So the new Comic-Con trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has been out for a couple of days now. People are talking about how great or horrible it is, or how nice it was to see Gal Gadot’s fist-throwing Wonder Woman.
But did you notice how spiritual the whole thing was, too?
Fourteen seconds into the trailer, you see Superman showing up for a hearing on Capitol Hill while scads of people mill around in protest. One carries a sign saying that “God hates aliens.”
Just a throwaway reference to the horrific Westboro Baptist Church, right? But then, around the 1:25 mark, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) touches Superman’s “S” symbol, telling Supes (Henry Cavill) that “this means something. It’s all some people have. all that gives them hope.” And then we see Superman hovering in the sky like a transfigured Jesus figure, as someone reaches her hand out as if to touch him.
At around 1:56, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) tells us that one of the country’s greatest myths involves where we imagine evil coming from. “Devils don’t come from the hell beneath us,” he says. “They come from the sky.” And then, as the trailer comes to an end, he sets up the movie’s promised superhero duel: “Black and blue. God versus man. Day versus night.”
That’s a whole lotta religious references for one little trailer. And I think it does a pretty good job of conveying the superheroes’ spiritual undertones.
Ever since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman back in 1933, the Man of Steel has always been—and was intended to be—a Messiah-like figure. Director Zac Snyder played up those spiritual echoes in 2013’s Man of Steel, as I’ve blathered on about before.
And then, Snyder seemed to undercut it all with the film’s cataclysmic finale. Lots of people (including me) hated the fact that Superman killed nemesis General Zod in the end: Superman doesn’t kill. And some were struck by the scale of destruction that Zod and Supes brought to a city that hadn’t done them any harm. More than one of the movie’s critics wondered why the two of ’em didn’t just “step outside,” as it were, to another planet. It would’ve certainly cut down on the casualty lists. To me, the finale felt like bombastic movie-making run amok—destruction with no purpose.
I don’t know for sure, but it seems like the trailer takes us back to Man of Steel’s climax and puts us at street level. We see the destruction not from Superman’s god-like eyes, but from Bruce Wayne’s very mortal ones. He, like a good chunk of humanity, wonders whether a guy like Superman can be fully trusted. Sure, Supes presents himself as a savior. But is he a false messiah? Is he a Christ figure? Or is he an Antichrist?
That’s a pretty fascinating narrative. We know that the Man of Steel is one of the good guys, but Bruce Wayne doesn’t. He’s seen really good people go really, really bad (Arthur Dent, anyone?). He knows that power corrupts, and Superman is an absolute power. As far as Bruce knows, Superman might not save the world, but destroy it. And Batman might be the only thing standing in his way.
It’s right in line with what I wrote about in God on the Streets of Gotham: Bruce Wayne is no demigod. He’s very mortal, prone to temptation and mistakes. But he follows a higher calling, no matter what the cost. He might not say it as such, but he tries to do what God would like him to do.
But in following what he thinks is his calling, is Bruce/Batman at risk of corruption himself?
“That’s how it starts,” Alfred (Jeremy Irons) tells him. “The fever—the rage—that turns good men cruel.”
For me, the trailer is so resonant with the struggles we all sometimes have to discern what’s good and right, and what God would really have us do. It’s not always easy to know. Sometimes we fight with each other—even though we might actually have the very same goal.
I was a little wary of Batman v. Superman, but this trailer has me pretty jazzed. Time will tell.