Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Man of Steel (2013): Kal-El's Hero's Journey

Superman's origin story is familiar to pretty much everybody whether they've read a comic book or not. An alien child, sent to Earth to escape a dying planet, lives among humans and slowly discovers his powers and abilities, learning what makes him unique. The new film proposed an exciting, different look into his origins. Gone was the weakness-causing kryptonite. Instead, Superman's humanity and struggle to cope with his identity would be the topic of exploration. This version of the origin story offers a darker, yet more realistic, interpretation. The writers correctly surmised that if an alien were suddenly flying around our cities, people would not be excited; they would be fearful. The story explores the humanity of Kal-El; what would it be like for a small child to hear all of the voices in his head suddenly, or to gain x-ray vision? Many think that to attain such abilities would be exciting; to a child, it would be terrifying.

Below is the Hero's Journey for Kal-El, the Man of Steel. Spoilers are ahead if you have not seen the film. The names Clark and Kal-El are used interchangeably, as they are his dual identities.

1. Ordinary World: While Kal-El's home world is technically Krypton, he does not yet know it. For him, his whole life has been here on Earth. He is named Clark by his parents, and this is the world he knows.

2. Call To Adventure: The film reveals Clark's Call through flashbacks. As a child, strange things begin to happen to him. He can see through objects (and people's skin), he has heat vision, and he can hear voices, making it difficult for him to focus. It's a horrifying experience for a child. He tries to understand why he is different, why he is a freak compared to everyone else. Teased on the bus, Clark endures the taunts, refusing to use his abilities to stand up to bullies. Only when the bus plummets off a bridge does he use his strength to save everyone. This, of course, causes questions to pop up from neighbors. His father counsels him, struggling with what Clark should do. He shows Clark the spaceship he arrived in as a baby, revealing his true heritage to him.

3. Refusal of the Call: Truly, the Call and Refusal flow back and forth throughout young Clark's life. However, Clark's main Refusal comes from his inability to fit in with society. He struggles with how to use his powers, not fighting back when thrown against a fence and taunted. Much of his adult life is spent as a drifter, going from job to job in an effort to find a place where he belongs.While working on one such job, he finds some answers.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: Clark finds a frozen spaceship while working with a military research expedition. Entering it, he uses his Kryptonian key, and an image of his father appears, Jor-El's consciousness transmitted from the spaceship. He teaches Clark his true heritage and purpose, preparing him to Cross the Threshold.

It is important to note that both his mother and father on Earth also served as key Mentor figures, as flashbacks show. His father was adamant that Clark keep his powers hidden, helping him to find the right time when the world would need and accept him. His mother also represented a gentler kind of Mentor, teaching Clark how to find stillness in the storm of his burgeoning abilities.

5. Crossing the Threshold: Having met with Jor-El, Clark emerges from the ship, stepping out in the warrior's garment he has found. Usually, Kryptonions would wear a heavier armor over that garment, as we will see with the others that appear later, but in this case, his garment is what the people of Earth will recognize him by. He literally steps through the threshold of the spaceship door, a symbolic representation of entering the New World, one in which he knows his place and his purpose.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: Clark, now knowing his true name as Kal-El, tests out his powers and abilities. At first shaky, he soon discovers how to control them and how the Earth's atmosphere has strengthened him, his cells drinking in the sun's radiation. He speaks to Lois Lane at his father's grave, discussing his dilemma with her. He wants to honor his father's wishes for him to keep his abilities hidden, and she, in turn, keeps his identity a secret. It's a victory for Clark as he discovers a new ally.

All is not meant to remain victorious, however. The world soon learns that it is not alone. General Zod, having searched for the son of Jor-El for over thirty years, follows the beacon activated by Clark when he found the scout ship. Now, he broadcasts his demands to the entire planet: turn over the Kryptonian or face annihilation. Here, Clark is tested: he must decide whether or not to face this enemy. In a symbolic scene, he speaks with a priest in a church about his struggle. Does he surrender to Zod? Can Zod be trusted? Can humanity? As speaks his mind, Clark is sitting in front of a stained-glass window depicting Jesus praying in Gethsemane. This is Clark's Gethsemane, and a major test on his point. He must decide if he is truly ready to undertake this journey set before him as the enemy waits.

Making a bold decision, Clark decides to reveal himself to the world and to turn himself in to Zod. He and Lois are taken to Zod's ship, where he learns of Zod's goals: to turn Earth into a new Krypton. But first, Zod must find the Codex stolen by Jor-El. As Zod goes to the surface, Kal-El must escape.

7. Approach:Returning to the planet's surface, Kal-El fights Zod, protecting his mother and his home. The fight continues into downtown Smallville, where Clark has his first true fight with beings like himself. This fight is preparing him for the ultimate showdown. On Earth, challenges seem inconsequential. But faced with Kryptonians, he must fight harder. He has already learned that his body struggles with the Kryptonian atmosphere; now, he learns how difficult it is to fight Kryptonians.

8. Ordeal: Having survived the battle in Smallville, Kal-El now must save the planet from the terraforming machine. He struggles against it, as it is creating a Kryptonian atmosphere, causing him weakness. The technology of the machine seems unbeatable as it throws him into the water below. This is where he will learn if he can finish the Journey. It could end in his death, but instead, he stands beneath it, focusing as his parents taught him, fighting against the Kryptonian technology. In a desperate effort, he flies up and against the machine, destroying it.

9. Reward: Kal-El's Reward is the fact that he has saved Earth. But the Journey is not over yet.

10. The Road Back: Kal-El returns to Metropolis. Amidst the devastation, he finds Zod in the scout ship and confronts him.

11. Resurrection:The Resurrection seems to be two-part. First, when confronted by Zod to choose between Krypton and Earth, Kal-El declares that Krypton had its chance, destroying the scout ship and Zod's chance of recreating Krypton. Zod declares that he is now without purpose, as he was born to protect his species. He now dedicates himself to destroying those Clark holds dear. In a sense, this is where his other Resurrection moment comes in. After an intense fight with Zod, he ultimately kills him, despite a desperate attempt to get Zod to stop his actions. Kal-El makes a difficult decision, but it proves that he is loyal to Earth.

12. Return with the Elixir: The Elixir is Kal-El's new identity: Superman. He confronts General Swanwick, telling him that the world can trust him. He is not Earth's enemy; he is a protector.

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