“To place any other concern higher than justice is to devaluate your moral currency and defraud the good in favor of the evil, since only the good can lose by a default of justice and only the evil can profit.”
-John Galt, Atlas Shrugged
At the beginning of Man of Steel, Clark Kent was a nobody, wandering the Earth due to his self-enforced Prime Directive of non-involvement with the human race. At the end, he was Superman, soaring above after having saved those same humans he had vowed to avoid. That transition is insane, even for a superhuman. Kent had to be put through the ringer physically and psychologically, forced to kill to choose between his species and ours. Through the release of his anguished scream following the snapping of Zod’s neck he finally understood what it took to be a hero.
For humanity, it will be even harder to understand that role–and our responsibility to it. The destructive climatic battle between Superman and Zod doesn’t help us much either.
The opening moments to the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer show the world grappling with this issue. Leading a committee hearing, a Senator says:
“Today is a day for truth. The world needs to know what happened, needs to know what he stands for. That kind of power is very dangerous.”
“Today” is the movie, and we will be learning what Superman stands for. How? Through a confrontation with Batman. The Senator’s words are followed by imagery of Bruce Wayne witnessing the destruction first hand, rage swelling within him. The Senator than makes her final declaration, “Let the record show that this committee holds [Superman] responsible.”
…but didn’t she just say they don’t know what happened yet? Unfortunately, she also mentioned how dangerous Superman’s powers are, showing where her, and Wayne’s, focus really lies. It’s a point that Wayne’s Butler Alfred drives home as he tells his master, “That’s how it starts–the fever, the rage that turns good men cruel.”
“It” is the movie, and now the conflict that drives the superhero confrontation is clear. In this DC Cinematic Universe, up until Man of Steel, Batman was the greatest hero, and he has no powers beyond his intellect, athleticism, and wealth. While those traits put him a step above most other people, he is still only human. Superman, on the other hand, is an alien–a point that is driven home by visuals that alternately show him being protested and surrounded by Hispanics–and a greatly powerful one at that. Wayne, Batman, will react as people typically do when confronted with greatness, especially the controversial kind. As he says himself:
“He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and we have to destroy him.”
There’s much more at stake in this story than Batman trying to kill Superman though. In any good story, especially a Romantic one, the question is not what, but why. Why is Wayne’s response to being confronted with controversial greatness to want to destroy it? The immediate explanation that jumps to mind may seem to be the right one: he suffered at the hands of Superman. The only problem with that answer is, he didn’t. Basic observation and logic tells us that Zod was responsible for the suffering and Superman saved the world by stopping him. I know it. This guy knows it. And Alfred knows it when tells Wayne, “he is not our enemy.”
Who is their enemy? They don’t know, which is why Wayne also doesn’t know that Superman is a hero. And it’s why Superman doesn’t know if he wants to remain the hero. Why should he when his saving people made them want to destroy him? His mother explicates his dilemma in the middle of the trailer:
“People hate what they don’t understand. 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.”
The key word here is “understand.” What integrates the differing internal conflicts between Batman and Superman is their lack of understanding. Neither truly understands what good is. Batman thinks he is doing good by attempting to kill Superman, but is attacking the world’s savior. Superman thought he was doing good by stopping Zod, but is being attacked by the world for it. This shared confusion is, ironically, what causes them to come to blows.
Without knowledge of what is good and bad, it is impossible to fight for what’s right. Or, in other words, for to be justice. If there’s no what to know what the right choice is, how do you choose? You don’t. Or you make it blindly, an action which very often results in harming the good, as Batman and the world are doing in this movie. It’s the opposite of justice, and, as the quote I started this article with points out, a lack of justice can only help evil.
Batman v Superman is subtitled Dawn of Justice because it is the literal beginning of justice in the DC Cinematic Universe. Throughout this movie, each superhero will learn what is good about the other and themselves, giving them a clearer picture of what good is overall. They will also likely be confronted with a new threat that shows them what true evil looks like. Only once they go through this process can they truly know what they stand for and fight evil. Only then they can form the Justice League.
Zack Snyder is doing everything he can to build a true story-based franchise. Should you go see it? Only you can make that decision. But I will tell you the following.
I’m sure Snyder will do it justice.