Man of Steel: a Movie About Jesus and Family Values
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a Jesus Christ / super hero / family man?
Just before, the record-breaking release of Warner Bros’ Man of Steel, a publicity push (whether intentional by the distribution company or not) was made announcing the similarities of the Superman story to that of Jesus Christ.
Among the similarities are: Superman’s heavenly origins and earthy life and sacrifice, personal conflict of identity of having two fathers, and the imagery (below) of Superman floating with his arms stretched that FOX compares to a crucifix-like “Superman prayer card,” among many others. I’m not here to debate the similarities, but rather to show how Man of Steel’s faith-filled publicity made a holy entrance through news reports and the blogs and tabloids that followed.
When news reports showed Superman’s juxtaposition to Jesus Christ, the Christian elements of the Man of Steel were exposed to sell it as a positive family film with a significant emphasis on positive parental relationships. The studio even went to such lengths as to aggressively market “Man of Steel to Christian pastors, inviting them to early screenings, creating Father’s Day discussion guides and producing special film trailers that focus on the faith-friendly angles of the movie” – CNN. Whereas Man of Steel automatically targets the comic book and super hero action junkies, this was a move with clear intentions to exploit the marketing opportunities of the Superman story to family-value audiences, and especially (given the Father’s Day weekend release) father-son audiences.
I say marketing opportunities because the push for family-values wasn’t a last minute decision made by executives to find bigger audience; it’s a theme embedded in the story and with due respect for Father’s Day weekend, timing made the deal. There are eleven TV Spots, aka commercials, published by Warner Bros. that are available on YouTube. These TV Spots have been running for some time that, when examined with the Jesus Christ Superstarman push, make sense that Man of Steel is a family film boasting Christian virtues that aren’t so “in your face” as the extreme comparable, Passion of Christ. Here’s a breakdown of the TV Spots, and their relative analysis of target audiences and messages:
The Family Spots, as I call them, highlight the themes of “who you are” when growing up, parental nurturing influence, and the time of development when we ask ourselves a lot of questions. Spot 1 aims at males 18-25, by posing these questions of development while Spot 6 spotlights the father’s presence in a parental relationship. Spot 6, however, gives a little something for everyone in the minivan – Clark Kent is shown as a child and adult for the boys-to-men in the audience, Lois is held by Superman in a romantic escape for the girls, and then there’s that strong parental perspective for mom and dad – all very personable and relatable qualities of the film. Then Spot 3 seems to single out the males 55+ with paternal virtues. What does this have to do with the Christian push? Aside from the biblical “honor thy mother and father” point, a wholesome family seeks to discipline their growing children to make righteous decisions in their independence. In these spots, that message speaks loud and clear in scenes of “the talk” in Clark’s youth, Fathers Jor-el and Jonathans’s opinionated hopes and desires for Superman, and Clark’s own internal discussion of making a decision that is right for the greater good.
I wanted to group these spots with the previous three, but as Mellow Older Spots, they speak to a much older audience (Spot 3 could also find a home in this group). Both Spots share a mellow, sentimental tune and show imagery of the older characters of them film. They also share a heavy influence of story-telling, and the parental values previously mentioned. Then where action is present, scenes show the nostalgic and time-honored shots that have been scene in Superman films and shows before. Therefore, I would argue that these trailers tailor to an audience of 35-54 and 55+ with a skew for males (are there any dads in the house? It’s Father’s Day!), including audiences who have followed Superman’s career arc. Serving an older audience, these spots are specific to parental relationships and the message of righteousness as well, making it clear through the fathers’ monologues and an established faith that Superman will save day.
[sigh] The Eye-Candy Spot. Behind the action, adventure, father-son drama, and Henry Cavill’s physique are audience members in awe: the girls. This spot deserves a category of it’s own because not all the audience can be a sausage-fest. Heavy on images of Lois Lane played by Amy Adams, Superman saving people left and right, and ending with a female soldier calling Superman “hot,” I can tell this trailer was aired on networks with majority female viewers 15-35 years of age. I can’t tie in the love story to Christian ideals, but as a family film, the romance must be part of the diversity of interests.
The Action Spots: dramatic music, explosions, battle scenes, and muscle galore. These spots are necessary because, after all, Man of Steel is a kick@ss summer blockbuster that must be exciting in order to bring in the money. Although the family message is placed in snippets here and there in all six trailers (because remember, it is part of the story), these trailers call out to the Superman fanatics, action-movie-enthusiasts, and the general summer crowd looking for an exciting movie to watch. Capitalizing the excitement of comic book/Superman enthusiasts, and those just eager to see the film, Spot 8 even encourages the “advanced tickets now on sale” message to place the right offer in the right hands. But even the Christian message comes through in the action spots through the archetypal battle of good vs. evil. We have a son who has been raised with family values and moral decision making, now we see him defeat evil and show the power that righteousness really has. Ephesians 6:10-18 says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil”… or General Zod…
The unfortunate power of marketing is quoted by Joseph Levine: “You can fool all of the people all of the time – if the advertising is right and the budget is big enough.” Faking people out through marketing is what I was taught to call a “feathered fish” – showing something that it really isn’t. I bring this up because a lot of audiences are mentioned above, but in no way (and thankfully) does Man of Steel become a feathered fish. Summer is hunting season in the movie industry where free time, good weather, and air-conditioned theaters means that every day can be a Saturday and your money and free time can be spent at the local theater. So with competition of other box office hits, the expensive movies must cater to a wide audience.
As you have seen, Man of Steel did just that… and did it right. Families aren’t the only ones seeing the film because the action, love, and value-based storytelling is admirable, personable, and pleasurable. With older audiences commanding the box office sales, why not convince them to bring the family along as well… even for Father’s Day!
Man of Steel could have been advertised as just another super hero film, but understanding the story and the target audiences gave the film a push for an audience much larger than the comic book and action film fanatics.