[Warning: this review contains spoilers]
Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice (2016) opened with a box office record-breaking earnings for Warner Bros. This much-anticipated movie is linked with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) which revealed a different perspective of Superman as compared to the generally more human one in the comics and other Superman movies. Snyder’s Superman is more alien than we are used to. This is the second installment of the DC Extended Universe and will pave the way for the entrance of Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and eventually the formation of the Justice League. There are many more superheroes movies to look forward to. Batman v Superman (BvS) follows the usual superhero movies with lots of fisticuffs, mayhem, collapsing buildings and loud explosions. There is close continuity with the classic origin Batman and Superman stories before DC destroyed them with their continual reinvention of their heroes. One can see the hats off to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman by Doomsday storyline. Embedded in the movie are also numerous religious symbolism.
The death of Bruce’s parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, was briefly shown in the beginning credits. During the funeral, Bruce ran into the woods near the Wayne mausoleum and fell down a well. From a hole at the bottom of the well, bats flew up engulfing a young Bruce. This scene is a familiar one to all true blue Batman fans. What is interesting is that as the bats flew upwards, the young Bruce was also lifted up until he hangs suspended in the sky with outstretched arms. The messiah symbolism is not easily missed. The movie started with a discouraged and disillusioned Batman/Bruce Wayne who has been Batman for 20 years. This may be compared to the Christopher Nolan’s Batman who was around only a few years. Batman was disillusioned because he found that he had not made any difference to crime in ‘his city’ Gotham. In his frustration and anger, he became darker and crueler. He seemed to have crossed his own ‘not to kill’ line. Though he still do not kill directly, he caused death by indirect means like blowing up a petrol tanker which killed many. He started using guns and branded his victims with a Batman scar. In his current state, Batman was unable to see the good that Superman was doing but only the bad- unintended collateral damage from Superman’s battles. He became obsessed with destroying Superman who representing goodness held up a mirror to his darkness. In the road to revenge, as an old saying noted, first dig two graves. Revenge also kill the one who seek vengeance. Batman, who tried to seek justice failed in this movie but was seeking revenge instead. In his seeking revenge, he sought to destroy the good who is Superman. We can always find justifications for all of our actions.
Superman, who brought peace and stability to the world, was puzzled at why humans are not accepting of him. Human beings cannot accept too much goodness and holiness in another. That is why so many of the worlds’ holy and good persons are martyred. Superman/Clark Kent’s alien perspective led him to see only the good, not the nature of evil in the human hearts. That is he why he failed to detect the bomb that blew up the nation’s Capitol. He did not think to look. To be good and do good is a burden. People often do not appreciate being helped. It made them feel inferior, indebted and angry. They accepted the aid/food/charity anyway. But they will strike back at the first opportunity. Lex Luthor, who looks nothing like Lex in the comics, understood this very well. That was how he manipulated the people and Batman against Superman by appealing to their baser instincts. Lex also realized that he needed something powerful to destroy Superman. That is why he created Doomsday, a Krypton death machine. It took the combined effort of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman/Diane Prince to defeat Doomsday. Superman was killed in the fight.
There were roads to redemption in this movie. Batman received redemption when he chose to turn away from his current dark path and to return to his previous approach of justice and protecting the innocents. This occurred when he was killing Superman with his Kryptonite spear. Superman whispered to Batman to “save Martha”. Martha was is his mother’s name, held captive by Luthor who will kill her if Superman failed to kill Batman. Martha is also the name of Batman’s mother. The sound of her mother’s name brought Batman to his senses. He realized that he has crossed his own line. To these two powerful men, their mothers’ love still holds the key to their souls. We know that Batman had made a choice to be different when he refrained from branding Lex Luther. At the movie’s ending, Luthor had not made the choice for redemption. He chose to remain who he is – the supposedly smartest man in the world. There was no remorse. Instead, he was looking forward to the future with his ‘tick, tick tick..’ What that future will be, only future movies will reveal but from some of Batman’s dreams, it probably involve Darkseid and parademons. The painting featured prominently in Lex Luther’s library is actually not a painting at all; it is an enlargement of an 1868 engraving by Gustave Dore called “The Fall of the Rebel Angels,” and was included in Book 1 of “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. In the movie, it appears to be hung upside down. Looks like parademons descending on earth. A worthy comment of the forces of good versus evil in this movie.
Wonder Woman also made the choice to return and be involved in the world of men. Why she withdrew from the world may be told in her forthcoming 2017 movie.
Superman died in the movie. But we know he will not remain dead. There is so much more future movie revenue he can make for the studios. Similarly we know from the comic storyline that he will return. Hence the symbolism of resurrection. In the closing scene of the movie, we can see dirt floating upwards from his coffin to a sudden cut and blackout. In the end, this alien man is more human than most human.
The movie raises questions of goodness, morality, justice, and revenge. As human beings, are we on the side of angels or devils? Why do we human always destroy the good people that we encounter; dragging them down the base level that we inhabit? One has only to look around the world to see that this is so. If there is a Superman, we will be trying our best to destroy him. In skirting the minefields of comic continuity (beware the angry fans) and preparing the grounds of future movies in the DC Extended Universe, Snyder still manages to give us the thrills and dazzle associated with superhero movies. And somewhere in there, he taught us some lessons about making choices. It’s our choices who makes us who we are.