Batman vs. Superman:  Dawn of Justice

            OK, true confession:  as a little boy, I was a big fan of Superman. Yeah, the old television show starring George Reeves, and around my house we never talked about why it suddenly ended.  But as an older child, I began to develop an appreciation for Batman, because he managed to fight the bad guys without the benefit of superpowers---just some fancy equipment and a lot of courage. 

            Of course it’s ridiculous to think that nobody recognized Superman as Clark Kent without the glasses, nor, for that matter, could Batman’s disguise really deter people from recognizing Bruce Wayne, but that was part of playing along with the fantasy.  This is comic book stuff, after all.  And this movie takes very seriously not only its graphic-novel roots, but also its predecessor films.  So we have no problem at all bouncing between Gotham and Metropolis; no problem re-visiting Smallville, no problem remembering the backstory of Bruce Wayne becoming an orphan.  We readily accept Batman’s Alfred (Jeremy Irons) even as we do Superman’s “earth Mom”, Martha (Diane Lane).  We’re even up for a ghost-memory appearance of Superman’s earth-dad, and of course we need for Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to know the truth, and be in love with our caped crusader, even as he struggles with unexpected criticism.

            Yes, as all preachers and politicians know, no matter how much you try to do good, you’re going to have your critics.  If you make mistakes, they will be pointed out.  If you do nothing, you will be criticized, as well.  In Superman’s case, his caring for Lois Lane caused him to go rescue her without regard for collateral damage, whereupon he was accused of overstepping his authority.  Even Batman seems to think that the “alien” Superman is potentially dangerous, because if he suddenly decided to seize power and control, who could stop him?  So Batman decides that maybe it is his duty to find the weakness in The Man of Steel. 

            This, of course, plays right into the bad guy’s hands.  Jesse Eisenberg, as Lex Luthor, makes such a delicious villain, because he, too, disguises himself as a philanthropist.  He’s one of those brilliant/crazy guys whose menace lies just below the surface, ready to be fully revealed when he has made his big power play.  In the meantime, he’ll deceive and distract us by any means necessary, including a theological debate:  if God is good, He can’t be all-powerful, and if He’s all-powerful, He can’t be good.  Superman is like a god, and since he’s virtually all-powerful, therefore he can’t be good, either.  The weird part is, this craziness has a certain logic to it.  Who knew we’d be discussing cosmic ontology and sophomoric theodicy in a comic book movie?

            Well, by the end we’ve dispensed with the professorial trash talk, as it were, and we’ve gotten down to the real graphic business of chases, explosions, fight scenes, and much collateral destruction.  Just as we expected.  But there may be a few twists not so expected.  Which sets us up beautifully for the sequel. 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                   Who was your first favorite comic book character?  Did that later change?

2)                  Is crazy always close to genius?

3)                  Why are we so enthralled with stories of people with extraordinary ability? 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association