"The true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world." John 1:9
From the outset, let me say that I feel Superman Returns is one of the best movies I've seen in awhile. Not only were there spiritual moments (in fact the movie could be subtitled According to St. John), but there was great comic book action and, according to my wife, a romance story that would make any girl swoon.
So I could go on for pages on its merits (and there are many), but for the moment I would like to focus on those spiritual elements to this story.
As this story goes, Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to earth after a five-year break when he went to find out about the remains of his home planet Krypton. In five years, a lot has changed. Not only has his former flame Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) gotten hooked up with a new guy and raised a child on her own, but she has finally won her Pulitzer for an article entitled "Why the World No Longer Needs Superman."
But ironically, just as she is about to get the award, the world starts to need a superman.
This film actually parallels another unlikely movie, The Last Temptation of Christ, when Jesus was tempted to focus inward, on what made him happy (namely a family and children). Superman here faces the same temptation and frustration. For both Jesus and Kal-El (Superman's Kryptonian name which, coincidentally, includes "El," the Hebrew word for "God"), their calling is to transform the world, not themselves.
Despite all the technology at our disposal and our own ingenuity, the world needs supermen (and superwomen). The world craves leaders who will, like the example of Christ and the fictional Kal-El, rise to the occasion, sacrifice their own desires and even their own lives, and in so doing, save the world. We are called to be those leaders. We are all called to rise above the fray and transform the world by our leadership and sacrifice.
We don't need to have laser beams shooting from our eyes or the ability to fly above the clouds to be a real hero. The only qualification is to be selfless enough to show others the light.
The paradox is that the world will follow a leader only when one rises to the occasion. When leaders are absent (like Superman in the past five years) or treat their leadership with selfishness (like Lex Luther, played wonderfully by Kevin Spacey), people will lose hope and grow cynical. Ironically, without a leader, people will say they don't need one. We seem to live in those times today. We seem to live in a world that says it doesn't need leaders.
But we are all capable of being those leaders. In fact, according to Martin Luther King Jr., we all have an inner instinct that desires to be the leader (the drum major of the parade, he called it). But we don't know what to do with that instinct, so we spend it on pursuits of power, prestige, and money. But Jesus, King says, gave us a new definition of greatness and leadership. If you want to be a leader, Christ said, then you must be the servant. If you want to be the greatest, then be the least. Put aside your wants and desires and rise to a new level of greatness.
Will you and I be those leaders that God wants us to be? Will you and I be able to show the world the light? The film convinced us the world really does need supermen and superwomen, but will you and I take on that role? I think we can, and I pray we will will.