Reactions and Reflections: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Trailer

April 21, 2015

Next year, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will pit DC Comics’ two biggest superheroes against each other. For now, the teaser trailer released last Friday (in an anticlimactic unveiling of an event already eclipsed by the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is pitting me against myself.

I don’t like the title. It’s as awkward as the late Richard Pryor’s performance in Superman III. And reducing it to an acronym doesn’t help: BvS:DoJ looks like a Klingon curse word. Still, I can’t fault the title for dishonesty. This film will be, for better or worse, a Batman movie, so the Dark Knight gets top billing. It will also at least plant several seeds for a cinematic Justice League franchise—hence the subtitle. Superman is being squeezed out of his own sequel.

I do like the questions the trailer raises. Granted, the inclusion of such current commentators as Charlie Rose and Neil deGrasse Tyson will make this movie DOA—dated on arrival (apparently the filmmakers didn’t learn the lessons of Contact). But the questions they’re asking interest me. They’re the kind of questions we deal with here at The Sci-Fi Christian on a regular basis. Yes, superheroes would prove controversial in the real world. Yes, superheroes would cause us to question some of our most cherished beliefs. No previous Superman movie has really wrestled with these questions before. Now, I suspect BvS:DoJ won’t really “wrestle” with them, either—but it’s acknowledging them, and that’s something new. Maybe we’ll get a few intriguing thoughts as a result.

Still Processing Man of Steel

man-of-steel-poster2I suspect such questions will also allow the movie to address fallout from Man of Steel’s controversial third act. I know, I know: I sang that movie’s praises at some length in this forum two summers ago, and even offered a defense of the filmmakers’ decision to have Superman kill General Zod. I don’t exactly retract my opening night reaction, but I admit I’ve grown a lot more sympathetic to critics who point out, “It wasn’t a documentary!” Screenwriters David Goyer and Christopher Nolan and director Zack Snyder didn’t have to tell us a Superman story that climaxed in Superman resorting to killing his enemy (and Nolan initially resisted the idea). They also didn’t have to spin a yarn in which Superman was every bit as much a destructive force as the villain, surely killing innumerable innocent lives as he and Zod duked it out. No, Man of Steel’s creative team made choices that manipulated Superman into a morally ambiguous position at best. I don’t object to seeing Superman confronting ethical quandaries; and I grant that Man of Steel showed us a superhero who was having a really rotten “first day on the job.” But, in ending as it did, when it did, it asked us to accept that Superman as the Superman.

My hope is BvS:DoJ will somehow (amidst all the attention to Batman and the nascent Justice League) make clear that Man of Steel marked this Superman’s starting point, not his ending point. Judging from the crowd pressing in on him (what’s with those folks near the back who’ve painted their faces like skulls?) and the ridiculously huge statue built in his honor, a good deal of time has passed since Man of Steel. Superman has presumably been doing all sorts of super-good deeds in the interim (like stopping that missile at about 30 seconds in) to win some public support. Surely this film will show us some glimpses of a recognizably, unequivocally heroic Superman.

Batman v SupermanWhat I do appreciate about Batman’s presence in this “who would win in a fight” plot, however, is that Bruce Wayne’s suspicion of Superman (egged on, perhaps, by Lex Luthor?) looks like it will serve the important theological function of protesting idols. I don’t expect Superman will have claimed the title of “Savior” for himself in this film, but I have no problem believing that some people will have applied it to him. As one of the talking voices at the trailer’s beginning says, we human beings do have a terrible track record of following the wrong leaders. “Do not put not your trust in princes,” the psalm-singer warns us, “in mortals, in whom there is no help” (Psalm 146.3, NRSV). When we see false gods, we have a responsibility to call them out. Superman’s statue may not deserve to be vandalized, but plenty of idols do need to be labeled and rejected.

Not Trusting Good News to Be Good

In the end, though, I’m less than entirely enthusiastic about BvS:DoJ because it seems to miss the basic point of the superhero genre, at least as I see it. I think superhero stories should be about hope. They don’t have to look at the world through rose-colored lenses; they don’t have to always be “all-ages friendly,” or never offer anything controversial to think and talk about. But these super-powered characters are supposed to be better versions of ourselves. Their stories should, to borrow J.R.R. Tolkien’s term, be eucatastrophic—marked by an unlooked-for, unmerited grace that shatters our hopeless expectations of life. Superman’s not Jesus, and shouldn’t be treated as such; but he is a character who comes into our world bringing good news. We’re not alone. We have a powerful friend. And—as this classic panel from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman puts it—we’re stronger than we think we are.

All Star Superman

One of the prayers of confession used in my denomination asks forgiveness because “we have not welcomed the light, or trusted good news to be good. We have closed our eyes to glory in our midst, expecting little, and hoping for less.” The story of the Gospel can cure us of that soul sickness. To a lesser extent, the best superhero stories can help, too.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may end up exciting me more than I think it will. It will be a technically accomplished film. It may hit some nice character beats, and hopefully it will serve up some wisdom and wit alongside the big-screen, blockbuster action. But because it begins from a place of not trusting good news to be good—of expecting little, and hoping for less—I think it’s setting itself an incredibly difficult task.

What are your reactions to the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer?

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10 comments on “Reactions and Reflections: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Trailer

  1. Great insights just from the trailer; I can’t imagine all that you have to say when you see the entire movie.

    The trailer does raise some great questions about the role super heroes would play in the real world and how they would challenge our deepest assumptions and beliefs. Marvel hasn’t really touched on those topics yet, but I imagine more questions will come with “Captain America: Civil War.”

    Unfortunately the trailer got me more excited from questions about super heroes and humanity than it did the actual movie. I know that I’ll see “BvS:DoJ,” but at this point I’m not too excited about it. The movie looks dreary and I have a hard time believing that Batman wants to fight Superman because he was swayed by Lex Luthor.

    • Michael Apr 21, 2015

      Thanks for the comment, Scott! I’m pretty much with you on this one. I think the reason the MCU hasn’t really dealt with such questions is, by and large, everyone seems happy to have the heroes around. Which is, as I tried to say in the post, as I think it should be. The only folks not happy to have superheroes around are the bad guys, right?!

      By the way, speaking of baddies, I don’t know that Luthor sways or uses Batman; that was just idle speculation on my part.

      • I speculated the same thing about Lex swaying Bruce. Instead of having a conversation with Superman, Batman buys into Luthor’s propaganda and just wants to punch Superman with a kryptonite fist.

  2. being that this is not even a trailer, but a teaser, I think we are assuming a whole lot about this home. I know I’m the only one that I personally think it looks fantastic. I can’t wait to see Batman Superman on the big screen together. I really did enjoy this article Mike, just thinking we don’t know enough with a year to go before the release to talk about who’s movie it will be. Blessings.

    • Michael Apr 21, 2015

      Thanks for reading, Rick, and your point is very well taken. Still, if one can’t speculate when a teaser trailer is released, when can one speculate, right?

      I’m cautiously optimistic – but as a Superman fan who is very much aware that the character is still widely regarded as “not as cool as Batman,” I have my concerns. (Of course, DC is not as cool as Marvel in general these days — except maybe in the TV series department — so they’re the folks who ought to have the bigger concerns!)

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  3. Texas Tim May 16, 2015

    Hah, I just watched the Supergirl on CBS trailer, which looks like it will actually be *fun*, and now there’s this, which looks like it will be three hours of uber-serious darkness.

    • Michael May 16, 2015

      I suppose there is always hope the film will be better than this trailer makes me think… but, yeah, I’m way more excited for Supergirl (not to mention “Legends of Tomorrow”) than for this at the moment. Still, I have no doubt I’ll go to see it… I will want to have a stake in what will surely be heated conversations afterward!

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