“Next time they shine your light in the sky, don’t go to it. The Bat is dead. Bury it. Consider this mercy.”
– Superman, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”
Prometheus brought the beginnings of culture to mankind by stealing fire from the gods, particularly from Zeus, and granting it to humans. This a truth of common Greek mythology passed down the generations through the ages, and which has served the function of explaining the origins of humanity and the process of its evolution on the Earth. Myth, serves that part, which Lex Luthor summates in the well known dictum: “knowledge is power”, in this instance, technology, skill, or art, are the source of power and ability. This power, is reflected in the ascension of the human species since prehistoric times; with fire, the human being evolves in his diet and his nutrition, expands his habitat, develops new economic habits and social roles, and grows in his communion with nature and in his society with the other. Slowly, he attains to true humanity, if not, personality.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice moves like an adapted comic book superhero drama, deftly bringing together different comic book storylines, drawing inspirations from The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman. It reads in part as a political piece in its statement on the avowed and cavalier interventionism of the United States, symbolized in the rogue actions of America in the face of terrorism and the apparently irresponsible attitude of Superman himself who rescues Lois Lane from certain death at the cost of his reputation and in disregard for the lives affected. This forms the premise of the story, a narrative that examines the perception of the Superman by the humans through the vengeful eyes of Bruce Wayne, who from the events of Man of Steel vows to exact retribution and deal with the threat, political, human, and cataclysmic that the Man of Steel poses as a result of the invasion of the Earth by the more advanced Kryptonian aliens; indeed, the Dark Knight is forced to watch the destruction of his Wayne Tower in Metropolis with the associated weight of deaths and human suffering. Eminently, the movie is psychological and dramatic, as it progresses through dramatic events that pace preponderantly the life of disturbed Bruce Wayne from the beginning scene of his parents’ funeral, to their prior death, to the action scene in Metropolis which leaves a decided Batman committed on the path to vengeance.
From their inception, Batman and Superman have figured as opposite, but perhaps, complementary sides of the same coin; their origin relates the operation of contradictory forces at work and present within humanity: transcendence found in the desire for otherworldliness and the surpassing of the capacities of the human nature is found in the tale of the Superman, who in reality is a child of the stars, an alien come to announce new times of civilization for humanity, in which man attains to veritable godhood as he overcomes the limitations of physics and fulfills the demands of morality in a heroism that is a never-ending quest for justice, that desire for the ultimate conquest of good and of compassion; opposite, is the immanence of the Batman, in a darkness that is worn even on his spandex costume, which elicits fear in the hearts of the cowardly lot, an urban legend that thrives on the shadows to exact the justice of a vigilante whose existence is the fruit of human evolution, of a progress that is transhuman and which delineates the path for humanity through the mastery of the weapons of fear and strict discipline for the human heart. One, is a hero, burdened with the weight of the world, the influence of public perception, and the care for his beloved, the other is a vigilante, a hero tortured by his tragic past, a trauma that has set him from an early age on a crusade to right society’s wrongs on his own resources, at the cost of his own sanity, of his social relations, and of his true heritage.
It is a mise en scene in fact, driven by paranoia, a motivating factor in the conflict that animates the central characters: Batman believes Superman to be a threat to human existence, Superman sees Batman as a vigilante with no respect for the law nor heroism. Both are tragic figures, destinies guided by their tragic pasts, united in a common maternal name, yet, who fail to conciliate their common objectives, particularly due to the over-arching masterful stroke of Lex Luthor, who manigances their confrontation and seems to enlighten their philosophical differences: Superman seeks acceptance in a world in which he is inherently an alien, and Batman seeks a validation of his traumatic experiences in the quest for domination. Both protagonists are staged through a juxtaposition of their lives and of their conflictual struggles, and when they are in confrontation as superheroes for the first time, it is conflict and antipathy that are elicited.
“And now you will fly to him, and you will battle him to the death. Black and blue. Fight night. The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world: God versus man; day versus night; Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham!” — Lex Luthor
Zack Snyder does not spend much screen time articulating their philosophical psychology, limiting their dialogue to terse interesting lines which highlight their inherent antagonism of one another. In reality, the film operates in a sense a parallelism between characters that are a yin and a yang, night and day, darkness and light, evil and good and who seem to complement each other’s innate dynamism, questioning in the end their heroism. Indeed, who in the confrontation is the true hero of the narrative? The paranoid Bat driven to frenzied madness by his belief in an existential threat, or the omnipotent God who is not willing to rise above his revulsion for the Gotham hero in order to save his very mother? The question to be asked is whether good and evil are necessary to each other’s life, that is, whether their interaction contributes to their common enlightenment, for in this movie, the lines of heroism are blurred by the prospect of death and the intoxication of mental paranoia. If Lex Luthor is the villain of the story, he is in reality merely its sage, its Prometheus, who brings enlightenment to the yin and the yang through the excitation of their respective fires, delineating that in the end it is Batman who is the villain in need of Redemption.
Luthor poses pertinent philosophical questions on the permanence of Evil in the world: he reduces the conundrum to an affair of an inadequacy between Divine Goodness and Divine Omnipotence, showing that the enduring Evil prevents from the absolute existence of either attribute in God. In reality, his challenge to Superman leads him to doubt his own goodness, revealing the frailty of his humanity and his moral code, which remains constantly renewed in his love for Lois Lane and in his attachment for his mother, who stands as his moral compass. Does Good have a limit, and is Evil the limit of Good itself? Or perhaps, is life inherently tragic and is there no power that can liberate man from suffering and the eventuality of death?
Batman v. Superman reveals that conflict in life is oblivious to fairness and that often the wrong side can bring about a victory despite having paranoid reasons and a faulty if not fractured, vision of reality. Tragedy and conflict, are then, up to chance and randomness, or perhaps to freedom, destiny and of the inherent interplay of the forces that are the basis for human personality? The answer remains a mystery, and is revealed in the fact that at the moment when life seems at its darkest hour, the unexpected, the wondrous of a miracle and of a divine intervention can grant it new fervor, as Wonder Woman makes her impressive appearance in costume to save Batman from the monstrous Doomsday. Doomsday serves to fulfill the spectacular, in a world demanding more blockbuster entertainment in its motion pictures, his display of power provokes a wanton destruction that fulfills the need of fantasy, a certain cathartic release from the dramatic tension that has paced the movie till the apparition of the Kryptonian deformity. Here, political intrigue and psychological demonism enters the realm of the comic book superhero with its tour de force, its manifestations of metahuman powers, abilities beyond mortal ken, in a battle of gods and monsters that instills fears even in the hearts of the bravest, such as the Dark Knight.
The central protagonist, Superman encounters in Wonder Woman a powerful ally, an equal of sorts that arouses his admiration and fills him with renewed fire. Here, the rhythm of the musical score takes on the urgency of a cool, and jerky song of a raspy and sorcerous nature, the fruit of the genius of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. In the predicament of Lois Lane, comes the realization that conflict armed with power must inevitably face destiny, or perhaps, a resolution of tension. Superman in the contemplation of Doomsday’s savagery senses his true place, as a Savior who loves a world that in the end does not accept nor understand him, safe in the arms of his confidante with whom he shares his life, “you are my world”, he tells Lois.
Tragedy and conflict, then, are eminently a matter of altruism, of a realization that the fire of conflict is resolved in a Passion, the performance of sacrifice that liberates destiny in freedom and love, and grants the power to transform the human soul, convert the human heart, and enable to see a vision of life in a new way. Voire, tragedy and conflict find their resolution in the conquest of the narrative that is life itself in the use of weakness and epic grandeur that is the act of selflessness. Superman succeeds in dealing with the lethal threat by overcoming his exposure to Kryptonite and using the lance as a weapon to stop Doomsday permanently. Comic book drama is a reproduction of the mythology of yesteryear, founded on a science-fictional universe transposed with the narrative dynamics and the values of the post-modern atmosphere, granted a new medium in their representation via the art of the cinema. The filmmakers pursue the Christ metaphor to its determined conclusion, for Superman’s sacrifice despite its lack of narrative construction with the DC Extended Universe resumes the imagery established in Man of Steel, that of a giant amidst the world, a Protector against the wishes of humanity and despite its suspicions, who makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to ensure its future. The characters are certainly affected by such an action, and the film ends with the assurance that the story is to continue, moving forward the tale of an alien from another world who overcame the drama of life with a message of hope: that belief in the ultimate protection of life is the strength that resolves all conflict.