ByTom Bacon, writer at
I'm a film-and-TV fan who grew up with a deep love of superhero comics! Follow me on Twitter @TomABacon or on Facebook @tombaconsuperheroes!
Tom Bacon

is no stranger to Messianic imagery, and even the trailers made it clear that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice would have a lot of it. The truth was, though, that the film was absolutely soaked in Messianic imagery, possibly more so than any non-religious film since The Matrix!

Be warned: MAJOR spoilers follow, so I seriously don't recommend reading this article until after you've seen the film.

An important introduction - theories of the Atonement

In Christian circles, the 'Atonement' is the fancy word used to describe what Jesus' death on the Cross accomplished. So-called 'theories' (or 'models') of the Atonement are doctrinal explanations that try to make sense of what the Bible teaches. Sometimes these theories are held in opposition to one another, while other believers - such as myself - believe that the Cross is like a multi-faced diamond, with many sides to it.

The most common theory of the Atonement is known as substitution. It concerns itself with what Jesus did for human beings - arranging a sort of 'divine swap', with Jesus embracing the judgement so we could be made right with God. That one is very familiar in Protestant circles, to the extent that any attempt to argue in favour of other theories is often met with criticism. It's also used in most films (The Matrix taps into this a lot).

Here's the catch: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice avoids that theory completely. Instead, the film doses up on a theory known as "Christus Victor" - Christ the Victorious, in which the Cross was a triumphant battle against the Devil, and against evil itself. Because this theory is less well-known than substitution, I'm pretty convinced that a lot of the critics haven't been able to spot it.

With that noted, let's look at the film!

Superman as Savior

From the outset, Batman V Superman ensures we see Superman as a 'savior' figure, the one who intervenes to rescue those in danger. There's a moment when he comes out of the sun looking almost like the Transfiguration, while 's 'Knightmare' scene involves brutal cults that now follow their Messiah. Perhaps the most startling scene is a throwaway one in which Clark Kent sees footage of a burning building, and the news commentator declares that he can't believe they're going to "let that little girl die." The building is an inferno, about to collapse, and yet the commentator views the inevitable death as somehow chosen. Superman, naturally, chooses otherwise.

Lex Luthor's motivation

Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor is often used to bring the Messianic imagery to the forefront - he ceaselessly refers to Superman as an analogy for God. Even his hatred of Superman is rooted in that analogy.

Jewish Rabbi Elie Wiesel was faced with the horrors of the Holocaust, and his theology was utterly transformed by it. Wiesel came to the belief that, in the face of Auschwitz, God must be either all-loving or all-powerful - He could not be both. Lex Luthor has come to a similar view; and, where Wiesel was comfortable with the distinction, Luthor is angry. Conflating Superman with God, his desire is to reveal either the limits of Superman's character, or of his power.

Superman's Gethsemane moment

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, his disciple Peter attempted to persuade him not to go there; but Jesus refused to listen. Ultimately he headed to a Garden, Gethsemane, to pray and commune with His Father.

In the film, there's a fascinatingly spiritual scene in which Superman has been tempted away from the path of interaction with the world. Curiously enough, this time round it is his own mother who has tried to tell him to let go - "You don't owe the world anything," she tells him. Superman heads off to a mountain (again, a spiritual place in the Bible), and has a spiritual encounter with his deceased father, Jonathan, that prepares him for what is to come.

Doomsday as the devil

Luthor uses Kryptonian technology to create , and it's notable that doing so requires his blood - again, a Biblical notion (Leviticus 17: 11, "For the life of a creature is in the blood").

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously argued that man created God in his own image. Batman V Superman neatly inverts this postmodern trope, with, instead, man creating the devil in response to God's presence.

The battle between Doomsday and the superheroes culminates in a brutal conflict that goes so far as the boundaries of the atmosphere! Ultimately, Superman and Doomsday strike each other with fatal blows, in a scene that seems analogous to the first Biblical prophecy of what the Cross would achieve, in Genesis 3: 15:

"He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

In this first prophecy, the decisive battle between the Son of Man (a title Jesus claimed for himself) and the Devil would involve both striking powerful blows against the other. The Devil, in Genesis spoken of as a serpent, will strike Jesus on the heel - infecting him with venom, and thus taking his life. Jesus, meanwhile, will crush the Devil's head as he dies.

True to this form, Superman and Doomsday literally impale one another, both dying. Tellingly, as Lois weeps (analogous to many images of Jesus' mother weeping over his body), the camera pans out to reveal wooden rubble in the shape of Crosses.

It's also no coincidence that this film was released on Good Friday, when Christians celebrate the death of Jesus!

One more thing to note: Luthor argues throughout the film that devils come from the skies. By the end of the film, it's pretty clear he sees the arrival of another devil - Darkseid.

The Spear

Sometimes crucifixions were a long and messy affair, and the Romans tried to hurry them up. As Jesus hung upon the Cross, the Roman soldiers moved between the three men hanging on the Crosses, and broke the legs of the two thieves - so they would hang, and asphyxiate. They believed that Jesus was already dead, though, and pierced his side with a spear. The Bible is very specific to describing a flow of "blood and water", which indicates that the spear had penetrated the lung - and it was filled, proving Jesus was truly dead.

In roughly the same way, the crucial weapon in this film is a Kryptonite spear, fashioned by Batman, and ultimately used against Doomsday. As Doomsday dies, the creature's right arm - taking on the form of a spear - pierces Superman's chest, also killing him.

It's not a coincidence, even though the symbolism breaks apart when you look too deeply at this one.

The resurrection

Is there anyone who believes Superman will stay dead? The funeral processions - complete with the famous religious tune Amazing Grace - and the mourning masses are eerily reminiscent of the Bible's descriptions. Just as with Jesus, Superman is left in the grave - and the final scenes hint that he's not quite dead yet...

This, of course, was based off the famous Death of Superman event - and yes, Superman came back pretty quickly.

Given the importance of Messianic imagery in this film, I'm pretty sure there's more - can you find some that I've missed?


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