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Batman v Superman: A battle for the ages?

April 22, 2016 One Comment

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by Ted Giese

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the sequel to Zack Snyder’s 2013 film Man of Steel, and picks up some 18 months after the massive destruction in Metropolis at the hands of Kryptonian General Zod and his invading alien ships. At the end of that film, freshman superhero Superman defeats Zod. This film introduces Bruce Wayne, the seasoned superhero Batman, into the Superman story line. He witnessed the devastation of the battle and its tremendous cost of human life and is left deeply distrusting of Superman—equating him with the various costumed villains he’d spent the last twenty years fighting in Gotham City (which is conveniently located across the bay from Metropolis).

Bruce Wayne is not alone in his worries about Superman. U.S. Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter) is suspicious of his great powers and wishes to find a way to put Superman on a short leash. And Lex Luthor, a billionaire tech mogul and philanthropist, is both envious of Superman’s power while at the same time hating for possessing those god-like powers. Between these two, and other individuals who experienced tragic loss in the destruction of Metropolis, Superman has enemies.

As Superman deals with his new role in the world as both a superhero and target of scorn, the detective work of Bruce Wayne reveals Superman is not alone—there are more superheroes emerging and being uncovered, like the glamorous Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. By the end of the film, suspicion and distrust must be set aside, as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman fight an increasingly unhinged and dangerous Lex Luthor and his Doomsday monster (created in the belly of one of the alien ships confiscated by the U.S. military after the death of General Zod in Man of Steel).

It’s hard to talk about the religious aspects of films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice without spoilers, so if this film is still on the docket for viewing it may be best to return here after seeing it as the rest of the review contains major spoilers.

Christian faith plays a significant role in this film. People pray in moments of impending doom, cross themselves in remembrance of their baptism, and call on God for help. But as in real life, not everyone is happy with God.

Lex Luthor is an angry atheist. He hates God, because as he puts it, “God is tribal, God takes sides! If God is all-powerful, He cannot be good; if God is good, He cannot be all-powerful!” This hatred is based on Luthor’s abuse by his father and his belief that his prayers for protection and help had gone unanswered. Essentially, this is a personalization of the question, “Why is there suffering and evil in the world if God is good and all powerful?”

Luthor, unable to fight God, lashes out at the closest thing to God he can find: Superman. He takes constant jabs at Superman with comments like, “Devils don’t come from hell beneath us. They come from the sky.” It is Luthor pulling the strings in the background whose uses Bruce Wayne’s distrust of Superman to pit the two superheroes against each other. Clark Kent, Superman’s journalist alter ego, is likewise fixated on Batman, thinking him to be a spiteful vigilante who abuses civil liberties in Gotham City. For Luthor, the fight between Batman and Superman is a “the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world. God versus man. Day versus night! Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham!” If either dies in the match up, Luthor would consider it a victory to expose Superman as a false idol.

Prior to releasing Man of Steel, the distributors mounted a promotional campaign encouraging pastors to preach sermons equating Superman with Jesus. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice takes a large step back from that kind of one-to-one analogy—sort of. At one point during a snippet about Superman on a cable news channel a pundit is heard saying, “What if he’s not the Jesus character? What if he’s not the devil character? What if he’s just a guy trying to do what’s right?” Yet by the end of the film Superman has sacrificed himself for the good of mankind, going to his death to defeat the monster Doomsday. After his death there is an image of Superman being lowered from where he died that looks like paintings of Jesus’ descent from the cross following His crucifixion. To drive this home, in the background of the destruction, director Snyder places what looks like Christian crosses. These are plainly visible giving viewers a Good Friday visual to accompany Superman’s death.

Following this dramatic death, the hero Superman has an empty casket state funeral with a twenty-one-gun salute while Clark Kent has a relatively modest burial at his family farm in Kansas attended by his mother Martha Kent, his girlfriend and fellow journalist Lois Lane, along with his new-found friends Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince. The final frames of the film indicate what DC Comic fans know: Superman will not remain in the tomb but will rise to fight another day.

The final frames of the film indicate what DC Comic fans know: Superman will not remain in the tomb but will rise to fight another day.

Releasing this movie on the Easter weekend while distancing themselves from the Jesus/Superman analogy is like trying to “have your cake and eat it too.” Which is it? Snyder and the marketing team didn’t accidentally release Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice during Holy Week, just as they didn’t accidentally release Man of Steel, a film about son’s and fathers, on the Father’s Day weekend.

The movie itself maintains DC Comics’ general direction: it is dark and brooding, and at 151 minutes its pace is leisurely and deliberate. While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a superhero film, it’s very different from the plethora of recent light and colourful, joke-laden MARVEL Studio films. Parents should consider watching the film before sharing it with young children. The plot may be hard for them to follow and the subject matter is rather dense. The overall feel and style of the film is dark and intense.

Snyder has delivered a film that is more like being tossed into the deep-end of the pool than wading in the shallows. It really expects viewers to know how to swim. It’s hard to recommend this film for people with only a passing interest in Batman or Superman. However, for people who find these characters endlessly fascinating there is plenty to ponder. Snyder has firmly situated his growing franchise in a world where men and women are free to express wrong-headed ideas about humanity and God, and have the freedom to struggle with faith, good and evil, and the nature of hero worship inside a clearly Christian setting.

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Rev. Ted Giese is associate pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church (Regina, Saskatchewan). He is a contributor to Reformation Rush Hour on KFUO AM Radio, The Canadian Lutheran, and the LCMS Reporter, as well as movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program.  Follow him on Twitter @RevTedGiese.