.”
I’m guilty of this, and one situation still hurts me to this day.
In junior high and high school, I had a friend named Virginia, but we called her “Ginnie.” She was genius-level smart, which makes for a difficult time socially now and then, but I was proud to be numbered among one of her closest friends for many years.
But early on in our friendship, she made the realization that she didn’t believe in Christ as Savior. She had considered herself a Christian for a long time, but realized it wasn’t because she had any kind of faith. And as she started to figure out what she believed was right and wrong in this world, she officially decided to renounce any connection she had to Christianity.
I talked with her about it, extremely worried for her, and she told me she had never had a salvation experience and that she had just played along because all of her friends were Christians.
To my shame, I let this break up our friendship until a couple years later, when we both joined a Journalism class as the Editors of the school paper, a regular Clark & Lois. When we reconciled, it was more or less a “let’s leave the past in the past” situation. The one time I did bring up her faith (or lack thereof) she told me to drop it, so I did.
I didn’t want to lose her as a friend, so I left it alone and never brought it up again.
She graduated early and we drifted apart, but she went on to do amazing things. Her work in developing new processes for growing food in harsh climates (literally fighting world hunger) earned her an honorary doctorate in her early twenties.
And just after that, she died.
She got hit with a very aggressive form of cancer that took in a very short time, and I didn’t even hear about it until a month after she was already gone.
And to this day, all I can think about is how I never shared my faith with her.
That feeling that Superman expressed on his face the moment after he realized what he had done to Zod? This is the feeling that I feel every time I think of Ginnie.
I had done what I thought was right, what I thought most people would do in my situation. I stopped talking about Jesus with her because she asked me to.
It sounds nice, it sounds respectful, it sounds tolerant.
But now, all I can think about is, “If I had brought it up again, even if it had cost me the friendship, would it have planted a seed that grew into true faith?”
I thought I was being a good friend by clamming up, but in reality, I was unintentionally saying, “I’m okay with you going to Hell when you die.”
But of course, I wasn’t thinking that. I was thinking what we all think, “They’ve got a lot more life ahead of them, I’m sure we can talk about it in the future.”
And then she was gone, and I am just praying that, in her last few years, she had a better friend than me that was willing to share the Gospel with her.
Ginnie was a wonderful person and friend and I miss her all the time. But I wish I had been a better friend to her.
It is true that Superman does not kill, and in Man of Steel, Superman wasn’t Superman when he did what he did. He became less. He wasn’t prepared for the enemy he was facing.
Christians are called to preserve “afterlife” in sharing the Gospel and planting the seeds of faith. Sure, we can’t “save” anyone, and we may never know if what we said made any difference in someone’s life, but we are called to do our part in witnessing.
However, we often fail to do our part because we are not prepared for the enemy we face, that voice that whispers in our ears that we can put it off, that they’ll come to Christ on their own, that there is plenty of time to tell them in the future. It’s such a transparent lie that we fall for all the time.
I never did my part with Ginnie. And that makes me feel less “Super” every day.
Nothing I can do now can change what I did or didn’t do in the past, but I can try to learn from my mistakes and work to be a better man, a better Christian, and a better hero moving forward.
In that way, Man of Steel connected with me. We all fall down. But we have to decide what kind of man or woman we’re going to be. Whoever that is, we’re going to change the world.
Matthew Coker is a Media Director at a church in his hometown, where he also is a leader at a Celebrate Recovery program. He’s a huge comic book nerd, Whovian, and Funko Pop Collector. Matthew and his wife live in New Mexico.