Baker Academic

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Theodicy in Batman v Superman

I do not know how an all-good and all-powerful God can exist if it simultaneously true that Midnight Special is not showing anywhere in Dayton, OH. I don't ask for much. I just want the Giants to win the World Series every other year and for a good movie every so often. So in my resignation to wallow in the chaotic fallenness of worldly depravity, I settled for Batman v Superman. I am a man of a particular age, you see, and I have developed high tolerance for bad sci-fi and comic-bookish movies. To be honest, I am sometimes glad to see really poor reviews of such films so that my expectations are sufficiently low. Batman v Superman, however, was not helped by the expectations game. It was reported to be bad and it was worse.

**Spoiler alert: this review will reveal that the movie is an abomination**

It is not uncommon for superhero movies to play with a God/messiah motif or theme. Sometimes it is understated, like Superman or Spider-Man in a cruciform pose. Sometimes it is an echo. E.g. Dr. X saying, “It’s the greatest gift of all, to bear their pain without breaking.” Sometimes these narratives get more overt with a religiously motivated plot line (e.g. the train wreck that is Netflix's Daredevil). Batman v Superman might be the most overt of recent efforts to marry religion to a comic book narrative.

In short, Superman's legacy is in jeopardy because his super-duper powers strike many as god-like. So, of course, Superman becomes divisive in a God-is-dead culture. Among the many references to Sup's messianic status, the most overt is Lex Luthor's motivation to destroy him. Just before the big showdown, LL explains, “At a young age I learned that if God is all good he couldn’t be all--powerful and if God is all--powerful then he couldn’t be all good.”

There you have it. A veneer of sophistication meant to mask an otherwise dull movie. Perhaps with this nod to an old theological problem, the audience will overlook the simplistic portrait of good and evil, the incoherent motives of the key characters, the inability of the directors to cut scenes with any elegance, the clumsy political subplot, or the failure to render any of the characters relatable. On this last point, there is no reason for the audience to care about about the outcomes of any person in the film. The theodicy theme functioned as chocolate sprinkles atop a steaming pile of Chet from Weird Science.

I could write more. It might be interesting to explore the use of theodicy to humanize an antagonist (something this film fails to do) or to complicate a protagonist (again, failure). But wouldn't we all be happier if we could just convince our local theaters to play Midnight Special? I'm looking at you Neon.


  1. Why don't you like Netflix' Daredevil?

  2. From Dr. G:

    The timing is interesting though. It came out on Easter weekend. And in the contest between these two superheroes, Jesus, the third superhero, lost. First, the chronological context implicitly compared him to myths; superheros, all. And then in the contest? He lost.

    Jesus wasn't in this anti-Easter film, except a dishonorable mention. Just enough to allude to him as a target. And as just another competitor, in the collapse of all superheroes.

    Even as finally, he lost: NONE of the Easter baskets in the local big box grocery had any religious material in or on them. Not even the word "Easter."

    Maybe the film was even deliberately bad? To denigrate all superheroes on Easter. And to initiate an anti-myth, on that date?

    Timing, social context,is everything. It says a lot of things the average director would not want to make clear.

    By the way? The way movies are placed, timed these days? It looks like Hollywood is making a move on the Easter slot. Since there's an apparent opening.

    The content of local Easter baskets here so far, seemed to feature soccer balls. Maybe next year it will be ...dunno. Twighlight of the Idols? A new holiday. "No Gods, No Heroes At All Day?"

    A new beginning,for the spring.

    I do movie scenarios. I'm tempted to make a move on this new slot myself. But anyone here should feel free to make their own suggestions. Its a VERY promising new slot: Spring itself. As mixed disappointment, fllen heroes; but also hope.

    April is the cruelest month. But the most hopeful too.

    Anyone else want to make a move on ...Spring itself? Propose the next Easter movie. A potentially big, BIG time slot.

  3. From Dr. G:

    I'd feel bad for Jesus on this. If it wasn't for the extremely high probability that his entire resurrection was essentially a presumptuous and ultimately destructive colonization of the earlier and far more attractive idea. That life is reborn in the spring.

    In the spring, superficially dead roots and seeds, buried underground or in Hades, suddenly generate the same plant again. Rising to the surface of the earth. Alive once more.

    Consistent with all this, they tell me that the last scene in the movie is the grave of superman. Who is apparently dead, underground. But then? The surface of the ground begins to ... tremble....

    That's consistent with resurrection. But also with the first shoots of spring. In time -lapse videos, the bare earth trembles. And cracks. And suddenly the plant ... re-emerges.

  4. Go Giants. Also, would it be possible to marry theodicy with comic books in a way that isn't merely tantalizing or overly heavy handed? Or is the medium immune to deep exploration of such issues, since it tends to be more comfortable with superficial signaling as a way to draw in viewers hungry for something substantive? Maybe Kubrick could have treated the dynamic nicely ...

    Maybe this movie, in aspiring to be a "grown-up" comic, as aspires to live as parable. Perhaps it could have taken a lesson from JC in delivery by framing it more deliberately as such to prepare viewers, and then to have gone deeper.