“Do you want to know the oldest lie in America, Senator? It’s that power can be innocent.”
With one statement, Lex Luthor calls into question decades of actions and supposed trustworthiness of a super heroes. Can we really trust those in power? Should we? And if we can’t – what can we trust?
Many critics decided early on that “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” would fall flat on its face. Instead, it looks like many of them were given the old one-two when the box office statistics arrived after opening weekend (“The film had the biggest worldwide opening for a superhero film, the second biggest for Warner Bros. and the fourth biggest of all-time” as listed on Wikipedia). I believe there’s more to this than Zack Snyder’s directing, Wonder Woman’s appearance, or the script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. The reason so many of us are flocking to see our favorite caped crusaders is that this story has taken our pulse, and exposed a raw nerve.
“Dawn of Justice” arrives in the midst of a political circus, where power has become synonymous with being able to do and say whatever one wants, without repercussion. It arrives as younger generations struggles to find a foothold, both in immaterial spheres (spiritually, emotionally) and material spheres (economically, politically).
Our fears play out across the screen, flickering between our distrust of authority, our worries about the economic crises and the loss of human life so prevalent in the news, and the belief that we may, in fact, be better off alone.
It’s interesting to note that Superman (a lawful good character) and Batman (a chaotic good character) represent ideals of the varying beliefs America has held at times regarding power, authority, and presence. Superman seems to represent the ideal of “Protection beyond borders” and the belief that as a superpower, America is responsible to help other countries that cannot help themselves. Batman, on the other hand, seems to represent the belief of isolationism – preferring, instead, to protect from the inside.
These two come to a head, and what follows in the film’s storyline is an exploration about how to strike a balance between the two. It’s a difficult balance, to be sure, but I think the film shows that it is the only way to establish and maintain healthy boundaries and relationships, whether with individuals or groups.
The thing is – can we trust either of them to know how to balance these needs out? Superman may want to save the world, but can he put the needs of the many over the needs of the few? What if his mother or his girlfriend need him? Who will he choose: Those he loves, or the public he doesn’t know?
Batman, on the other hand, may want to eradicate evil from Gotham, but can he do so without creating more havoc? Are his methods sound or is he creating more monsters as he goes along (as The Joker has often stated)?
Even if Batman and Superman make the difficult choices in a way that pleases the majority, have they really made the right choices? How can we know for sure?
This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s why some people prefer Superman and some prefer the Bat. What and who do you value? How does that play out in your life?
It’s the crux of the entire movie. What is justice, and who gets to define it?
The thing about justice is: there’s no perfect solution. None of us are capable of being perfectly just, honest, or innocent. We’ve grown up in an imperfect world. We see this in the lives of Superman, Batman, and Lex Luthor (played to a chilling tee by Jesse Eisenberg) as their childhood experiences return to haunt them.
We see Superman grapple with his father’s death, Batman as he continues to mourn the loss of his parents, particularly his mother, and Lex as he casually mentions the type of household he grew up in – far from ideal. They’ve all become who they are because of their experiences. The “magical thinking of orphan boys,” as Luthor says.
To remain ignorant of one’s own imperfections is to invite an inflated sense of self-righteousness, which veers sharply and quickly from superhero territory to supervillain. We can make mistakes and still be good. As long as we are willing to look honestly at ourselves and admit that we cannot be the answer to all of humanity’s problems. Once we know better, we must do better.
We are responsible for our actions, whether they are the weight of a butterfly’s wing or an atom bomb. Once we reach adulthood, we are responsible to educate ourselves and get the help we did not receive as children. Once again, as the villain points out, “Ignorance is not the same as innocence.”
The age of innocence is over. It is time for us to take up the reins and be the best version of ourselves possible. We must not let the darkness win. We must rise above, individually and as a group. We must hold onto our own power and give power only to those who will use it wisely.