Adopting the New Superman in Man of Steel
Posted on July 20, 2013
My reaction to watching Man of Steel a couple of weeks ago was maybe slightly different than the experience of others. One of the themes that they focused on throughout the movie was Clark’s sense of self having been adopted by a human family and then learning about his biological background. Overall, the movie centers around how he tries to come to terms with his place in the universe and on Earth. He especially has to deal with his choice to adopt the humans as those he wants to protect over his own kind.
Everyone who’s aware of the Superman mythos knows his backstory of being from Krypton, being sent away, growing up to parents from midwest America, and then becoming the defender of humans. The movie could have just relied on the awesome special effects fights and scenes, of which there are plenty. But instead, they allowed Clark/Superman to connect to his sense of self as someone who technically doesn’t belong.
When I was nineteen months old, I was adopted by my parents. I had been in and out of a few homes but always given back to the state. The story goes that the first time they brought me for a home visit, I wouldn’t look at anybody in the room. I sat in the middle of the floor with my chin to my chest and large tears flowing from my eyes. It wasn’t until my soon-to-be older brother started playing with me and getting me to laugh that I looked up and finally saw the family that would be mine.
In family photos, there is a sense of “one of these things just doesn’t match” to them because I am part Hawaiian-Filipino and looked very Asian as a kid. There were my parents, my brother, and then this Asian-looking kid in all of them. There was no way they could pass me off as being biologically part of the family, but that never affected us. I was brought up to know that I was adopted from the day I came into the house. And it wasn’t a point of contention. It’s actually something we all claim enthusiastically. In fact, I used to use it against my own brother saying they chose me and had to take him. My family has always been my family because they took care of me and loved me.
And I felt that connection with Clark and his parents in the film. He knew he wasn’t biologically their kid, yet he also knew how much they cared for him and looked out for him. The filmmakers could have cut out the family background story to shorten the film. But I’m glad they didn’t. Because we need a sense of Clark knowing how much he was loved and accepted even though he was an alien. It’s because of that love of his parents that he can adopt the human race as his own to protect.
When they picked Henry Cavill to play Superman, by his looks he fit the part. But because the role required someone to connect on such an emotional level, Cavill was an excellent choice and really did a great job. It was also really smart to choose Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the parents because of how grounded they are in our minds as true American actors as well as strong leads. We needed Superman to be firmly grounded in his sense of family in order to join him on his journey of discovery.
While most viewers got excited when Clark finds out his true parentage, it actually made me uncomfortable. In my head I know he has to find out about his legacy from Krypton, but I felt like he was betraying his own family. I felt a push and pull that Cavill had to portray – that desire to know who you are connected to through your own atoms versus the knowledge of who has taken care of you from the start.
It dawned on me that the Superman story is really a nature versus nurture story. His own nature makes him even more of an outsider. But in the movie, when he finds the others that are biologically like him, what makes them who they are is so different from what makes Clark who he is. And that’s how he makes his final decision. The anguish of his scream at the end of the battle tightened my heart because I know how it would feel if I ever had to choose between a biological family I never knew and the family that has been mine since I entered into it.
Man of Steel is rebooting – again – the Superman franchise. It gives a nod to the original films with Christopher Reeve but also the grittiness of the darker comic book Superman of these past few years. In a lot of ways, it wiped the slate clean from the last reboot that didn’t quite capture the spirit of Superman even though Brandan Routh looked the part. Cavill’s portrayal of Superman can extend to other movies and hopefully will.
My one criticism would be the choice of Amy Adams as Lois Lane. It’s not that she isn’t a strong actress, but the connection needed between her and Cavill as the new Lois and Clark didn’t feel as strong as it needed to be. After all, she is the one human who he truly “adopts” as his own. But if that’s the one weak point of the movie, it’s not one that will ruin it for anybody.
As a blockbuster movie at the beginning of the summer movie season, it played its part well serving up a film with intense action as well as heart. But more importantly, it offered a movie that we the viewers and followers of the franchise can adopt as part of the Superman family.