DC’s Superheroes are Super Spiritual

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Superman

Wonder Woman isn’t just a pretty good superhero flick. It’s pretty spiritual, too. And it’s not just me saying that (though I did). Last Friday, Adam Holz linked to several stories that called out the film’s Christ symbolism and compared Wonder Woman’s clash with god-o’-war Ares with Christ’s temptation in the wilderness.

All these messages are pretty gratifying to a Christian moviegoer like me. But in truth, it’s nothing new. Not for this newest iteration of DC superheroes.

Sure, ever since Warner Bros. rebooted the DC superhero universe with 2013’s Man of Steel, these films have been (and let’s be generous here) a bit uneven, both aesthetically and superheroically. Man of Steel was a bit angsty and sometimes glum, and it featured a Superman who did something that Superman would never do: kill someone. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a grim, spiritless slog in which director Zack Snyder messed with Batman’s legacy, too—giving the Dark Knight guns to fire and a penchant for “branding” bad guys with a bat. And let’s not even get into the mess that was Suicide Squad.

And yet, for all their drawbacks, each of these films embraced a certain level of Christian spirituality.

Man of Steel drew some fairly explicit connections between Superman and Jesus (which I wrote about both in our review and in a piece for The Washington Post). And Snyder explicitly addressed that whole Superman-as-Jesus vibe with CNN. He said:

“When we started to examine the Superman mythology, in the most classic sense, I really wanted to press upon the film the ‘why’ of him, which has been 75 years in the making. The Christ-like parallels, I didn’t make that stuff up. We weren’t like, ‘Hey, let’s add this!’ That stuff is there, in the mythology. That is the tried-and-true Superman metaphor. So rather than be snarky and say that doesn’t exist, we thought it would be fun to allow that mythology to be woven through.”

In Batman v Superman, Supes’ savior-like attributes were amped up. And while I didn’t like Snyder’s uber-dark Batman aesthetically, spiritually it made for a pretty interesting story arc. In the film, Batman’s so disgruntled by the state of humanity that he’s turned into a vengeful, compassionless jerk—determined to punish people for their dark sins. Superman, meanwhile, seeks to save mankind: He eventually sacrifices himself to do just that (again underlining his Christ-like attributes). His death not only gives the world new life, but it gives Batman new hope—an understanding that there’s a better way forward.

Batman v Superman wasn’t a good movie. But in the midst of the mess, it still delivered a great story about salvation and the promise of redemption.

Even Suicide Squad featured some interesting spiritual nods—from a Bible verse mash-up on Deadshot’s outfit; to the ironically named El Diablo’s Catholic faith, his monstrous guilt and his eventual willingness to sacrifice himself for something greater than himself.

Now with Wonder Woman bringing her own sense of spirituality to the scene, the DC Extended Universe seems set to give us superheroes that feel … well, heroic. Wonder Woman seems fairly incorruptible at this point. At the end of Batman v Superman, Bats seemed committed to embracing Superman’s virtue and ethos. And might Superman make a return appearance in this November’s DC superhero mashup Justice League? If so, it only strengthens his role as a Christ metaphor.

People have asked me whether I’m looking forward to Justice League. Truth is, I am. There’s no telling whether the movie will be any good or not, of course. And I’m sure that I’ll have to wade through some disappointing content. But given Warner Bros. and DC’s willingness to engage with spiritual themes and issues—a pretty rare thing in Hollywood, really—I’ll be at least interested to hear what the flick’s got to say.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

lslakajun_sbrvm 5 months ago
"Spiritual" is not the same as Christian. Without Christ, it will always miss the mark. 
Anonymous 5 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

You've pretty much hit the nail on the head with this article Paul! I'm in agreement 100%!

As hogwashy as BvS may or may not be, a person could make the debate that the movie was basically The Easter Story with superheroes. Superman plays the role of Jesus, Lex Luthor plays the role of the power hungry religious leaders, and Batman plays the role of Peter, the disciple who doubts his Leadee but doesn't realize his mistake until it's too late.

It's truly a shame that story wasn't executed more properly; it could have been one of the best superhero films ever made.

Still, I really like the way DC is incorporating these themes into their movies. Here's hoping that they're more like Wonder Woman!