3 Stars – Challenging
Iconic comic book heroes are known for helping the oppressed and saving the powerless. In our culture, we have come to adopt their images as some of the most recognized symbols of fighting for justice. In 1938, two young high school students from Cleveland worked for the school newspaper and wanted to share their love for science fiction. After launching their idea for “Superman” in their high school “Glenville Torch” newspaper, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster ended up selling their newly created hero story and the rights to it to Action Comics for $130. Little did they know that it would become a 75 year old multi-billion dollar industry. However, over this 75 year history, these two-dimensional heroes have taken on a depth that is both humanizing and challenging.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a dark story with both super-heroes facing doubts about their place in the world, their self-worth, as well as whether their actions have been a help or a hindrance to humankind. This self-reflection is common to almost all of us. It is true that we all have an inability to see the larger impact of our actions, our love, our pain, or our contributions. This inner dialogue has not been a common theme in most superhero characters in the past. We have learned to expect them to be a form of human, but more superhuman, exhibiting a perfection on every level in order to fight the human and superhuman evils that plague our world.
This Superman (Henry Cavill) possesses the chiseled good looks we have come to expect, but he is portrayed more as the man of doubts and anger than was present in the early days of Siegel and Shuster’s high school man of steel. The character had evolved by the 1950’s TV show to be more of a man of virtue, but this film portrayal is more in line with the original character. Similarly, Batman (Ben Affleck) is living in a post-Bruce Wayne world of opulence, power, and prestige, and he doesn’t really know what his place in the world is anymore.
Playing them off against one another is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who puts on screen the most noteworthy portrayal in the film. For an actor of his young age, he exhibits tremendous qualities not often possessed by his peers and surpassing those that have been around for decades. To round out the star-studded cast and assure that this story will have enough juice for a number of sequels, Amy Adams plays Lois, Holly Hunter plays Senator Finch, Laurence Fishburne plays newspaper editor Perry White, Jeremy Irons plays Batman/Bruce Wayne’s servant, and Diane Lane plays Superman’s mother Martha Kent. Then, to help the testosterone-fed duo save the day, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) enters the story.
The plot in these tales varies little from film to film, but the theme is universal. The world is threatened by a twisted but brilliant evil industrialist who is eventually stopped by our superhero. In between, every character is threatened to the point of death and our superheroes barely survive, but in the end they triumph for, as the old TV show would say, “truth, justice, and the American way!”
The universal spiritual truths of these stories are simple as well. There actually is evil in this world along with forces to counter their impacts that are greater than anything humankind possesses. Many of us treat the world as basically a decent place that sometimes gets messed up by our greediness. If we would just clean up our act, then we could all live in peace and harmony. From history and from almost every spiritual tradition, we know this to not be true. Evil does grow in our world and if left unchecked it would destroy us.
I would doubt that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had Christ in mind when they drafted their first comic in 1938, but the comparisons to the need for a savior in a world plagued by self-centered people, requires a solution that is beyond the strength of individuals and needs to exemplify noble qualities that are universally transcendent and healing. To that end, Batman v Superman is a simple reminder message that in the end, only love can triumph as the ultimate salvation.
- The deepening of the comic-book characters allows us to identify with them far more than if they are superficially perfect. However, there is something lost in this change as well. Do you find the Superman and Batman in this film more or less helpful than they on were portrayed?
- Do you believe there is a “super-human” evil that requires a Savior? Why do you answer as you do?