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Batman v Superman Takes on God


Warner Brothers

David Ives - published on 03/25/16

The movie takes the concept of Superman as Jesus to its next logical step, with Lex Luthor as the main voice of the anti-theists

So, how far into filming do you think director Zack Snyder and his producers got before they exchanged worried looks and pondered if it was too late to fire Jesse Eisenberg?

I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a film so crippled by a single performance. I’m neither denigrating Eisenberg’s talent nor begrudging his actor’s prerogative to try something new with a character who’s been around for more than 75 years now, it’s just that what he delivers onscreen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice … stinks. Out of all the ways to play Lex Luthor (given the election season, I can’t believe they didn’t go with John Byrne’s late 1980s Donald Trump-inspired version), I find it hard to believe anyone thought portraying Superman’s most fearsome nemesis as a whiny, rambling, often-incoherent Joker-lite millennial was the best possible way to go. Every scene with Eisenberg is a chore to sit through.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be so egregious if Eisenberg wasn’t given the brunt of the task of carrying the film’s major theme. Following in the footsteps of Man of Steel, which I (unlike most critics) actually gave a good review, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice doubles down on the concept of Superman as Jesus and takes the next logical step by asking how mankind, especially those with little to no faith in higher powers, should handle the whole idea of God. As the movie’s villain, Lex Luthor becomes the main voice of anti-theists in the film, using his whiny, rambling, often-incoherent delivery to monologue about man’s lack of need for a God who allows for the existence of evil. Scientific genius though he may be, Luthor obviously never got around to reading St. Augustine, who pretty much dismantled all of the arguments Lex puts forth against God in just a few paragraphs.

You know, if Eisenberg’s misguided portrayal was meant to be some kind of parody of evangelistic neo-atheists, it might actually be enjoyable to some degree, but this film is far too serious to allow for such an interpretation. Oddly, in a way, this seriousness says something good about Warner/DC and the way they are approaching their comic book characters on film. It would be easy for the studio to copy Disney/Marvel’s formula of telling light-hearted, all-ages superhero tales. Instead, they’ve chosen to try a more somber adult approach full of heroes riddled with human flaws and superpowered fights that have devastating real-world consequences.

On that note be aware that this is not a film for young children despite the presence of people running around in capes and tights. In particular, this movie’s Batman draws heavily on Frank Miller’s Dark Knight graphic novels for its inspiration and is therefore brutally violent, uncompromisingly cynical and willing to accept the occasional loss of a criminal’s life as unavoidable collateral damage. As with Superman in Man of Steel, this interpretation of Batman, while true to some of the source material out there, will definitely not be to everyone’s liking.

And yet while Warner/DC seems willing to take some interesting risks with its properties, they still want some of that cash Disney/Marvel is raking in. This means that Batman v Superman is required to break away from its main narrative on numerous occasions in order to set up the next four or five superhero movies the studio has planned. There’s probably a graceful way to handle this corporate mandate, but Snyder apparently doesn’t know what it is. The movie stumbles in and out of its story, like its villain becoming more rambling and incoherent as it moves along. Even Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, which has some brilliant individual pieces, reflects the cut and paste nature of the film, jarringly lurching from theme to theme with little connection between them. The end result is that whatever point the film is trying to make about the relationship between God and man mostly gets lost in all the confusion.

All that being said, the comic book fanboy in me refuses to write off Batman v Superman as a total disaster. The inclusion of Wonder Woman, while completely unnecessary to the story, is still fun. It’s nice to see the Amazonian princess finally make it to the big screen. The film also definitely delivers on its title, with the two titular heroes ably carrying out the time-honored trope of beating each other senseless before inevitably teaming up. And yes, there is a clear winner. Most of all, while I do love the simplicity of the Disney/Marvel movies, I appreciate how Warner/DC is attempting to offer an alternative. There is room for mature superhero movies that tackle heady questions, even religious ones. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just isn’t entirely successful at doing so.

In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by … watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia, David Ives spends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.

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