“Ah. ‘Cause that’s what God is. Horus. Apollo. Jehovah. Kal-El. Clark Joseph Kent. See, what we call God depends upon our tribe, Clark Jo, because God is tribal. God takes sides. No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from Daddy’s fist and abominations. Mm-mm. I’ve figured it out way back, if God is all powerful, He cannot be all good. And if He’s all good then He cannot be all powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see the fraud you are. With their eyes. The blood on your hands.”
–Lex Luthor, “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice”
There are some movies that try to hide their metatheories deep within a standard sci-fi/superhero plot to the point where most people would never pick up on them.
And then there is the 2016 movie Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
Directed by Watchmen’s Zack Snyder, this film—the second of the Warner Bros. new DCU extended universe after the Christopher Nolan “Batman” trilogy—features characters delivering long, ponderous speeches about barely disguised themes such as Jesus, Lucifer, the Apocalypse (I mean…literally), Alien Disclosure, 9/11, and the Illuminati-like “hidden hand” who manipulates things behind the scenes in order to enslave humanity.
You know, something for the kids and Happy Meals.
Had I actually watched Batman v Superman before the American 2016 presidential election, I would have absolutely have told you that Donald Trump was going to win. As bashed by the critics this film was—and not without reason—it was the very Rosetta Stone of our current situation.
Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne—complete with continual Trump-scowl—is the beefy Billionaire As Heroic Patriarch, a highly paranoid and hair-trigger-tempered individual who deeply hates aliens (immigrants, essentially) and believes that only force can maintain peace.
When we first see Wayne, he’s facing the blatantly 9/11-resonating attack on Metropolis. I mean, the attack is filmed with the same visuals as footage of 9/11—including a shot of Superman flying into a building like a hijacked airplane as he fights Zod. It was amazing to me that 15 years after the original incident movies still replay the trauma.
Right after the WTC attack, Hollywood studiously avoided any imagery that would bring it to mind; existing films having those scenes edited out or reshot. But as the years moved on—and as American troops started to enter Afghanistan and Iraq—many movies, especially sci-fi/superhero flicks, started to incorporate the carnage as plot centerpieces. Movies like The Dark Knight (2008) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) even used the “broken tower/rubble” imagery within their very posters. (Almost every poster for Star Trek Into Darkness features some variation of 9/11 trauma)
And as the years went on even further, some of these films began to flirt with 9/11 Truther theories—the core idea that the tragedy was secretly masterminded by some Illuminati-like “hidden hand” for various nefarious reasons. You see this clearly in 2013’s Iron Man 3—using a current conspiracy theory at the time, that Osama Bin Laden was really an actor hired to cover up the “real” 9/11 conspirators.
In fact, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, through its Hydra storyline, resonates this idea as well—that we, the public, are being fooled as to who the “real” villains are. And that said villains might be closer to us than we think; not “out there,” in terms of foreign terrorists, but people within the government and Corporate America.
Even Trump himself co-opted this “9/11 trutherism”—some might say, to his great advantage.
The plot of Snyder’s Watchmen (2009) hinges on the fact that a “false flag” terrorist attack that killed a tremendous amount of people was the result of a conspiracy carried out by the foppish, incredibly rich and technologically advanced superhero Ozymandias.
Snyder basically transplanted a lot of those same ideas into Batman v Superman, with Lex Luthor playing the part of Ozymandias. Both Ozymandias and Luthor rationalize the plot by stating they were seeking to create a “greater” peace out of the death and rubble.
Ozymandias and Luthor are also part of a larger “Foppish Rich Tech Magnate” trope that one could almost say began with Jim Carrey playing Edward Nygma in 2005’s Batman Forever. Indeed, both in look and acting style, actor Jesse Eisenberg seems to be playing a very similar character as Nygma. And of course, Eisenberg is perhaps most famous for playing Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network—indeed, watching him in Batman v Superman, I subliminally “recognize” him far more as Zuckerberg than comic book character Luthor.
Now, compare Luthor and Nygma to the original Kilian Aldrich (before his “makeover”) in Iron Man 3. The exact same look, the same “beta techie male” twitchy performance. Coincidence? No. This is an archetype, one of our powerful modern archetypes that might have some roots in the idea of the Mad Scientist, Prometheus, Lucifer…the figure who brings the New Knowledge to the masses without giving a shit what “God” or “Universal Law” thinks…the figure that, almost Hermetically, believes that Knowledge makes him “God.”
As Luthor says: “And now God bends to my will.” Classic Dr. Frankenstein. Classic Hermetic philosophy (albeit, sans the directive that this new self-made “god” must devote their lives to the benefit of all mankind…it’s funny how many people who embrace this archetype forget that part).
All of these young men feel alienated/abused/ignored/misunderstood by society…gain power…and then set off conspiracies that impact countless lives under the guise of a “Ted Talky” Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg-like whiz-kid.
But Bruce Wayne, being a clear reactionary right-wing analogue, doesn’t see that at first, preferring to place all the blame on “immigrant” Superman. As he says to Alfred, trying to justify his vendetta against the alien, “that son of a bitch brought the war to us.”
It doesn’t matter that the carnage in Metropolis was partially caused by Superman only in trying to defend it from fellow alien/immigrant Zod. The logic goes, Zod would not have been in Metropolis if it wasn’t for Superman. Superman is guilty by association. Similarly, many people blame all immigrants of a certain nationality for terrorism in their city or country. It doesn’t matter if the majority of these immigrants didn’t commit the act…the logic goes, if all of them were denied entry to the country, there would be no terrorism.
And yet in Batman v Superman, who was really responsible for the terrorism in Africa and Washington D.C.? Lex Luthor, trying to place the blame on Superman, fanning the “anti-alien” (read: xenophobic, anti-immigrant) sentiment already in the country.
Lex Luthor, who uses a Russian mercenary as a go-between to achieve his aims. Luthor, who manipulates a disaffected and psychologically unstable victim of the battle in Metropolis to become first a media shill to humiliate Superman and then a suicide bomber. Luthor, who resurrects a dead Zod—mixing his blood with his DNA—in order to create a literal “Doomsday.”
Now, who is Superman/Clark Kent supposed to represent in this film, other than immigrants? Well, journalist Kent, it turns out, is deeply concerned about issues of the poor and underprivileged—to the point where his own editor, Perry White, scolds him on it. So you could say Superman is sort of a…”social justice warrior.”
So you see what this film is all about now, yes?
It’s the very same thing that Captain America: Civil War, which came out the very same year, was about—that the “left” and the “right” of the ideological spectrum, the liberals and conservatives, are being set against each other by a shadowy Third Side that is using the continuing conflict as a way to maintain power.
It is to Luthor’s advantage that Batman fight Superman, the same way it was to Hydra’s advantage that Iron Man fight Captain America…the same way it was to Aldrich’s advantage that everybody think that the Ben Kingsley “Mandarin” was the true villain in Iron Man 3.
By the time Batman realizes he’s been played (and this dude’s first reaction upon meeting Superman in person was to try to run him over in the Batmobile), it’s too late…Superman is apparently dead, having sacrificed his life to kill Doomsday with a kryptonite-tipped spear (a very Jesus “Spear of Destiny” symbol in a very Jesus-resonating movie).
A newly “woke” Bruce Wayne ends the film with the following exchange with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman:
Bruce Wayne: “I’ve failed him… in life. I won’t fail him in death. Help me find the others like you.”
Diana Prince: “Perhaps they don’t want to be found.”
Bruce Wayne: “They will. And they’ll fight. We have to stand together.”
Diana Prince: “A hundred years ago I walked away from mankind, from a century of horrors. Man made a world where standing together is impossible.”
Bruce Wayne: “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.”
[scene of funeral ceremony and graffiti: IF YOU SEEK HIS MONUMENT LOOK AROUND YOU]
Diana Prince: “The others like me. Why did you say they’ll have to fight?”
Bruce Wayne: “Just a feeling.”
But Wayne, we’ve just established, is a right wing analogue—positively “Trumpian” in certain aspects. Given the fact that Trump has won the election…shouldn’t the Waynes of the world be in good shape? The “right” has won. Why is there still a “fight?”
It’s because it’s not really about right vs. left, Batman v Superman. The “right” has not really “won.” Trump is a figurehead being cynically used to re-enforce left vs. right strife in order to keep people distracted and divided and perpetually fighting with each other. By the time he’s gone, America—and indeed the world—will be hip-deep in a new technological revolution that will not only change the way we live, but will most likely make a great deal of workers obsolete and unemployed. A world run by the Luthors and Nygmas and Aldriches and Ozymandiases.
This is not an esoteric, “buried” theme in Batman v Superman and Civil War. And it’s no coincidence that both movies came out in the same year, U.S. election year.
And to subliminally drive this theme home, Batman V Superman features cameos by tons of real-life journalists and other public figures playing themselves. This all seeps into our subconscious, mixing up movie and non-movie worlds. You say to yourself…”I remember Neil deGrasse Tyson had said this thing about Superman…but was it the movie Neil or the real Neil…it certainly sounded like something he would say…” “I remember when Anderson Cooper reported that thing about that terrorist attack…was it the movie attack or, real?…”
There is so much more I could write about this film…I haven’t even touched the metahuman/evolution angle…but I guess I’d be writing a whole book then. This should do for now.