Can’t we all just get along?
You’d think that if anyone could partner up, it’d be Superman and Batman—the do-gooding champions of Metropolis and Gotham City, respectively.
But alas, these two superheroes have gotten off on the wrong foot.
Sure, Superman has already saved the planet once (in Man of Steel), taking down General Zod in a battle for the ages. There’s just one problem: That fight killed thousands and brought down half of Metropolis. Playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne happened to be in town that day, watching as buildings collapsed, friends died and children wailed as they pointed to the broken buildings where their parents were.
The world at large may be calling Superman a hero. But Bruce—a guy who, as Batman, was fighting crime long before this caped alien flapped into the neighborhood—isn’t so sure. There are no checks on the Man of Steel, he insists. No balances.
“He has the power to wipe out the entire human race,” Wayne tells his butler, Alfred. “If we believe there is even a one-percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.”
But Supes isn’t thrilled with Batman, either. This denizen of the dark has grown darker as of late, not just terrorizing criminals, but branding the worst of ’em with his bat-shaped symbol. Batman may fight bad guys, Superman believes, but he’s acting like a criminal too.
Clearly, the quibbles between these two are building toward a confrontation. But just as clearly, a “clash of the ages” between them wouldn’t be exactly a fair fight. Not with Superman having the ability to fly, zap things with his heat-ray vision and lift small planets. Batman doesn’t have super strength or super speed or, really, super anything, other than a super-large bank account (with which he finances all that nifty crime-fighting gadgetry, of course).
If only Superman had some sort of weakness …
Turns out, he does! Survivors from the planet Krypton—a party of one lately—don’t react well to bits of their home planet. And a few stray fragments seem to be finding their way earthward these days.
Unfortunately for Bruce, none have landed in Gotham City. And they’re tricky to track down, even if one knew what to do with them. Indeed, there’s only one other billionaire who has the resources to find a bit of kryptonite … and who knows how to use it.
That’d be Lex Luthor.
And if Superman’s comic-book history is any indication, Lex isn’t the sort of chap you’d really want getting his billionaire mitts on kryptonite.
OK, so Bats and Supes have their issues. But both are, when the chips are down, good guys: They’re fighting on the same side, even if they don’t know it just yet.
This being a superhero movie, plenty of heroes do their upmost to save innocent people and conquer evil—both in and out of costume. They’re willing to sacrifice themselves for others, a virtue they demonstrate repeatedly.
In the movie’s frenetic opening flashback, Bruce Wayne is running around in the rubble of Metropolis, where he tries to comfort a girl who just lost her parents and helps pull a man free from a steel beam that has crushed his legs. Superman, meanwhile, rescues innocent folks around the globe—saving people from floodwaters, pulling a girl from a burning building and performing other acts of do-gooderism. He saves Lois multiple times, too, because that’s what Superman does.
From his earliest comic book days, Superman was a Messiah-like figure who came from above to save the world. Batman v Superman not only embraces that spiritual legacy, but stresses it, highlights it and circles it in red.
Throughout the movie, the Man of Steel is symbolically saddled with religious trappings. He’s hovers in the sky, angel-like. When he rescues a girl from a building and brings her back to terra firma, onlookers (celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico) surround him as people might’ve surrounded Jesus—longing, it seems, just to touch him. A stained glass window depicts an angelic being draped in red and blue, Superman’s colors.
But despite those obvious messianic undertones, he’s not really depicted a spiritual savior—and may not even be a temporal one, according to some. After Superman saves Lois from a hostile country, the aftermath is bathed in blood, with warlords taking revenge on villagers. “He will not answer to you,” one victim tells a congressional committee. “He answers to no one. Not even, I think, to God.” Talking heads debate his intentions and nature. Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about how humanity has been humbled, first by evolution and its insistence we’re no better than animals, and now with the reality of a being from another planet. Another expert opines, “Maybe he’s not just some sort of a devil or Jesus character, but a guy trying to do the right thing.”
Lex Luthor, for his part, is bent on comparing Superman to both God and the devil. He tells a senator that it’s a myth that “devils come from hell beneath us. No, they come from the sky.” (In his study, tellingly, we see a painting of demons, seemingly bent on torment.) “God is tribal,” Lex says. “God takes sides.” Lex, it turns out, is a victim of child abuse. And as he endured his father’s beatings, he says that the lesson he learned is this: “If God is all-powerful, He cannot be all good. And if he is all good, He cannot be all powerful.”
[Spoiler Warning] Lex Luthor knows that Superman has a weakness, though, and he aims to bring this “god” low—one way or another. He manipulates both Superman and Batman to get them to fight, calling it a battle between “god vs. man, day vs. night.” But when that doesn’t go as planned, Lex unveils Plan B—a massive monster who could well destroy the world. “If man won’t kill god, the devil will do it,” he says.
“Meta-humans” (the phrase used to describe superheroes in the movie) are referred to as “gods among men.” Superman’s mom, Martha, wears a cross around her neck. Batman tells Superman that Supes’ parents probably taught him that he was here for a reason. Batman says his parents tragically taught him a different, nihilistic lesson: that they died in an alley for “no reason at all.”
Wonder Woman also makes an appearance. The movie doesn’t detail her backstory (other than the fact that she’s been alive a long time), but her comic-book character is an Amazon princess—an origin that has its roots in Greek mythology. Lex Luthor talks about the myth of Prometheus. A man who’s about to die prays, “Have mercy on my soul.” Another says, “God help us all.”
Clark Kent and Lois Lane are living together. We see Lois in a bathtub, and while nothing critical is shown, there’s still a lot of skin on display here. Clark comes home and steps into the bathtub, fully clothed, with her. He makes clear his intention to eventually marry her.
We also see the unclothed body of General Zod. (Again, nothing critical is shown.) Wonder Woman, in the guise of Diana Prince, wears very revealing outfits. Bruce Wayne jokes suggestively about three days he spent with a Russian ballerina. The evildoers whom Batman brutally brands are either pedophiles or human traffickers.
Batman v Superman is a brooding, dark and violent movie—one in which superheroes don’t always feel particularly super or heroic.
I’ve mentioned Batman’s branding, and this iteration of the Dark Knight makes Christian Bale’s Batman look almost like a Boy Scout. Bats generally doesn’t kill baddies, but that seems more a rough guideline than a hard-and-fast rule here. Some evildoers, you’d have to assume based on the violence he dishes out, probably die directly or indirectly by his hand. And he also comes perilously close to using firearms—another no-no in the classic Batman mythos. (Indeed, he does use them in a dream sequence, and all of his vehicles likewise sport big guns.) Batman’s melees can be brutal, filled with broken bones and groaning adversaries. He leaves one man chained to a radiator, where he apparently tortured him.
Bruce Wayne is also tormented by terrible dreams. In one, blood leaks out of his parents’ crypt, followed by a terrifying bat-like creature bursting forth from it. Elsewhere, Bats battles Nazi-like troopers, who are joined by flying, insect-like aliens.
Superheroes get stabbed, skewered and shot, with battles leaving bloody wounds. A massive explosion envelops a government building, presumably killing scores inside. Cars careen and explode. A fireball rips through an industrial facility. Fighters pummel each other in what appears to be an illegal bout. Someone nearly drowns. A massive bomb detonates. A huge creature battles superheroes and destroys whole sections of cities. A bad guy threatens to burn someone else to death.
In a flashback, we see Bruce’s parents shot, and we revisit Superman and Zod’s chaotic battle in Metropolis. It’s implied that someone is shot at point-blank range in the head. Others are mowed down by automatic weapons. A man intentionally cuts his hand, then dribbles his blood over a corpse’s face.
One s-word. Jesus’ name is abused four times. God’s name is misused four or five times, twice with “d–n.” Two uses each of “b–ch” and “h—,” one each of “p—,” “balls” and “d–n.”
Bruce Wayne drinks alcoholic beverages, and he uses his drinking as an excuse for his erratic behavior. Lex suggests, “Kentucky mash is the secret to health.”
Diana Prince steals one of Bruce Wayne’s gadgets, saying, “Is it stealing if you steal from another thief?”
“No one stays good in this world,” Superman says. Its badness rubs off on us all. Even superheroes are not immune—perhaps especially not superheroes—because power corrupts.
These are the themes director Zack Snyder delivers repeatedly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And I can’t help but wonder if he, too, has been given too much power when he was handed the reins to this blockbuster franchise.
Snyder endured critical blowback for his controversial Man of Steel ending, in which Superman actually kills somebody (another horrific no-no for this cosmic Boy Scout whose history goes back nearly 80 years). But it seems Snyder’s learned nothing from that experience, as he’s now given us a Batman who seems less a hero and more … unhinged. As a longtime Batman fan, I was pretty disappointed in the Dark Knight’s portrayal here—one of several elements that sullied a movie that I had hoped would be better.
Before he became DC Comics’ go-to director, Snyder was best known for his visually striking, but graphically gory R-rated fare (300, Watchmen, the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead). Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise anyone—least of all the people at DC and Warner Bros.—that Batman v Superman is long on style, but short on substance. Yes, some scenes are visually striking, even beautiful. But while this movie pays lip service to some larger themes, it never tackles them with conviction. Synder’s superheroes are flat, as two-dimensional as their comic book inspirations.
While this movie’s violence doesn’t go beyond what we see in most Marvel flicks, the atmosphere here is so darkly brooding that it feels much harsher. And the sexual content here—particularly an unmarried Clark Kent and Lois Lane sharing a bathtub together—was also dispiritingly out of character.
Call me crazy, but when I go to see a superhero movie, I like ’em to be, y’know, heroic. I like ’em to at least resemble the characters that I grew up with and love. And while Superman and Batman do eventually get there, the road to that destination is often a disheartening slog.
AN R-RATED VERSION: The story and character deficiencies aren’t improved with this movie’s 2016 blu-ray release. The “Ultimate Edition” of Zack Snyder’s film—a three-hour, R-rated take—fleshes out some of the storyline threads, but leaves the heroes just as threadbare. What the video version does dole out is a lot more brutality.
In one scene men are shot in the head execution-style, splattering their blood on the walls, and in a another Batman unleashes a procession of bone-breaking and sometimes deadly blows and gun blasts. A woman is pushed in front of an onrushing subway train. A prisoner is viciously stabbed by a fellow inmate. Jimmy Olsen is introduced and promptly executed. After the Senate building detonates, we’re shown a parade of the bloody and wounded. Scores of the dead and corpses in body bags line a sidewalk. At one point Lex Luther is sitting in what appears to be a large, partially coagulated pool of blood.
Bruce Wayne pops prescription pills and washes them down with wine after dragging himself out of bed, an unidentified sleeping woman at his side. And we also see him fully naked from the rear in the shower. Lois Lane and Clark Kent both expose more skin than in the original feature.
The language quotient is also ramped up in this version with additional profane misuses of God’s name and a blurted f-bomb.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.