The Easter Story in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Like millions of others, I went to an opening day showing of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I took my 7-year-old son and my 11-year-old brother-in-law, and while this superhero movie was rather dark, rated PG-13, and as violent as any superhero movie I have seen, I also could not help but notice Messianic undertones as I watched the story unfold during this Good Friday opening. For starters, here is some background on the Superman character and his roots in the story of Jesus.
*I once preached a sermon on Samuel, and I explained the origins of the Superman character during that sermon which you can download or listen to by clicking here.
Here is a portion of the text from my sermon, which I preached a few months after the release of Man of Steel, in which I explain the Biblical origins or the Superman character…
Growing up I loved the old Superman movies. You know the ones starring Christopher Reeve. His 1st Superman movie came out in 1978, a few years before I was even born. Christopher Reeve made a great Superman, and watching him go up against Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor was fantastic.
The newest version of Superman is played by previously little-known actor Henry Cavill as the “Man of Steel.” Here is what I like about both the 1978 and 2013 versions of the Superman movies… they tell his BACKSTORY. In other words, these movies tell where Superman came from and what series of events led to him becoming the “Man of Steel,” the almost invincible superhero.
BUT both of these movies, as they tell the backstory of Superman, put emphasis on the parents of Superman, especially his father.
Did you know that he has 2 fathers? 1st is his Kryptonian father, named Jor-El; or his birth father from his home planet. This is the father who sent his only son to help the planet Earth as the planet Krypton was being destroyed.
Then baby Superman was discovered, adopted and raised by his earthly father, Jonathan Kent. At this point Kal-El’s name was changed to Clark Kent, who would one day grow up to be Superman.
The emphasis on Superman’s father is clear by the casting choices. What is particularly interesting about both the 1978 and 2013 versions is that the actors cast to play Superman in both these movies were not well-known before they landed these career-making roles. However, both of these movies cast Hollywood megastars to play the different fatherly roles who influenced Superman.
In 1978, Marlon Brando was cast as Superman’s father. Brando had been a huge movie star for close to 30 years, including such films as Julius Caesar and The Godfather.
To cast Marlon Brando as Jor-El, the father of Superman was a statement about the important role the father played in the future efforts and success of the son. This role was so important to the directors of the 1978 Superman movie that they paid Brando a huge $3.7 million just to be in the movie for 15 minutes!!! WOW AND THAT WAS IN 1978!!
By comparison, Christopher Reeve in the starring role only made about $250,000!
The 1978 film also cast a big-name star named Glenn Ford to play Jonathan Kent, Superman’s adopted, earthly father. Glenn Ford was famous at the time for his western roles, and he was known as the “FASTEST GUN IN HOLLYWOOD”
The 2013 version of Superman cast another Hollywood superstar to play Superman’s birth father Jor-El. They cast Russell Crowe, who has a long list of hit movies, the biggest of which was his role as Maximus in the movie Gladiator.
AND to give even further importance to the role the father plays in the making of the superhero, the 2013 Man of Steel movie cast Kevin Costner, another Hollywood heavyweight, as Jonathan Kent, the adopted, earthly father of Clark Kent (formerly known as Kal-El and whose secret identity is Superman).
In case I didn’t mention it, the directors of these Superman movies made sure that they did one thing right. While they took risks casting no-name actors to play Superman, they put heavy emphasis on casting the father figures who would teach and mold Superman into the superhero that he becomes. Someone with these kinds of super-powers could use his gifts selfishly for evil, wealth and world-power, but thanks to the guidance of his parents, he becomes a compassionate hero who saves the world.
Superman was created by 2 Jewish men 75 years ago, and the story of Superman is heavily influenced by scripture. You may have noticed that Superman has his one true father, and then he has his adopted earthly parents, whose original comic book names were Mary & Joseph (later changed to Martha and Jonathan). He was raised in a foreign place, much like the stories of Moses and Jesus in the Bible. Superman was destined to do great things and save many people, but he had to wait until the time was right to reveal his abilities to the world, much like the story of Jesus.
THE MEANING OF “EL” NAMES
To go even deeper into the origins of Superman, the names of Superman “KAL-EL” and his true father “JOR-EL” both end with the word “EL” which is Hebrew for “God” or “of God.”
Maybe you’ve noticed in the Bible that several important people have names that end with “EL”, including EMMANU-EL, which means “GOD WITH US”, or DANI-EL, which means “JUDGMENT OF GOD” or “GOD IS MY JUDGE”
One more example comes from the name “ISRA-EL”, which we know as the Jewish nation, but before the name was applied to a whole nation, it was given to one man. Jacob was the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, and father of 12 sons whose names would be given to the the 12 tribes of Israel. Jacob is the same man who spent all night wrestling with God, and after this experience, God changed Jacob’s name to “ISRA-EL”, which means “WRESTLES WITH GOD” or “PRINCE OF GOD”
We have established that names are important in the Bible, especially if the letters “EL” are attached to the end. That brings us to the name “SAMU-EL”, which also has the “EL” ending. SAMUEL, which comes from the Hebrew word “SHEMU’EL” can mean either “NAME OF GOD” or “GOD HAS HEARD.”
Obviously Superman was not in the Bible, nor was his Kryptonian father, but the usage of EL in their names further shows the Biblican undertones of their characters.
I could stop right here, as I have made my point that Superman was modeled after Jesus, but I do want to talk more specifically about the latest version of the Superman character and the Messianic messages within Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, UNLESS YOU WANT TO HAVE THE PLOT AND ENDING SPOILED BEFORE YOU SEE THE MOVIE! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE, HERE IS A TRAILER…
THE WORLD TURNED AGAINST ITS SAVIOR
While Superman had done everything he could to prevent and stop evil in the world, darker powers plotted to turn the world against him. The world quickly changed from praising Superman as its savior to suspecting him as a hero turned evil. Superman was even brought before a Senate hearing, similar to Jesus constantly being questioned and challenged by the Pharisees. Batman also bought into the dark motives of Lex Luthor, leading to the epic battle between the 2 superheroes. This plot-line is eerily reminiscent of how Jesus was praised and followed around by masses everywhere He went, but before long the Pharisees turned the world against Jesus, eventually leading to His arrest, trial and crucifixion.
ALONE ON A MOUNTAIN
As Superman became aware that he had some rough times coming soon and that his very existence was in danger, he snuck away from the rest of the world, much like Jesus would go up on a mountain to get away from the crowds and pray. Before Jesus was arrested He spent the night praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Superman mulled over his future, he hiked (did not fly) to the top of an unknown snowy mountain far away from other people. At the peak he spoke candidly with his earthly father Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner). Jonathan Kent died in Man of Steel, so Superman must be speaking with his father’s spirit or perhaps just wrestling with his own thoughts while bringing memories of his father into the mix. Whatever the case, Superman had to get away and consult his father before he could gain the strength to face what came next.
While the title of this movie hints that the major battle is between Batman and Superman, their fight is only one of 2 big battle scenes. Obviously Batman and Superman become friends after nearly destroying each other, and they must team-up with Wonder Woman to take on Lex Luthor’s demonic creation Doomsday. This beast has Luthor’s blood, but he is forged from the body of General Zod, the bad guy from Krypton in Man of Steel. Doomsday is incredibly large and strong, and like Superman he can only be killed by kryptonite. Batman’s tricks… Wonder Woman’s powers… even a nuclear bomb all have no ill-effects on Doomsday. In fact, everything they use against him only makes him bigger and stronger. There is absolutely nothing anyone in the world can do to stop Doomsday from destroying Earth.
Well there is 1 thing… if they can pierce Batman’s kryptonite spear through Doomsday’s chest, that could kill him. The only one fast enough and strong enough to get the spear through Doomsday’s skin is Superman, but this cannot happen without sacrifice. Not only does Superman have to willingly hold kryptonite, which will weaken him severely or even kill him, but this also puts a weakened Superman in the grips of a powerful monster. In other words, Superman must be willing to sacrifice his own life in order to save the world from ultimate doom. It is unfortunate, but it is the only way. Nothing else will work. There is no other choice, but Superman must be willing, which he is.
Superman has already helped so many and done so much good for a world who he owes nothing to, and even after this same world has turned its back on him, he is still willing to give up his life in order to save them all. Obviously the world’s savior willingly sacrificing his own life in order to defeat the greatest threat ever to humanity’s existence… well this clearly sounds like the story of Jesus giving up His life on the cross.
Is it a coincidence that this movie was released on Good Friday, the anniversary of the very day that Jesus died on the cross? Do Warner Brothers and DC Comics actually intend for this movie to mirror the story of Jesus, or is that just an accident? I could be wrong, but I doubt these movie companies had any intentions of relating this movie to the story of Jesus, even as they released it on Good Friday. However, I think the original Jewish Christian writers who created Superman would be pleased that it worked out this way.
Even better is that the story does not end there…
ON THE 3RD DAY HE AROSE
Anyone familiar with the story of Jesus knows that He did not JUST die on the cross to pay the price for our sins, but on the 3rd day He arose from the tomb which held His dead body, defeating death, sin and evil over the course of a long weekend.
Superman died taking down Doomsday, as he was weak from kryptonite and left with a giant hole in his chest from his enemy. For the sake of drama, the movie had to make him appear to be dead before they brought him back. Think of numerous cinematic scenes where someone was drowning, and even after being rescued and given CPR, their body did not respond. Dramatic music plays, and the person appears to be gone for good. But 15 seconds later they cough up the water and gasp to fill their lungs with oxygen, shocking their loved ones who thought for sure that they were dead.
They could have done something similar with Superman after he died battling Doomsday. They could have rushed him to a hospital and used some combination of advanced medical science and supernatural powers of Wonder Woman to fight and bring him back, only to have him finally wake up a few hours later.
However, the movie leaves Superman dead at least for a few days. It does not say exactly how long, but the city of Metropolis has a parade and a public memorial service to honor their fallen hero. They have dual funerals/burials for Superman and Clark Kent in different states. All of this must have taken a couple days. Superman’s body is laid to rest in a coffin and placed in the ground before the closing seconds of the movie finally show the dirt on the coffin start to move, presumably from Superman coming back to life and pushing the coffin open.
The movie could have brought Superman back minutes or hours after his death, but instead he stays dead long enough to be buried and see the world mourn his death. Once again, I do not know the intentions of the moviemakers, but I personally have been replaying the sequence of events in my head this whole Easter weekend, marveling at the close similarity to the Biblical account of the death and resurrection of Jesus.