So Dawn of Justice (we will never refer to it by that sophomoric title idiot executives clearly gave it) has been out for a while now so spoilers aren’t an issue as much any more.
Now the movie has taken a lot of hits* the least stupid of these being that it seemed like there were multiple films going on here (Man of Steel sequel, a Batman movie, the setup for Justice League, Batman v Superman beat down) that supposedly didn’t connect…the problem with this critique is that they did connect. Not only did all of the points fit into one single narrative—granted a narrative more consistent with a well written novel than the simple A and B story plot lines in a dimwitted sitcom that non-professional critics clearly prefer—but each of these parts mirrored each other in terms of their themes. And while more complex this movie was not mere pretentiousness as its themes were issues at the core of humanity—not the banality presented as depth that professional critics oh so love—these were truly deep themes.
Now as one of the authors of this article previously pointed out, these are in part tied to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and just as Man of Steel tore apart the idealistic tyranny of Plato’s Republic; Dawn of Justice shreds Nietzsche into the trash that his philosophy really is. But it does more then that, it attacks the lack of humanity at the core of Nietzsche, and turn on it’s head the question “Must there be a Superman?” from Nietzsche’s answer of Yes, so that man can be overcome by the ubermensch, to yes because the last son of Krypton is the light to follow which makes us human.
Now the first thing to do is prove that the film is meant to take on Nietzsche; after all, unlike Man of Steel which has a scene with Clark reading Plato’s Republic, there isn’t a similar scene with anyone reading Thus Spake Zarathusra in Dawn of Justice. But the clues are there for anyone who wants to look. One of the first tipoffs to come in the first moments of the film with the words on screen “Mankind is introduced to the Superman”. By referring to him as “the” superman within the first few minutes of the film, something not done anywhere in else in Man of Steel or anywhere else in this film, they are clearly cluing you into the fact to consider this through the lens of Nietzsche (or at least that this is an attack on his ideas). Further near the end of the film you have Lex state, “Now God is good as dead” a clear reference not only to the previous concepts of good and evil in the film but to Nietzsche’s famous “God is dead.” And he repeats it at the end “ding dong the god is dead.” From these two points alone it becomes clear that looking for a discussion of Nietzschian themes in the film is appropriate. So what are these themes?
“I teach you the Superman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?… All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood, and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape… The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth… Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss … what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.”—Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzche
“You’re not brave. Men are brave. […] You’re not a god. You’re not even a man.”–Bruce Wayne
Obviously the concept of übermensch (which while originally translated as Superman, the more modern translation is overman, but I will be using the original German so as not to confuse things too much) and its relationship to humanity is brought up over and over again. We have metahumans, “Depending on the kindness of monsters,” “False God,” “Men fall from the sky. Gods hurl thunderbolts,” “You’re not a man.” Cleary the concept of something beyond a normal human is implicit in all this discussion…but it is not an embrace of the Nietzschian übermensch. For Nietzsche, and Lex Luthor, empathy is weakness and something to be done away with leaving only the will, “And now God bends to my will.” A lack of empathy, a defining trait of the übermensch, is seen in every villain in the film, from Lex’s utterly creepy sharing of a Jolly Rancher to his willingness to murder the innocent, from Doomsday’s first action to try and kill his own creator (we’ll get to the parental issues in this film soon enough) to Wallace Keefe’s inability to connect with people after his mutilation in the Battle of Metropolis (it wasn’t losing his legs that made him less than a man, it was that he clearly cut himself off from humanity), from the henchmen joyfully watching a bare knuckle fight that treats people as objects to Bruce’s attitude, an attitude “that turns men cold,” is one defined by people separating themselves from humanity. Even Diana defines herself by the fact that for a century she turned her back on humanity (and I’m sure we all can’t wait to find out the story behind that). All too Nietzsche in the predominance of will over empathy.
Now compare that to all the acts of heroism and goodness in the film: Lois and Clark’s ability to convey a whole battle plan with only a look**, Clark’s concern for people at all times in all ways (reporter worried about an abuse of a power by a police supported vigilante, a girl in a burning building, not being able to stop every death especially the guilt of the Senate explosion), Jonathan Kent’s torment that actions have unintended consequences, Secretary Swanwick and Major Farris’s concern for Superman, Diana finally realizing she can’t keep running, and how can we forget the moment of empathy where one name breaks through Bruce’s nihilism and makes him realize that Superman is all too human. It is in this last moment that the full destruction of Nietzsche takes place. Starting with Bruce looking up amongst the rubble of his building (his race there and concern for his employees showing he didn’t start out as the cold creature of will) we see him becoming more and more like Lex with a complete lack of humanity. Branding people (as opposed to Lex tracking metahumans), obsessed with taking out those more powerful (just like Lex), thinking that Superman can’t possibly be that good (that power cannot be innocent), using weapons no one should have (a spear or a genesis chamber), and finally thinking that “the world only makes sense if you force it to.” But while Bruce hasn’t fully embraced the insanity of Lex (I would argue a parallel of Nietzsche who also went—really always was—batshit crazy)…but what brings Bruce back from the darkness? Not being beaten (although that moment in the fight that he backs off is funny) by the physical force of Superman or the will of an übermensch…no it was the empathy so scorned by the übermensch, the connection, the irrational emotional bond formed by reminding him not of his ability to destroy Superman but that he is very human and has known pain. It is love and empathy that motivates the heroes of this movie, not will or power, down to the last lines “I love you Lois. This is my world. You are my world.”
But Lex is conversely all about the will to power, not having to “depend on the kindest of monsters,” and a perfect representation of Nietzschian evil—and not just in the fact that like Nietzsche himself, Lex is certainly less than what you’d call mentally stable. That’s right, Lex is Nietzsche; and this is not so shocking given that even from the beginning they make it clear that this not the Lex Luthor of recent comics, cartoons, and shows. This is not the robber-baron hell bent on acquiring power and wealth, the “man on the marquee;” that man, the man we have become so used to being the one to fight Superman was this Lex’s father. What we’re dealing with now is the son of a man so hell bent on acquiring power at all costs, who clearly beat his son on regular basis for every time he failed to measure up to the ego of his father. Now I will agree that this Lex is a little less frightening in some ways from that unethical business titan (at least in the theatrical version–the extended cut makes him far more a calculating supervillain)…but that Lex was defeated even more often than Gene Hackman’s farcical take on the character (seriously if you’re going to complain about Eisenberg’s take, just keep in mind it is still nowhere near as stupid as Hackman’s..and the less said about Rosenbaum’s whiner the better), this Lex didn’t fail. He tricked the greatest detective on Earth. Made Superman bend to his will. He created Doomsday, killed Superman, sent a call for Darkseid. Did he actually fail? And while he didn’t come off as dangerous as previous incarnations, let’s keep in mind, he’s not finished. But back to Lex as Nietzsche. We see every virtue of the ubermensch in Lex. He has no empathy (to the point of blowing up his assistant). He thinks good and evil, the concept of justice that comes with it is preposterous, that only the Nietzschian good (powerful) and bad (powerless) exists and that power cannot be innocent. Lex sees himself as the superior man (especially seen in some of the promotional material) and can’t handle a better man, a man who is both more powerful and proof that the ethical system of good and evil work, proof of power that doesn’t corrupt, of the fact that absolute virtue exists. Whether this is what drives him insane, or his beatings by his father were the cause of his insanity, we’ll have to see; but, both drive him to prove he’s the most powerful (the one who fools Batman, controls Superman, tracks Metahumans, gives birth to a monster who can kill Superman, who makes God bend to his will)—“The devil” himself in his own words. Which of course brings us to Lex’s religious obsessions, much like Nietzsche’s.
Granted it’s hard not to draw the obvious parallel between Nietzsche’s “God is Dead” and Lex’s “Now God is good as dead” but it doesn’t even come close to how deeply this film not only destroys Nietzsche’s ideas of religion (because God, that is Superman, is most certainly not dead) but shows the important place that religions hold in the good life. From the opening moments where we take the time to show a Wayne Enterprises employee who prays for his soul before his inevitable to death, to being sure to show Major Farris cross herself before the nuke is fired at Superman, the stained glass of the Archangel Michael dressed in Superman’s colors, to the Passion imagery of Superman’s death (more on that later). Not to mention in the extended edition we get quotes from the book of Isiah which are just a little too on the nose. Religion is shown more clearly in this film than 90% of what Hollywood puts out (99% if you don’t count those poorly made Christian movies that get released but which no one goes to see because Lifetime has better production values).
Complex movies like this are things where even small choices are important. If you take the time to show a man praying “have mercy on my soul” in a scene where any other line of shock would do for a flashback that is just retreading information we already know. As with Man of Steel religion is an important factor in this universe. It distinguishes the heroes who seek a relationship between man and God in one form or another, and the villains who seek to put themselves above God. And the Christ imagery started in Man of Steel in no way stops here, as not only does Clark go into the wildeness (thankfully for less than 40 days) but is killed by a spear.
And for all his trotting out of the long since disproven but often repeated atheist tripe about “the problem of evil” or the “problem of absolute virtue” Lex’s key problem is that “no man in the sky came to save me from daddy’s fist and abominations”….that is until his own child abomination, Doomsday tries to hit Lex with his fist…only to be saved by a man in the sky. This shows that Lex’s attitude that God is tribal is wrong, and that Nietzsche’s beliefs that God is only something made by those to justify might makes right.
Of course philosophy or no, none of their motivations can be understood outside of their relationships with their parents.
“It’s silly, the magical thinking of orphan boys”
If one line sums up the parental issues of this film, it’s this one from Lex Luthor. Between Lex, Clark, and Bruce, each of them has suffered the loss of parents and that loss and the relationship with the people they lost has shaped their life ever since.
Of the three, only Clark and Bruce still have parental figures in their lives, but both treat the relationships (with Clark’s mother and Alfred respectively) quite differently. In Bruce’s case there is also a clear issue of the death of one of the Robins and there is also a disturbing plot involving children for Lex as well.
I bet your parents taught you that you mean something; that you’re here for a reason. My parents taught me a different lesson, dying in a gutter for no reason at all.
They taught me that the world only makes sense if you force it to.
The very first scene that we see in this film is the origin of Batman’s need to fight for justice and the origin of part of the PTSD and survivor’s guilt that we see him struggling with throughout the film (in the extended cut we even see that he is taking some kind of medication, and problematically chasing it with alcohol). The murder of his parents and the last word’s of his father are obviously triggers for his own psychological trauma.
It’s also made clear in the film that sometime in the last 20 years that Bruce has faced the Joker as a villain and that face-off ended in the death of one of the Robins, who Bruce would have felt very paternal feelings for as well. After the death of his parents as a child and the death of a child (even an adult child) and the destruction of Metropolis, it is not odd to believe that Bruce is not exactly on his “A” game by the beginning of the film.
The death of his parents is the most obvious part of this story however, shown through the dream that he experiences of visiting his mother’s tomb (which carries it’s own religious symbolism that we have already discussed) and the discussion that he has with Alfred, his last remaining paternal figure, when he discusses the fact that he’s now “older than his father ever was” and his need to leave a legacy like his family’s.
The final connection to Bruce’s parental issues is the Martha/Martha connection in the film. Some people have criticized the “Martha” moment in the fight between Superman and Batman as being unrealistic, but it was shown time and time again throughout the movie that his mother and father were currently weighing on his mind and the moment that he hears the name Martha is a trigger that makes him pause long enough to let him get past his hatred and paranoia and recognize that Superman isn’t a monster or a god. It’s a humanizing moment that let’s Bruce see Clark as someone like himself, a person who is trying to help people just like Bruce started out trying to do before he lost hope.
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. – Martha Kent
While Bruce is in a very dark place where he is still in deep mourning and trauma over the death of his parents and he is actively pushing aside his only remaining parental figure in Alfred, we see Clark approaching his relationship with his parents in a very different way.
From Man of Steel we already knew what a huge influence Jonathan Kent had on Clark and his decisions, but in this movie we get to see the further influence of his mother on his life. When Clark is in crisis and doubting himself the first person he turns to for advice is his mother. He flies home to Kansas to ask her what he should do about the Senate hearing. We don’t know what exactly his mother’s words convinced him to say or do at that hearing, as Lex’s own machinations cut the hearing short and it’s the bombing that leads to a deeper look at the influence of his father.
All this time I’ve been living my life the way my father saw it. Righting wrongs for a ghost, thinking I’m here to do goo. Superman was never real, just the dream of a farmer from Kansas.
There’s that “magical thinking of orphan boys” again. Clark lost his father, but his father instilled a very strong moral code in him before he died and Clark had spent the entire time as Superman trying to live up to that code and, as he saw it, failing at doing so because he couldn’t save everyone (despite the fact that from our perspective it’s clear that Jonathan Kent never expected Clark to save everyone). It takes a ‘conversation’ with his father after the Capital building bombing for Clark to deal with the fact that no one, not even Superman, can save everyone.
We saved the farm. Your grandma baked me a cake, said I was a hero. Later that day we found out we blocked the water alright – we sent it upstream. The whole Lang farm washed away. While I ate my hero cake, their horses were drowning. I used to hear them wailing in my sleep.
That lesson allows him to return to Metropolis to return to the fight.
No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from daddy’s fist and
Unlike Clark and Bruce it’s clear that Lex never had a healthy relationship with a parental figure. His mother is never brought up even once, but Lex Luthor is the king of daddy issues in this film. There is rarely a scene that Lex is in where his father doesn’t make an appearance as a topic of discussion or a vague reference. He uses him as a justification for just about everything in every conversation from the Friends of the Metropolis Library party to talking to the Senators from the Superman hearings to his confrontation with Superman.
His relationship with his father is, as a result, the most obvious influence on Lex’s character (aside from the obvious issues of the influence that the future villain of the Justice League films is clearly having on him). Lex’s company, his Nietzschian philosophies of power, and his psychological health are all a result of the way he was raised. It’s clear that he was abused (or at least it’s clear he wants us to believe he was abused) by his father and his issues with Superman seems to revolve around his own hatred of anyone having power over him and the idea that Superman is seen as a symbol of good and a savior. Lex will stop at nothing to tear down that image, because, as he says…if god is all good he cannot be all powerful and if he’s all powerful then he cannot be all good.
That’s the belief system of someone that spent their childhood praying for someone to save them and those prayers not being answered by anyone other than themselves.
But back to Nietzsche, we do see one idea of his played out without critique…probably because of all the lines in Nietzsche body of work it is the line most likely to keep you away from the terrible philosophy of Nietzsche: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” Of course we get a much better rendition of this idea from Alfred, “That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men…cruel.” And again we see this feeling of powerless played out in three different ways through our three male leads the most obvious is through Bruce. He feels that his life has been a waste, dismissing Alfred’s rebuke of all the criminals he has fought saying that new ones just come in “like weeds.” Clearly this feeling is influenced not only by the devastation during the Battle of Metropolis but also from what is still the very raw death of Robin. In his feeling of powerlessness and the need to fight against those things that make him feel week he lashes out. First with more violence than we should be comfortable with from the Dark Knight. People complain about how many people are being killed, branded, and tortured by Batman, but what they fail to realize this is a symptom of how far Bruce has been falling. He feels that he can’t control the world around him and thus adopts more and more of violence around him to try and fight it. In fighting criminals he begins to act like a criminal, even going so far as to say “we’re criminals” to Alfred in justification of a new policy of branding. And in a desperate attempt to hold onto his humanity he lashes out against something he can see as distinctly inhuman. And thus it should come as no wonder that this spiral of hatred comes to an end when he sees that even the thing he sees as distinctly inhuman is human, and is more like him than anything else, down to their mother’s name.
The second case of fighting monsters turning someone into a monster is seen in a different way for Clark. The monster he is fighting, as shown in the news montage, is not supervillains, but the general cynicism of modern human society. We are a deeply distrustful society (unless someone is blatantly a fascist dictator, then we idiotically buy into their claim they’ll make things great again) and when we see a man who from all signs actually just trying to do good we can’t accept that power has not corrupted him (we forget the truth that it is not that power corrupts but that the corruptible are attracted power). And confronted over and over again with this cynism Clark begins to be infected by it, at this lowest point stating “All this time I’ve been living my life the way my father saw it. Righting wrongs for a ghost, thinking I’m here to do good. Superman was never real. Just the dream of a farmer from Kansas” and “no one stays good in this world.” But thankfully he does not give into it for too long, and even at the moment he has the most justification to give up entirely, he pleads against that cynicism, thinking that calling out to help his mother might affect even the man who is about to kill him.
Finally we come to Lex. Now a lot of criticism has been given to the fact that this isn’t the powerful businessman out for domination that modern generations grew up with for Lex Luthor (ignoring that Smallville gave us a whiny conspiracy theorist and Hackman and Spacey gave us a shady and failed real-estate developer who has slightly less genocidal tendencies than some other New York real-estate moguls). Certainly Lex did not start off as a good person; an abused child who seems to be out to prove he is better than his father. A pathetic thinker whose disappointment in God led him to be a rabid atheist and in turn see his own petty ego above God, again having to prove he is better. So he is out to correct what he see as the sin of someone being better than him and damn the planet if it gets in the way of him proving no one is better than him. This motivation would seem cartoonish, but anyone who has ever met a rabid atheist knows it’s pretty much a perfect example only this time with the means to carry about their petty behavior. In Neitzche’s words:
“Who can attain to anything great if he does not feel in himself the force and will to inflict great pain? The ability to suffer is a small matter: in that line, weak women and even slaves often attain masterliness. But not to perish from internal distress and doubt when one inflicts great suffering and hears the cry of it — that is great, that belongs to greatness.”
If that isn’t Lex in this film to a T nothing is.
The film also deals both head on with the Nietzchian view of politics that might makes right and its equally wrong opposite of vox populi vox dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God). “The world only makes sense if you force it to.” versus “In a democracy good is a conversation not a unilateral decision.” The idea that power can be innocent is a lie versus the idea that both extremes are equally wrong because both see right as something that is dependent on people. It is not. Right, good, true, and just are eternal concepts that don’t change based on time and place. Superman is a force for good–as Lois says “this means something”– because while he stands for good it is not good because he is the powerful force (in the path of Luthor and temporarily Batman), and it is not good because he has the sanction of the public (the path of the Senator and Perry White’s cynicism), but because it is good. And that good is not conditional. The symbol of hope is not just a symbol of hope on Krypton, it is a symbol of hope everywhere, because it is not just “on my world. My world is dead” it is “This is my world” and by extension that world has no boundaries. And the symbol of the House of El, the symbol of hope, does mean something. This “problem of absolute virtue. The problem of you” as Lex puts it is not a problem, it is never easy as Martha Kent tells her son over the phone, but absolute virtue does exists whether individuals grasp it or not, right is right and it is not conditional upon force or public polling. Which is why in the end Lex’s monument of his deformed child and the monument of public opinion both have been destroyed (yes there was a symbolic meaning to blowing up Congress, because the Congress in this film which placed its power on the fickle will of the people and not on eternal law and rights is doomed to perish) but upon a moument so pervasive and apparent that you only have to look around if you seek it. Good is not a conversation and it is not force (just look at the conversations of the Council of Krypton or Zod’s force both dooming Krypton). Good as an enternal truth would mean that the ancient Kryptonian deformity is never created, when good is a conversation all you have to do is say “And where is the Council of Krypton” and you can now easily make a “descretion without name.” The Good and True are constants whether we reach them or not, they are not conversations and they are not mere shows of force.
Clark: When the Planet was founded it stood for something!
Perry: And so could you if it was 1938. But it’s not 1938. The WPA ain’t hiring, apples don’t cost a nickel. Not in here, not out there. You drop this thing.
Now for those of you who don’t know, the year here is actually fairly significant. Several important things happened in 1983. Hitler was Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year”, the stirrings of a second world war were beginning, and here in America the very first Superman comic was published.
In previous versions of Superman, Clark’s job at The Daily Planet was used more as a comedic device (oh where did Clark go? Oh never mind, there’s Superman!) but in Dawn of Justice quite a bit of time was spent talking about the responsibility of journalism.
In this universe the world of journalism is incredibly cynical and overly cliche, proven by Perry White’s comment that “the American conscience died with Robert, Martin, and John.” For Clark that is simply not good enough, he confronts Perry multiple times with the belief that as journalists they have a duty to tell the important stories and to make a call on what matters and what doesn’t.
Chief, when you assign stories, you’re making a choice about who matters and who doesn’t.
Clark has a very strong sense of right and wrong in this situation. He sees the position of the press as one that should be used to help those who can’t help themselves. He wants to be a hero in every aspect of his life and that means that, for him, journalism isn’t just about selling papers. It’s about taking a stand for what is right.
This is a mirror of the modern 24/7 news cycle that consistently cares more about ratings and sucking up to those in power than it does about what really matters in the world. Big news stories get hours and hours of pointless press coverage, rehashing the same bits of ‘news’ over and over again in various ways (as shown by Clark’s ability to find numerous stories on Batman that were buried rather than front page news) rather than using the media’s position to inform people about the important stories. The stories that Perry White wants Clark’s attention on are the pointless filler fluff about socialites and sports figures that he knows will sell copies of his newspaper, even if it’s at the cost of telling the truth.
And from that political aspect we get the call for interventionism. There is in Superman a feeling that he should pull back, that he is only making things worse. “While I ate my hero cake, their horses were drowning” and this is best shown in Diana Prince when she said “Men made a world where standing together is impossible.” The idea that you can’t fix things and even if you try you just make them worse. But this is the vision of a world without hope, and that is one Nietzsche would praise as he said “In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments.” But the final word is not that of this vision of hopelessness, but “Men are still good. We fight, we kill, we betray one another–but we can rebuild. We can do better. We will. We have to.” Be it Superman and Wonder Woman having to come back from their self imposed exiles, Bruce realizing that he has more to do than just kill a false god, Lois being the cause of Lex’s complete downfall (shown especially in the extended cut), over and over again it is shown that the only option is to rebuild, to do better.
Giving up, the temptation to just throw in the towel and say “I’ve given enough, I can’t do this anymore”. Every hero battles that at some point and in Dawn of Justice it is a struggle that all three heroes face and have to overcome in their own way.
“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men…cruel.”
For Bruce Wayne his wish to give up is a product of the PTSD and survivor’s guilt that we talked about in the section about parental influence. By the time this movie starts he’s been beaten down by twenty year’s of the fight in Gotham. He’s gone from pretending to be the drunken playboy to actually medicating himself, bringing home women, and drinking the wine cellar dry.
He’s lost his faith in humanity and he believes he has nothing more to give except the legacy of destroying Superman, who he believes is a legitimate danger to mankind thanks to Lex Luthor’s careful influencing of the public image of Superman. Bruce has become a much darker, crueler version of himself that let’s fear rule him and that fear makes him an easy mark for Luthor’s manipulations. Fear blinds him and robs him of hope for the future, so that he simply feels like giving up is the only option.
Alfred: You know you can’t win this. It’s suicide.
Bruce: I’m older now than my father ever was. This may be the only thing I do that matters.
A: Twenty years of fighting criminals amounts to nothing?
B: Criminals are like weeds, Alfred; pull one up, another grows in its place. This is about the future of the world. This is my legacy.
The moment that Bruce overcomes this temptation to give up completely is two fold. His intent to kill Superman is destroyed by the connection that he makes with Clark, but it’s Clark’s death that really brings him back to the fight. This is made clear in the difference between Bruce in the line “Twenty years in Gotham, Alfred; we’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?” and his line at the end of the movie “Man is still good. We break things, tear them down, but we can rebuild. We can be better, we have to be.”
Bruce overcomes his fear and sense of futility and finds hope and belief in mankind once again.
Lois Lane: That farmer’s dream is all some people have. It’s all that gives them hope. [touches the Superman symbol] This means something.
Superman: It did on my world. My world doesn’t exist anymore.
In Man of Steel Jor-El tells Clark “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
The Clark Kent of that movie is full of hope. He has doubts about who he is and what his place in the world is going to be, but ultimately he prevails and becomes a symbol for the world, but 18 months and one evil genius with unlimited resources later and the fears that Jonathan Kent expressed in the first movie (“My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me… out of fear”) are beginning to come to come true and despite all the people he’s helped and all the good he’s done, he’s instead being judged on only the mistakes he’s made (and the false reports that Lex has orchestrated) in his short time as a superhero.
Eventually even he begins to believe the criticisms. That he’s not good enough, that Superman is a fiction, and after the explosion in the capitol building that belief is strong enough that he actually does give up. He leaves Metropolis, he abandons his job and his life as Clark Kent, and disappears into the wilderness to escape from the judgment and hatred he’s facing.
When he has the conversation with his father in the mountains that is the first part of him finding hope again. The second moment is the moment he tells Lois “this is my world, you are my world” in a direct reference to the conversation with his father telling him that Martha was the person who “gave me faith that there is good in this world. She was my world.” Lois gives Clark hope and faith in the world, even as the world has been rejecting him. He’s also found allies in Batman and Wonder Woman during the battle with Doomsday and even though his attack on Doomsday ends in his death, he entered that fight without the feeling of despair that he spent the movie battling.
A hundred years ago I walked away from mankind; from a century of horrors… Men made a world where standing together is impossible.
Until the Wonder Woman movie comes out there will be significant gaps in our knowledge about Wonder Woman’s backstory, but there’s quite a bit that we can tell from the character development that she goes through in this story arc.
Diana Prince is a completely self-serving character at her first appearance in this film. She is only after Luthor because of the information he has about her. She returns the drive to Bruce after finding it’s not useful to her and her first inclination when faced with Bruce finding out part of who she is, is to run despite the fact that all hell is breaking loose in Metropolis. She is afraid and wants to retain her freedom by escaping anyone who knows too much about her.
We don’t get to see why she gave up, we just know that she did and it happened a long time ago. She has been living her life solely for herself, but in that moment as she boards the plane to get the hell out of dodge you see a change. She is watching the news coverage of the Doomsday she is distressed and at some point she makes the decision to join the fight.
Now I would argue that we never actually see Wonder Woman regain her hope or faith in humanity in this film. She does seem to regain her enjoyment of fighting, that much is obvious to anyone watching her facial expressions during the fight against Doomsday. But I would argue that she’s open to regaining that hope and because of that she’s willing to work with Bruce in order to do so.
“When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexually.”
And it goes without saying that Nietzsche’s abhorent view of women is not just destroyed by not only Diana, but by the fact that Lois is the one who saves Clark. Multiple times. She uncovers the all of Lex’s plots. She saves him from Bruce’s madness. She is the only person without superpowers or gadgets running toward the fight.
Every trait of Nietzsche that we see in Lex Luthor and in society in this film we fail to see in Superman, and we see this battle between real virtue and ethical nihilism raging in Batman and Wonder Woman. Nietzsche condemned compassion and pity, which we see none of in Lex from the fact that he is clearly linked to criminals in the sex and slave trade, to the fact he willfully sent his assistant in to die. But in turn in we see the willingness to work together, to care about others, to help make the world a better place, in short, to hope in our heroes. This movie is point for point a complete condemnation of Nietzsche as Man of Steel was a condemnation of Plato’s Republic. I can only hope the following Justice League movies build on Aristotle and Aquinas as much as they have torn down terrible philosophers like Nietzsche and Plato.
And now to the critics:
There are too many unanswered questions!
Yes there are loose threads (most of them cleared up in the extended edition), a lot of them, some of the more intelligent ones people aren’t asking…like how did Wayne Manor get burned to the ground? Who was the woman Bruce was sleeping with (he may have played a playboy, but he didn’t usually actually take them back to his bed)? So many questions about Diana. Was Lex always crazy or was this specifically influenced by Darkseid? When did Lex first communicate with Darkseid (because there seems to be some hints that he knew of him before Lex got into the Kryptonian ship)? But guess what, we know that we’re getting answers to a lot of this. We know that we’re getting a whole universe. And part of the problem is that people are viewing these as standalone films, they’re a single story told over many films. Yes if the whole doesn’t answer key questions then we can certainly have issues with the problems…but no one treated Sauron still being around at the end of The Two Towers or the question of Rey’s past at the end of The Force Awakens as flaws of the films, why? because we knew we were getting more, yet somehow the same consistency is not give to the Dawn of Justice.
This was another joyless movie.
Anyone who makes this comment really says more about the kind of movie viewer they are than the quality of Dawn of Justice. It says what they want is the mindless tripe of low brow entertainment, so well defined by Marvel, where quips and humor matter more than character development. I can only imagine some jackass telling Homer that there was no joy in his recounting of Priam asking for the body of Hector. IT’S A SERIOUS FILM, it’s not supposed to be mindless entertainment. William Faulkner once said of bad writers, “He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.” Everyone who complains about it being “joyless” is saying all they want are victories without hope and defeat without anything of value being lost…for them to have something leave a scar on their mind or soul…they just want schwarma and deus ex machinas that resolve every issue without worry.
That said…how on earth could you now laugh at all of Alfred’s snark—“Not for lack of trying” “Not that they’ll be a next generation of Waynes” “That’ll be the day, Alfred,” the dry wit of “I thought she was with you,” and the joy of Diana’s first appearance as Wonder Woman (if your heart didn’t leap with joy at that point there is no hope for you).
But guess what, not everything good is necessarily joyful. Tragedy has it’s own catharsis, usually far more powerful than the catharsis of the ephemeral and happy. We’ll take the deeper works that Snyder and Nolan are giving us.
It jumped around too much.
Yes it did jump around a lot without using establishing shots or bog us down with endless exposition or stupid text at the bottom telling us the umpteenth time that we were at The Daily Planet. Even the extended edition still had these jumps even though it did elaborate more on Lex’s methods and machinations.
This movie showed us some goddamn respect as an audience and choose to not have to hold our hand through every moment.
Of course, regrettably, this may have been assuming too much as some of the complaints I’ve heard get even more stupid…like “You’d never have a thriving city like Metropolis right next to a run down dump like Gotham, they’d have to be separated by hundreds of miles” …yeah you’d never have a thriving city like New York right next to the shit hole like say, Newark…oh wait. Or the complaint “Why was he just floating over the flood victims and not saving them” maybe because going super sonic to carry them all to dry land one at a time might sound great if you want them all to be dead by the time they get there from the pressure…maybe to save them all it might take just a second to survey the situation and go “how am going to get them all out here?”…Perhaps the complaint “where did Batman get the armor suit?” yeah the obvious answer “he built it” doesn’t count if you don’t see it on film…because apparently we needed to see ANOTHER Iron Man suit built on screen. We could go on, but the fact of the matter is that 99.9% of the complaints in this vein could be answered by even a second of reflection, and what it really is that people are complaining about not being treated like brain dead idiots.
*Mostly from people who like plot lines that you could understand on a bottle of NyQuil and prefer to their characters to be so static and inhuman that any show of depth or actual growth result in childish cries of “they don’t understand the character.”
**Can we take a moment to talk about Cavill’s stellar ability to convey huge amount of information and emotion with just a facial expression. The scene in Africa, talking to Martha, Congress burning, looking down on Lex, the moment before he tells Lois he loves her, the last moments of the battle with Doomsday. Superman had relatively few lines, but conveyed so much more than most actors can with long speeches.