When trying to understand the religious undertones of Batman v Superman, there are a few things you need to know when going in to the movie. This movie take an approach far different than the approach taken in Man of Steel, so I'll summarize the differences real quick before diving nose deep into my analysis of the plot. First off, it's important to note that, in the same way that this movie served as an expansion of the DC Extended Universe, it's religious themes also take a much larger approach, much less one-sided than the straightforward message presented to the audience in Man of Steel. Second, we must recognize that this movie was in no way an origin story, and thus it doesn't consistently follow a story-wise parallel in the same way that Man of Steel did; this movie relies much more heavily on theology and theological themes than it does on Biblical story, and thus the elements you find throughout the majority of the movie will parallel the themes throughout the majority of the New Testament rather than the stories themselves (Man of Steel relied much more heavily on the story-wise parallels between Superman and Christ, if that makes sense at all). Sure, there will be a few parallels with story (especially towards the end), but overall, it is a very theological movie rather than one huge allegory.
So yeah, now that I've covered all that, let's waste no more time and let's go find Jesus in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice...
[WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! SPOILERS FOR BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE WILL BE FOUND BELOW. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. I REPEAT: SPOILERS BELOW.]
Okay, so after the opening credits roll through -- providing us with a quick introduction to the Batman character via quick flashbacks covering his parents' death and subsequent funeral -- we transition to a familiar scene to those of us who've seen Man of Steel: it's the final fight between Superman and Zod that served as the climax of the movie. The catch? This time, it's from Bruce Wayne's point of view (for those of you who didn't know, spoiler alert, Bruce Wayne is Batman). After witnessing the death of his coworkers and the destruction of his building and after saving a little girl from being crushed by fallen debris, a confused and saddened Batman looks up to see the source of destruction: a man in blue spandex and a red cape flying through the sky, apparently in the midst of combat with some other god-like super-figure clad in black. As he watches the two of them fall through the sky followed by a barrage of flaming debris, the expression that plasters Bruce's face says more than words possibly could:
Whoever this man in the sky is, he is the enemy. Regardless of his intentions, he is killing innocent people. He's irresponsible. He has too much power. A million thoughts cross through Bruce's mind, all directed towards the man who is trying to save them.
Which brings us to our first theological point: theodicy.
Theodicy is literally defined as the defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil. It is a theme prevelent throughout the entirety of this movie (especially later on with Lex and Superman on top of LexCorp tower), but right off the bat (pun intended), from the first official scene of the movie, this very theme establishes something that will last throughout the rest of the movie:
If Clark Kent/Superman represents God, then Bruce Wayne/Batman represents humans/non-believers. As he watches this god-like figure killing innocent people -- the intentions of the actions put aside -- he fails to understand how a person who allows such things to happen could be considered good. And that's the major point of theodicy: death surrounds us on all sides, and that includes the death of innocents, just like the people being killed before Bruce Wayne's very eyes. If God is as good as He claims He is, why does He let innocent people die? This is what Bruce asks himself as he sees Superman crash to earth.
And the point of it all? This scene proves that point of view influences interpretation -- it can skew how you see things, because you don't necessarily see everything that happens. From Bruce's point of view, Superman is being reckless and has a complete disregard for human life. But as we saw in Man of Steel, in Smallville, Superman told people to take cover. Once they got to Metropolis, he tried to take the fight into space, but Zod forced them back down. Its better that a few innocent people die in order to stop the bigger threat than to let the threat overcome and kill all innocent people. In this way, Batman v Superman and religion parallel: we question the god-like figure's motives and his morality purely because our minds don't see the big pictures that his does. We can go ahead blaming God for a loved one's death, but often there is an unseen reason beyond our understanding. Batman fails to see things from Superman's point of view -- he fails to emphasize with him -- and thus he proves that sometimes, even the good guys can be in the wrong.
Next we cut to Lois Lane in Africa, and to contrast with Bruce Wayne's role at the unbeliever, Lois Lane would be the Christian, the person of faith, the one who has put their total trust in the god-figure because they have seen their actions on a personal level and have experienced their power with greater intimacy. Like many believers, Lois recognizes her unworthiness of being with such a god-like person -- take the bath scene for instance -- but she accepts her role in his life and appreciates the love he has for her (remember, the common analogy for Christ and his church in the Bible are demonstrated the a Groom and his bride, so it is very fitting; the idea of a romantic relationship is a very good illustration that a believer has with God). Lois can see through Clark's disguise because she has found the truth within him, whereas, as we discussed at the end of Part 1, often people fail to see the truth that is directly before them.
At this point I would like to point out that the movie doesn't shy away from the god vs. man conflict found within its plot, with Superman constantly being called a "god" throughout the movie, while Batman is called "man" to further prove this point. Lex heavily emphasizes angels and demons and even the devil throughout the plot, and even people such as the African woman giving her testimony at the Senate hearing:
He'll never answer to you. He answers to no one, not even, I think, to God.
This movie is all about the conflict of god vs. man, and they don't shy away from it, so it serves as an easy movie to flesh out theologically to try and determine the real conflict going on behind the scenes. Anyways, moving on:
During a fun little introduction scene to Batman -- introducing his violent tendencies of branding and his super-sneaky ways of hiding in corners and avoiding bullets and nearly getting cops shot in the face -- we are left with an ominous statement by some sex slaves that Batman had just saved: the call him "the devil." At this point I was beginning to think, Oh wait, maybe Batman doesn't represent a non-believer, but the devil! But really, they were just setting us up to set up the REAL devil of the story...
Lex Luthor is the devil of this story. He has daddy issues, and you leave the movie with the feeling that he perhaps has a kind of twisted view of his father... sound familiar? Lex also, throughout the entire movie, tries to plant ideas into people's minds; not necessarily good ideas, but ideas that he tries to promote as good, a tactic that the devil is known for. It's a little thing called temptation: it's really a horrible idea, but it sounds enticing in the moment and he will sell it likes its the obvious choice to make. The Metahuman Thesis, his rambling about "gods among men," his talking to the senator about weapon-izing kryptonite ("You don't have to use a silver bullet, but if you forge one, well then, we don't have to depend on the kindness of monsters")...they all serves as a means of promoting evil, all while masking it as kind-hearted, good intentions. He cunning yet awkward, making him relatable to the audience while obviously of superior intellect, different. He's not the Lex Luthor of comics, but rather a psychotic, power-hungry, daddy-hating, god wannabe. He is the devil, and this will build up throughout the entire movie.
But now we go back to Batman, who is in his Batcave with Alfred, who serves as the voice of reason throughout the movie. Whether a believer or not, Alfred is the one who tries to maintain the peace, saying ominous things such as,
That's how it stars: the fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness...that turns good men cruel.
Alfred is basically telling Bruce that he is turning into a Caiaphas figure. In the Bible, Caiaphas was the high priest who basically planned the execution of Jesus, the mastermind behind the whole sha-bang. He was a smart man, a devout religious man, but due to his blind-sightedness and his refusal to believe that Jesus was God -- and also due to the fact that Jesus' growing popularity was taking away the influence he had on the Jewish people -- he ended up having Jesus captured at night and condemned to death. Caiaphas felt that rage and he felt that growing powerlessness, and even though he was probably a good man, his feverish jealousy turned him cruel and resulted in the death of Christ.
Alfred is basically telling Bruce that if he doesn't watch himself, his actions could turn him into the bad guy and something he does could end up leading to the death of the god-like figure.
...nah, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's move on in the story.
There's the blatant "False god" message with Wally the paraplegic -- where he paints the message on Superman's big statue at the Metropolis memorial, but there's no need to analyze that given is severe obviousness. As a result of this debacle, Perry White instructs Jenny to headline an article "END OF LOVE AFFAIR WITH MAN IN THE SKY?" and I don't know about you, but that sounds a lot like an article we would find in a newspaper or magazine regarding some sort of religious debate or something similar. But these are all small things, and quite honestly not really worth analyzing. Let's find something a bit more interesting.
Ahhh, okay, let's talk about the whole Zod reanimation process. Is it just me, or does Lex Luthor have a hardcore god complex? Even more so, he's basically pulling a Dr. Frankenstein in this movie, experimenting on a dead corpse and trying to reanimate it! Heck, in his horrible little speech at the gala he held, Lex even went rambling on about how Prometheus was the good guy of Greek mythology...if you didn't know, the full title of the novel Frankenstein is actuallyFrankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. They're being very straightforward with his representation.
One major theme within Frankenstein is the god vs. man thing, purely because Dr. Frankenstein is essentially trying to perform a task that only God is meant to perform: create life. Comparing this to Batman v Superman, we once again can see Lex's role as the devil, trying to do God's job and claim the credit for himself by taking Zod's dead corpse and giving it new life. He's a mad scientist, just like Victor Frankenstein in the original novel. To summarize his point of view, during his speech at the gala, Lex comments that "Books are knowledge and knowledge is power." He gains his knowledge from science, just like Frankenstein.
Once again, notice Lex's manipulation skills at getting what he wants, able to bargain his way into access to not only the Kryptonian ship, but to Zod's corpse as well, and even the right to experiment on it. He's a master manipulator. Very devil-like.
While we're on the topic of Lex, let's talk about the scene at the Luthor mansion with the senator. Yeah, the "red capes are coming" one. The one where we see sinister Lex for the first time. There's a specifically line that Lex says that really caught my attention, the culmination of the entire scene:
You don't think Dad would mind, would he? If I changed just one thing? Because that should be upside down...because we know how, don't we? Devils don't come from hell beneath us. No, they come from the sky.
While Lex is alluding to not only Superman, but Darkseid, in this scene, let's just focus on the theological elements: you see that painting behind Lex? That's the painting that should be flipped upside down, but in the movie, at least, he has it flipped so that the angels are on the bottom and demons are on the top...because to the devil, the angels are the bad guys. To the devil, God is the bad guy. To the devil, God had the potential to be good, but since He wouldn't let him take control, the devil holds a grudge against him. The same is true for Lex -- to him, anybody who is friends with Superman is suddenly his enemy. He hates Superman, because Superman is the god-like figure that, over the course of the movie, we learn to know he has grown to despise. Whenever Superman bends to his will, Lex doesn't hate him so much, but since Superman typically comes out on top, the grudge remains. To both the devil and to Lex, the "devil" does come from the sky.
Now, back to the gala scene. While it serves as just a kind of cool scene in the movie, I think it's actually worthy pointing out: notice the moment, on more than one occasion, when Clark can hear Alfred speaking to Bruce in his earpiece. While yeah, it's just to highlight Superman's powers and be a quick way for him to deduce Batman's identity, I think it speaks wonders theologically: God hears your thoughts, even the ones you're trying to hide. Not only were the voices in Bruce's head heard by Clark -- the thoughts he is trying to keep undercover as he wanders around (Alfred) -- but his true identity was also revealed, because let's face it, Bruce Wayne is the facade and Batman is the real Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is a dark, convoluted character who only gets to truly express his inner darkness and hatred when he dons the cowl, and with just a little turn of the head, Clark was able to decipher all of that just by listening for a single moment. Isn't it the same with God? We all have a hidden darkness within us. We all put on a facade to cover the pain or to hide something from those around us, but nothing can be hidden from God. He hears out thoughts, He knows our inner darkness. He sees who we really are. This is a beautiful way to have Clark figure out Bruce's identity.
And what happens when the god-like figure sees the human's inner darkness? He confronts him, begins to ask him questions. And what does the human do when he is questioned by the god-figure, questioned about his motivations and his desires? He gets defensive, and instead of truly justifying his own actions, he tries to shoot down the god-like figure, making accusations that have no basis whatsoever. This is what happens when Clark approaches Bruce for an interview, and this is what happens when the conscience strikes the heart of a human in sin. See the parallel? Moving on.
Lex comes up to them during the interview and, once again being the master manipulator, says stuff like "Wow, you should not pick a fight with him," and, to Bruce, "Maybe we could partner on something." The devil wants God and man to fight with each other, and he wants to partner up with man. Pretty straightforward.
Next we have a collage of Superman doing the things he does best: save people. For the first time in the movie thus far, we see Superman under his real light, with people praising him and longing for him and looking towards him for hope. We aren't seeing things from Batman's point of view or from Lex's point of view: we are seeing camera footage, which doesn't lie. Superman is saving people out of the goodness of his heart, a god on earth. Yet, throughout this entire montage, people question his ethics, trying to decide whether he is good or bad.
Is it really surprising that the most powerful man in the world should be a figure of controversy?
In one specific instance -- the first save we see, actually -- Superman saves a woman from a fire during the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, and in a scene very similar to Luke 6:19, in which people try to touch Jesus in order to feel his power -- all the people reach towards Superman, just trying to touch him. He looks up to the heavens, soaking in the sun. This is who he truly is.
Next, we see that Lex Luthor has gotten Wally, the paraplegic, out of jail, and he provides him with a fancy electric wheelchair. But as is always the case with the devil, there's silver lining (ever heard of "a deal with the devil"?). It seems like a nice thing to do, but as we will see later, he has ulterior motives, all of which play out for his advantage, not for the person who he is claiming to help out.
As the movie progresses, we continue to see Lex (the devil) continuing to manipulate things behind the scenes. He reminds the god-figure (Superman) of past sins (the "Judge," "Jury," "Executioner" Polaroids) of the human (Batman), yet despite the fact that he hates the sin, the god-figure holds back judgment. Superman doesn't want to fight Batman, he wants to talk sense into him. God wants to do the same to us.
The human, on the other hand, is much more easily manipulated. "Count the dead," Bruce tells Alfred. "Thousands of people. What's next, millions?...He has the power to take out the entire human race." Batman doesn't trust Superman, and he's getting pretty serious about it... this is the nonbeliever who has seen so much destruction in the world that he has grown to hate God.
Alfred tries to talk some sense into him, as always: "HE. IS. NOT. OUR. ENEMY!!!" But Batman doesn't listen. Batman falls prey to Lex's schemes. And, especially after the explosion at the Senate hearing, he decides it's time to take the god-man down. Enter epic training montage.
Then comes the first meeting between Batman and Superman. We've seen Batman kick some major butt (and even kill some people, which is hypocritical even if they were guilty) and we've seen how intensely amazing his Batmobile is, yet boink, it just bounces off of Superman and crashes into a building. Yet what does Batman do, even after Superman rips the doors off of the Batmobile?! He stands up defiantly and asks him if he bleeds. You see, even after everything they've seen God do, hard-hearted people still think they can beat Him. They think there's a reason to hate Him, yet there really isn't. They want to make God bleed. They want to kill him. (Hence why in the past few years, we've had two movies and a hit song titled God's NOT Dead.)
Now let's go to the scene with Ma Kent talking to Superman at Kent Farm. If you remember, I quoted this at the beginning of Part 1:
People hate what they don't understand. But they see what you do and they know what you are...Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be...or be none of it. You don't owe this world a thing. You never did.
A lot of people argue that Superman does owe the world something, but does he? He didn't have to turn himself in to Zod, but he did. And when Zod wanted to terraform the planet, he didn't have to fight back, but he did. Superman had been un-obligated to do any of the things he has done, yet he has done it and he has gotten a bad wrap for it all... he truly doesn't owe the world a thing. He's like Jesus, healing people on the Sabbath; he's doing good stuff, yet he gets in trouble for it! It doesn't make sense, yet he ends up being the bad guy in the end. Yet what do both Jesus and Superman choose to do? They choose to be the hero. Heck, even look at the explosion scene in the Senate hearing: the look on Superman's face says it all! He knows he technically didn't do anything wrong, but since, for once, he didn't take action, he will still be blamed for it all. Whether he takes action or not, Superman will be blamed. He just can't win. The same is true for Jesus -- when the people complain, he feeds all 5,000+ of them. When they want more food yet he tells them it is best that he not feed them... well, they don't take kindly to that (John 6:26).
After the explosion, Superman goes MIA. The world doesn't know where he went, but we do! Where does Clark go when he needs to think? He isolates himself and goes to his father for advice, obviously! (Matt. 14:22-23, Mark 1:35). In times when the things around him are overwhelming, the god-like figure makes the smart move and escapes, going away to talk to his father and decide the next move to make.
Now we get to the final conflict of the movie, when it all comes together: the scene at LexCorp tower.
After Superman saves Lois, he confronts Lex himself, and the whole theodicy thing comes back to play as Lex reveals what's truly been driving his motives this entire time: his hatred for God. Not necessarily Superman, the god-like figure of the story, but God Himself, the great I Am. As he speaks to Superman, Lex brings up many of the arguments that people use against theodicy:
Man, have we got a problem here! The problem of evil in the world...the problem of absolute virtue!
God is tribal. God takes sides. No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from daddy's fist and abominations. I figured out way back if God is all-powerful, He cannot be all good. And if He is all good, then He cannot be all-powerful. And neither can you be.
The great thing about this scene is that, despite Lex's arguments to the contrary, Superman is essentially all-powerful and he is all good. We haven't seen Superman make a selfish decision yet. He has used his power for the benefit of mankind, even if they hold up dolls of him in a flaming noose and wave it before the TV cameras. Lex brings up good points to counter theodicy, but Superman proves that his points are purely opinion, and he has proven that opinion incorrect. Nevertheless, out of his love for his mother, Superman is forced to do the one thing he did not want to do: he must fight the Batman (or so he allows Luthor to think). "And now god bends to my will," Lex says, the devil feeling victorious at last. "The almighty comes clean to how dirty he gets when it counts."
The great thing is that even though Lex thinks he is in control, he isn't. Superman doesn't go over there to kill Batman, but to convince him to team up. If Superman wanted to kill Batman, all it would take is a blast of his heat vision, but he doesn't use it. Batman tries again and again -- machine guns, intense sound waves, kryptonite -- to take Superman down, but it's no good! Isn't this the same with God? We try so hard to fight Him, and sure, He might punish us a lit for it, but His end game isn't to see us dead and buried -- He wants us to join Him! He wants us to see the light and recognize that He is the good guy!
...and often, all it takes is a little thing to switch your point of view.
Now, I'll agree, using "Martha" as the catalyst in the movie seemed like a weird choice at first. It's such a simple, tiny idea, yet that is why Batman and Superman team up? Because their moms have the same name?! At first I thought this was a dumb idea, but then I thought about it...isn't that how it is with God? We fight Him, we fight Him, and then boom, all of a sudden it just clicks? All it takes is something really, really small to change our perspectives on something. Suddenly it all makes sense, and we become friends with Him! All it takes is one super emotional instant, and often, only the person experiencing that moment will be able to explain what it was that changed their point of view. This was the moment of Batman's conversion. It was a weird detail that doesn't really make sense to us, but to him, it was the catalyst that made him realize that Superman is the good guy he claims to be. He looks at the kryptonite spear (the metaphorical hammer and nail) in his hand and throws it away. His mask is half gone, and he can see clearly now.
And what happens when you suddenly realize that God is the good guy? Not only do y'all becomes friends, but you want to do something for Him. You want to help Him out, help spread His Word.
...so Batman goes and saves Superman's mom. When he saves her, he even tells her that he is her son's friend. She says she knows because they share similar traits (their capes). The same is the truth with Christians: people should recognize they are friends with Jesus because of their similar traits. But this isn't just anybody, this is Superman's mother who recognizes their similarity. Somebody who intimately knows Superman. As a Christian, another person with an intimate relationship with God should be able to recognize the similarities you share.
Next we have the build-up to the final fight with Doomsday, and Lex straight up says "If man won't kill god, the devil will do it!" I kid you not, he says that. If Batman (man) won't kill Superman (god), Lex (the devil, through Doomsday) will do it. Yeah, Lex pretty much just summarized my entire argument. Then he says "Now god is good as dead."
And now we can talk about Lois, who is essentially the penitent thief next to Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:40-43). During Superman's fight with Doomsday, Lois puts herself in the position she is in (drowning underwater, trying to get the spear that she herself had thrown into the water in the first place) yet, despite the fact that the god-figure (Superman) is facing the biggest trial he has ever faced, he goes and saves her. In the same way, Jesus, despite he himself being on the cross, told the penitent thief would be with him in Paradise, despite that the thief had earned his own spot on that cross and had gotten himself in his own mess. Neither Superman nor Jesus allow major trials to prevent them from saving someone who is seeking help.
And...come on, the next part isn't too difficult to figure out. Superman willingly sacrifices himself in order to kill a monster he did not create. Jesus willingly sacrifices himself in order to pay a debt he did not owe (sin). Superman could have given Wonder Woman the spear and asked her stab Doomsday, but then she would have taken the fall and it probably wouldn't have worked out in the end. Jesus could have let us all deal with the penalty of our sins, but instead he stepped in and took the fall for us, despite living a perfect life.
And then Batman and Wonder Woman literally wrap Superman in his cape and pass him down to Lois, as if they were, I don't know, lowering a crucified savior, wrapped in a robe, down from a cross. And then Lois cradles Superman in a very Pieta-like fashion.
…while there are three crosses, made of fallen debris, standing clearly in the background. (Seriously, go watch the movie. They're there.)
…and then they play “Amazing Grace” at his funeral.
…and Bruce pledges that though he failed him in life, he won’t fail him in death. Essentially, he will preach his message to the nations by banding everyone together to do what is right.
…and then they show you the Superman monument in Metropolis, which reads:“IF YOU SEEK HIS MONUMENT, LOOK AROUND YOU.”
…and then you hear some heartbeats. The dirt floats into the air and the movie fades to back.
…and then you realize that Superman will return in not one, not two, but three movies. (1) Wonder Woman, (2) Suicide Squad, (3) Justice League.
Thank you for your time. Have a blessed day.