I hadn’t been particularly excited to watch Superman Returns—it had been a last minute, "meet at the theatre in 10 minutes" kind of thing. I walked into the dark, crowded theater and expected to watch yet another superhero film. A villain, a pretty girl and a man in tight-fitting costume—it gets old.
What I saw, however, was something much more interesting than the classic superhero movie. I noticed parallels to the story of Jesus Christ. The audience noticed as well, murmuring, "Hey, doesn’t that make you think of …" and "It’s just like …" at every symbolic moment, of which there were many. Like when Lex Luthor directly says, "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don’t share their power with mankind."
More subtle examples of allusions to Jesus Christ include Lois Lane calling Superman a savior when she says, "The world doesn’t need a savior. And neither do I," as well as a stab wound on his side similar to Jesus’ on the cross.
In one scene, Superman silently falls from the sky after saving the world. As he falls to Earth, his arms fall to the side, and the audience sees him as if he were on a cross. My friend and I looked at each other and whispered, "That’s so a symbol for Jesus. Definitely."
Another hint is a monologue from Superman’s father, who explains why he sent him to Earth with some familiar sounding words.
"[Humans] only lack the light to show the way," and "For this reason I have sent them you, my only son."
I recognized those words as soon as I heard them. After three years of religion class at a Lutheran school, I was at least acquainted with this famous sentence of the Bible. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
The similarity between the two quotes and the two actions—Jesus and Superman being sent to Earth to guide humans—couldn’t be coincidental in my opinion, especially with the other allusions throughout the film.
At first I thought I was overreacting. I went in search of reviews to see what the pros thought of the religious references. When I read reviews of Superman Returns in TIME and on CNN.com, where Superman is called "Jesus Christ Superman," I saw that many reviewers had the same idea I did.
When I learned that, I was a little surprised. It seemed that Superman Returns was really taking the comic in a new direction, and wasn’t being subtle. However, once I actually Googled the topic, out of both curiosity and the desire to write this review, I discovered that Superman Returns is hardly the first portrayal of Superman as a Jesus Christ figure.
There are allusions to Jesus in other Superman ventures, too. For example, both Superman and Jesus are ethereal beings brought up in the human world by human parents. In the premiere of the WB series Smallville, Clark is abducted by a group of teenagers, stripped, and tied to a stake and cross beam. Tom Mankiewicz, the creative consultant of Superman and Superman II, which came out in 1978 and 1980, even revealed: "It’s a motif I had done at the beginning when Brando [who played Superman’s father] sent Chris [Reeve, who played Superman] to Earth and said, ‘I send them my only son.’ It was God sending Christ to Earth."
Bryan Singer, the director of Superman Returns, says that the apparent similarities of Superman to a Christ figure is simply using ancient motifs to tell contemporary stories. However, he also said in Wizard Magazine, "Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes."
So what were those references in the movie really about? The creators of Superman or the director’s incorporation of their Jewish roots? A nod to red-state America, a.k.a. "Jesusland?" A way to distinguish itself from all the other superhero movies? There is, after all, only one Superman.
I think that it’s simply a part of who he is. Any character developed to be a "savior of mankind" would draw comparisons to Jesus, whose story has been around for ages.
I enjoyed the religious references. They gave Superman Returns more depth—it wasn’t just the formulaic villain, pretty girl and man in tights. "Jesus Christ Superman" left me wondering more about the movie, the character and what went on behind the scenes.
This, in my opinion, is what every good movie should do.