Zack Snyder’s movies may be controversial, but one thing cannot be denied: the man is a genius at imagery. For all that DC Film seem to be heading in a very different direction – with a far lighter film, and a lot more humor – the good news is that they don’t seem to have lost that symbolic edge.
Be warned: This article contains ENORMOUS spoilers for Justice League. Proceed at your own risk!
THE MESSIANIC IMAGERY IN THE DC EXPANDED UNIVERSE
Both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice presented Superman in a distinctly Messianic light. In Man of Steel, Superman was the last son of Krypton, a savior figure sent to Earth by his father to inspire us to greatness. He was portrayed as a god among men; appropriately enough, he was frequently referred to by his Kryptonian name, Kal-El (sometimes translated from the Hebrew as “Voice of God”). Man of Steel essentially showed us the beginning of Superman’s ‘ministry’ – and then, shockingly, Batman v Superman showed us the end.
Although he was tempted to abandon the path of involvement, in a Gethsemane-like scene Superman communed with the spirit of his father, Jonathan Kent, and chose to return to the world. That choice led to him facing Doomsday in head-on battle, and sacrificing his life to stop the beast. It was a deliberate parallel with the first Biblical prophecy of Christ, in Genesis 3: 15, which foresaw Jesus’s crucifixion as an act where he directly opposed the Devil – and died as he did so.
“He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
As Superman dies, the camera even pans out, and we clearly see that the rubble has formed the shape of crosses. It’s hard to get much more Messianic than that!
HOW THE JUSTICE LEAGUE WILL CONTINUE THIS THEME
We all know that Superman will rise from the dead, completing the Messianic pattern; it’s a matter of when, not if, and not even DC Film is pretending otherwise. Zack Snyder was coy about the return, but his wife Deborah :
“Obviously Superman is part of the Justice League… But I think his way back to us, we don’t really want to spoil that.”
But that’s not the only Messianic aspect of the film. After all, that was fairly predictable! More intriguing is the role Batman’s playing in Justice League. Batman v Superman saw Ben Affleck portray a world-weary Batman, one who’s lost his faith in humanity. Powerless in the face of alien threats even he couldn’t handle, this man without hope becomes cruel – and, as a result, loses any interest in preserving life. That’s why the Batmobile he drove was armed with deadly guns, and why he showed no concern for loss of life. There’s a sense in which the Batman we saw in Batman v Superman was broken.
But Superman has changed all that. Inspired by Superman, Batman has embraced a quest to gather the world’s metahumans and form the Justice League. As grand a concept as it may be, it’s a very personal mission, one focused around his own need for redemption – and his belief that the Justice League can protect and redeem the world in turn. As Ben Affleck :
“This is now not a guy at the end of his rope, but in a way a guy at the beginning again. Starting over, reborn, and believing and finding hope. The thing that he’s hopeful for he’s hanging on to desperately, and he really believes in this idea of forming this group.”
Inspired by Superman’s sacrificial death, Bruce Wayne has been transformed. The rage is gone, and we’ll get a glimpse of the real Bruce Wayne, complete with a sardonic sense of humor. Tellingly, we even know that he’s recruiting the Justice League as Bruce Wayne rather than as Batman – trusting them with his secret identity from the outset!
It’s a beautiful touch. In a rough parallel, just as Jesus’s sacrificial death transformed and redeemed his disciples, so Superman’s death transformed and redeemed Batman. Justice League looks set to be a much more light-hearted film that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, but this imagery threads between the movies – ensuring continuity and helping build a consistent world.
For me, the Messianic imagery in Batman v Superman and really well-handled. I’m delighted to see that this imagery isn’t going to be lost – it’s going to be enhanced. This week’s news has only left me even more excited for June 2017!
Are you excited for Justice League? Do you feel the changes being made are wise? Let me know in the comments!
I’m a British guy who has a particular love of superhero movies – and I’m having a great time writing for Movie Pilot! Feel free to follow me on Twitter @TomABacon!