Thomas Quinn is an Emmy-nominated producer and writer for television and print, an author and speaker, and a skeptic.

He received his M.F.A. from the American Film Institute, worked as a story analyst for DreamWorks, Universal and HBO, and was a film critic and entertainment reporter for a Los Angeles weekly.

In 2005, Tom received two Emmy nominations as writer and producer of "Beyond the Da Vinci Code" for the History Channel.

Originally from New Jersey, he now lives in Los Angeles.

 Superman goes Tea Party in “Man of Steel”

   The iconic superhero to whom all other superheroes owe a debt, Superman, has always been as American as apple pie, baseball and insider trading. But who would have thought he was a Tea Party emblem?

   There are hints that this is the case in “Man of Steel.” The movie has pretty much everything you’d expect—awesome super-feats, flying sequences that puncture the atmosphere, megatons of seismic action, and the pathos of a young man coming to terms with the fact that he’s something more than a Kansas farm boy. But “Man of Steel” plants nuggets throughout the film that make you wonder if there’s some political message buried under all those shattered spaceships and devastated cities.

   When Superman (a dutifully chiseled Henry Cavill) consults the holographic memory of his Kryptonian father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), he does so in the “Genesis” chamber rather than in his traditional Fortress of Solitude. He’s sent by his father to be a “savoir” to humanity, not just a helper. As a boy, he asks his earthly dad (Kevin Costner) why God made him the way he is. (He has adjustment issues dealing with X-ray vision and super-senses.) When he launches his adult career, he’s unsure about his responsibilities towards earth and seeks solace in a church. There, a clergyman admonishes him to rely on faith, even as a stained-glass image of Jesus hovers over Clark Kent’s shoulder. Later, while up in earth orbit, as he drifts away from a damaged spaceship for another round of world-saving, he assumes a crucifix posture. Most amusingly, the super villains he confronts claim that they are not encumbered by morality because evolution has made them superior, “and evolution always wins.” Except in “Man in Steel.”

   So far, all this would seem to make Superman a wholesome Christian. The elements that give the story a Tea Party panache include a plot by the wicked General Zod (Michael Shannon) to access a “registry” of all of Krypton’s inhabitants, with the goal of ruling them all. You can hear faint echoes of NRA paranoia over a national gun registry. The bad guys are surrounded by some of the Tea Party’s favorite images: supercharged assault rifles, military hardware, and lots of fetuses destined for a diabolical fate. Superman spends most of the movie being pursed by the U.S. government. And there’s even a line from Kal-El himself about how Washington needs to understand that he wants to help, “but on my own terms.” I half expected him to demand a tax cut. 

   The one element that nods in the other political direction is his “S” logo, which, on his home world, stands for “hope.” A touch of Obama to keep things fair and balanced perhaps?

   Okay, maybe I’m reading a little too much into the film. After all, Superman’s story has always been emblematic of 20th century America’s idealized vision of itself. He’s physically powerful, but he tempters that strength with compassion and a consuming drive to do good. He begins life on a farm then moves to the big city over the same period that the U.S. grew from a rural nation to an urban one. He creates his own identity. He works for the free press. His girlfriend (Amy Adams) is a modern, independent woman. He stands for truth and justice. And he’s an immigrant who arrives in America’s heartland and makes this country his home.

   The Superman story has also had religious undertones from the start. Krytonian names use the Old Testament template of ending with “El”, the high god of ancient Canaan, from which the god of the Bible developed. “Jor-El” and “Kal-El” fit right in there with Israel and Ishmael. His origin story parallels that of Moses: an infant set adrift far from home by his parents in order to save him, who then grows up passing as a member of another culture until he discovers his true identity. (I’m sure he could part the Red Sea with his super-breath.) And then there’s that savior thing. 

   Beyond all that, “Man of Steel” as an entertainment does a superior job of giving the usually superficial boy scout personality of Clark Kent more Batman-style emotional baggage—not surprising given that screenwriters Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer both worked on The Dark Knight movies. What would it be like to grow up in small town Kansas and discover superpowers like heat vision and super-strength, and then have to keep it them a secret even from the bullies you’d love to disassemble? You feel this Superman’s tormented inner life more than in any other rendition, even the well-mounted if slightly off balance “Superman Returns.” And Diane Lane is certainly a comforting and cool Martha Kent. This reboot does take liberties with the original origins story (filmmakers somehow feel an obligation to do this with established franchises like Iron Man, Batman and Star Trek), but it also stays true to the spirit of the DC Comics story.

   Director Zack Snyder updates the franchise with emotional heft in the early going, and provides a world with a lot more grit and clutter than previous Superman epics. Kal-El himself sports a hipster hairdo that, frankly, could use a little trimming and a little less mousse. But the final third the movie sags from its own enormous weight; it runs out of plot and merely piles on the action. It’s spectacular, but it suffers from an excess of destruction, relentless fisticuffs, and the usual need to annihilate the bad guy about six times over. It all looks like stuff out of Mortal Kombat; you can see the video game your kids will be demanding this Christmas. Well, at least they avoided destroying Manhattan, which seems to be a contractual requirement for summer blockbusters over the past 20 years (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Avengers, The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, Armageddon, I Am Legend, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Knowing, etc.) Couldn’t somebody flatten North Korea for once? Or Las Vegas? Or Salt Lake City?

   Anyway, “Man of Steel” is an ambitious if exhausting effort. Clearly the Tea Party had nothing to say about budget cuts in the making of this film, or about casting an illegal alien as an American hero. But with so many guns and fetuses filling the screen, ya gotta wonder.

 

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