A couple nights ago, I went to see Batman v. Superman. My take: it was a good movie in itself – deeply powerful, even – but had some weird elements I didn’t care for. SPOILERS BELOW.
The movie begins with an opening montage explaining Batman’s origin in this universe with the story told as it typically is: happy family, opera, mugging gone wrong, parents dead, little Bruce running off and falling into a cave where bats encircle him and he receives his mission in life to play out his vengeance by inspiring fear. That’s an important theme, hold on to that. In the midst of all that, it was revealed casually that Bruce’s mother was named Martha, which caught my attention as a Superman fan; Martha is also the earth mother of Clark Kent. So I wondered where they were going with that mention.
The next scene in the movie was of adult Bruce, driving frantically through the streets of Metropolis on the day much of it was destroyed in the last Superman film, trying desperately to save whatever lives he could. Noble. That was the last bit of nobility Batman had during the film until the very end. Most of the movie, he played an over-agressive jerk, totally unwilling to listen to reason. The scene where he finally bested Superman came as a bit of a shock, but it was no surprise at all that his assaults on the Man of Steel were all in response to Superman’s simple attempts just to have a chat. It had been revealed that this was because Lex Luthor had been playing him, stirring up his fear into total paranoia of the “alien threat” Superman posed, which I suppose softened Batman’s character a bit with audience sympathy; haven’t we all been manipulated, at one time or another, into thinking the worst of another person?
Superman, by contrast with Batman’s fear, is a symbol of hope. It is, in fact, what the S-shaped symbol on his chest means, in Kryptonian. (Those, ahem, kryptic Kryptonians and they’re symbols; apparently a whole symbolic language was developed to await decoding in the Kryptonian scenes of the last movie. I know a couple languages, but I’ll leave that to better linguists than I.) Supes is highly intelligent. In the comics, he knows vast stores of knowledge about the thousands of civilizations the Kryptonians had come in contact with and he also has a penchant for knowing how to apply that knowledge well. He’s not stupid, but the film portrayed him as one so filled with hope that he was naive about the reality of world perception toward him, unaware that the tide was turning against his portrayal – since the last film – as a sort of god. I reject this false notion that hope leads to naivety. I would say instead that pride – what one may mistakenly call “hope in oneself” leads to naivety and imprudence. This isn’t the case with Superman in the comics; there, his hope is established on principles outside himself. What makes Superman so great is that, unlike some other heroes – I’m looking at you, Flash – he’s humble. Despite being an alien, he’s unflinchingly human. Superman is, in fact, and has always been for me, a comic book symbol of the Incarnation. “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s Superman!” How incredible he is! Yet he came down from the heavens and was raised as the only child of a normal, rural family in the heartland. The humanity in which he was raised tempered his power, made him serve principles with the good of the human race at the center. (Even if the more recent comics may try to rebrand this as a devotion to secular humanism.) This is not a close parallel to the Incarnation, but it is roughly analogous. Christ has all the power of His divinity, but He became our Savior in taking on our humanity.
I was skeptical in the months leading up to the film that it would be any good. Let’s be honest. Batman v. Superman? Really? Yeah, Batman has a secret store of kryptonite he can use against Supes whenever the boy in blue goes off the deep end, but Superman has laser vision he can utilize from far beyond the lethal range of kryptonite. If this were a real match, Superman might have come prepared. Batman, however, used his cunning well. He drew Superman in. I saw it coming because I knew what Batman was trying to accomplish – the death of Superman – but Supes didn’t suspect a thing. Lured in by easy target after easy target, he let down his guard and then BAM! Kryptonite. Good as dead. Fear and paranoia victorious over hope and naivety. Until a name was dropped.
Other Catholic commentators have talked about how the common name of their mothers was some sort of Marian moment in the film. I’m not so sure of that. I didn’t find her to be a particularly Marian character; at one point, she even showed total apathy about his mission as a savior figure. I don’t buy it. Nevertheless, that word was important. In just a minute of stuttering, stumbling confusion and then a spark of recognition, Bruce Wayne got his own x-ray vision, so to speak. He saw right through Superman and what he saw was Clark Kent. What he saw was humanity. This was no alien at all. As several ecumenical councils and 20 centuries of tradition noticed about Jesus, it was his human mother that pointed to his humanity. Similarly, the Man of Steel was, in a sense, truly a man because of his mother. This, finally, was enough to stop Batman’s vicious onslaught of rage against the alien menace who had humanity at heart.
Of course, it was only then that the real alien arose. The corpse of General Zod, his neck snapped by Superman in the last movie – an action I believe was morally sound, even while other Catholic commentators said no – corrupted by the actions of Lex Luthor and brought back to life as Doomsday, was the real alien Bruce Wayne feared. I have a copy of The Death of Superman in my closet, given to me back in the 90’s when it was fresh off the presses. Doomsday is probably the most real to me of all Superman’s enemies. He accomplished in the comics – and in the movie – what Bruce Wayne had, moments before, wanted to accomplish: the death of Superman. A hard battle was fought, but it was too much. Superman died, and with him, Clark Kent. The shock must have been devastating for Bruce. After all, he was afraid of the alien threat to humanity, and an alien just killed one of the most truly human people he’d ever met. The trouble is, Bruce had just been trying to kill the same man. Moments before, Batman himself would have been allied with the real alien threat. That’s the fruit of fear and paranoia; it makes us see things backwards.
Overall, I think the film had some powerful messages, but some of its sequences were weird and seemed out of place. The nightmare scenarios, of course, alluding to certain themes in comic series where Superman truly loses it, were confusing and unnecessary, except to underscore the already apparent paranoia of Bruce Wayne. I missed Christian Bale in the roll, his Batman is definitely my favorite, but I think Henry Cavill was born to play Superman, so there’s that. Probably the most annoying thing to me, however, is that Batman, speaking to Martha Kent, says that he’s friends with her son, Clark, only moments after his brutal attempts to kill him. He’s totally serious, too. I’m pretty sure there are some unresolved issues there.
I’d give the film a solid A rating if it could ditch some of the more odd scenes and stick to the plot a bit better, and I do wish the so-called Marian theme had been drawn out more.
Also, props to the cameo from Mrs. Incredible. Holly Hunter has a voice that cannot go without being recognized and it was a pleasant surprise to see her pop up in another superhero franchise.