Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opened this past weekend to a record-breaking box office despite poor critical reception, and though the critics hated it, I would wholly recommend it — not just for its story but the message behind it.
The core of the film is that following the events of Man of Steel, the public opinion of Superman is divided at best, with some people revering him like a god and others trying to demonize him. For Batman, this naturally leads to conflict with the last son of Krypton, as Gotham’s protector sees him as little more than an alien threat to humanity and thereby a safety concern.
As someone who’s already discussed the allegorically divine nature of both Batman and Superman (particularly the Superman portrayed in this film continuity), I thought for sure I would have some difficulty picking out a topic in this movie that I hadn’t touched upon with these characters. But Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is positively loaded with theological musings, from Christ imagery to discussions of the nature of God’s power and His relationship to humanity — in fact, the trouble came not from finding something to discuss, but in narrowing it down to just one!
That said, there was a line toward the middle of the film that really resonated with me, and I believe it cuts to the core of the film. Though it’s applied to Superman specifically, it encapsulates the journey of both titular heroes: “Maybe he’s not some sort of devil or Jesus, but just a guy trying to do the right thing.” It’s an excellent dissection of both characters in one fell swoop, and yet it’s stated as a passing line by a TV reporter. It reminds us that at the heart of this movie are simply two guys whose greatest aspiration is not to become gods among men, but rather just do what’s right.
It’s a simple message that powers each of these characters in their own way (and in this Batman’s case, an unfortunately brutal way for most of the film), and that message can serve as inspiration for each of us as well. No matter what is thrown at them, no matter what the cost, these heroes do not stop trying to do what’s right. Do they succeed? Not always– in fact, for most of the movie Superman faces droves of detractors trying to thwart his powers and claim he’s a villain. He nearly gives up several times throughout the film, at one point telling Lois Lane that even though the symbol he wears stands for hope among his Kryptonian people, those people are gone forever, and the ones he protects now seem to be hopeless. Yet even in the face of a public that doesn’t trust him, a fierce nemesis like Lex Luthor undercutting him at every turn, and the Dark Knight himself ready to fight, Superman still stands up for what’s right.
Ultimately, this is the most human thing about him — in his heart, he’s just a guy trying to do the right thing. The beauty, of course, is that it doesn’t take superhuman powers or a cape and tights to do — it’s a challenge that each of us can take on every day.
At the end of the film, we see that the Superman monument displayed in the movie’s early trailers has been destroyed. In its ruins is graffiti that simply states: “If you seek his monument, look around you.” Each of us has the power to be our own sort of Superman in everyday life, and all it takes is for us to do our best to do what’s right.