Man of Steel, Free Will and Where My Kids are Going Wrong



To say I'm excited about the new Superman movie is an understatement. Giddy is more like it. (I mean have you noticed the name of this blog?) My kids on the other hand couldn't care less. Last week at the theater the boys practically went nuts over the World War Z poster, this while I'm Instagramming the hell out the one showcasing Man of Steel. Pffft. Who would ever want to see a movie with Brad Pitt and zombies? As if.

Truth be told, my kids really don't get my--obsession is too strong, so let's say my fascination with the whole Superman thing. "Why do you like him so much?" they ask me over and over to which I launch into my standard spiel about what we can learn from Clark Kent as he grew up and how, as Superman, he uses his powers for the good of others and so on, and so on.

Why I keep doing this, I don't know because all it does is prompt the boys to remind me of every instance where Batman somehow manages to pummel Superman, which is a bunch of contrived hooey not to mention a faulty counterargument to my line of reasoning. A guy can hurl a tank into outer space, and they're all like, yawn, but give them some brooding schmo armed with a utility belt that's always prepared for every occasion and suddenly we have the world's greatest superhero. For the record, being prepared is not a superpower; it's a motto for the Boy Scouts. But like, whatever.

I've long since learned to ignore my children's misguided opinions about Superman. I realize they don't see the whole story from the same perspective that I do as a father--a theme that, based on the trailers, appears will be prevalent in Man of Steel. The film also promises to deliver on the theme of nature verses nurture according to screenwriter David S. Goyer in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly.

We get a glimpse of this in the early teaser trailers. Two versions were produced, one with the voice of  Kal-El's biological father, Jor-El (Russel Crow), representing the innate qualities (nature) that influence his son's development, the other with Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) personifying Clark Kent's personal experiences (nurture) that shape his behavior.

Version 1: Jor-El


Version 2: Jonathan Kent


What makes this interesting, though, is the conflicting messaging the two fathers pass on to their mutual son.

"You will give the people of earth something to strive towards," explains Jor-El. (We assume this takes place at some point after Kal-El finds the Fortress of Solitude and learns more of his Kryptonian heritage.) He then goes on to say that despite the people of earth's shortcomings, "they will join you in the sun [and] in time you will help them accomplish wonders."

This sounds contradictory to what Clark is told by his earthy parents, who, despite passing along the many good values that govern Superman's morality, also instill in him an element of fear. After young Clark rescues a busload of students, a worrisome Jonathan tells his son that he has to keep that part of himself a secret. "What was I supposed to do? Let them die?" Clark then asks to which his father says, "Maybe." That's hardly heroic advice.

Trailer 2


This conflict becomes central to the internal struggle Clark wrestles with as he finds himself in what looks to be a number of situations where he's forced to use his powers in order to rescue others. In fact, in the  trailers we hear Clark say, "My father was convinced the world would reject me, the world wasn't ready for me." Somewhere along the line, though, Clark has to make a choice.

Choices. That's what it comes down to. In the nature verses nature debate, there's another factor that those who are smarter than me like to stir into the mix--free will. Free will kind of throws things off by dictating that people can ignore inherent and environmental influences and choose their own course. In Man of Steel, free will appears to get a nod too with each father passing it along in their own way.

In the Entertainment Weekly article, Goyer explains that Krytonian babies are genetically engineered to fulfill roles within society such as a warrior or a scientist. Jor-El and his wife have Kal-El naturally, an act that creates trouble, but it also frees their son to, "dream of being something other than what society intended." Had Kal-El's DNA been tampered with, who knows how he would've turned out on earth or how it would've affected Kal-El's decisions once General Zod shows up.

Jonathan Kent acknowledges free will too as he recognizes the impact Clark's powers can one day have on society. "You just have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be, Clark. Whoever that man is--good character or bad--is going to change the world." Jonathan might not like that his son has to make a choice, but he knows that moment will eventually come, and he'll have to accept it.

This is something I often think about with my own children. I recognize the behaviors they exhibit that mirror my own, and I can see how various circumstances influence their actions. There are examples I could point out on a daily basis. What's funny is there are also times when I've tried to change their way of thinking, and my only motivation for doing so was to maintain control.

Control is something that continues to erode as my kids grow older. It's much more difficult to relinquish than I expected, and yet I have to with the hope that, through word and deed, I've passed along enough good character traits to help them make the best decisions for themselves.

Where it's clear my kids have gone wrong, however, is with their whole World War Z and Batman mentality  But that's their choice. Me? I'll still be front and center come June 14th the minute Man of Steel is released.

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NOTE: This post was in response to friend and fellow comic enthusiast, Eric Bolton, and his post "Why I Hate the New Superman Movie" at Boltonshire.

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