Christian Reflections on the DC Extended Universe
The DC Extended Universe is a loosely related series of films that have sought to emulate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Centered on some of western culture’s most iconic superheroes—Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, the Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman, as well as a raft of lesser-known lights (or darknesses)—the movies tackle a wide array of grand themes of power, justice, responsibility, and belonging. With Christ figures, demigods, sacrifice, and Armageddon-like battles, as well as biblically scaled destruction, in these films we can see fuzzy reflections of God’s story, as well as ways that these tales contrast with Christ’s sacrificial love and salvific work.
In the articles below, a variety of Think Christian contributors tease out some of these diverse, diffuse themes, while also holding them up alongside the solidity of Christ’s Gospel truth.
Man of Steel and the Tiredness of Christ Figures
By Josh Larsen
The practice of identifying Christ figures almost always brings more to the movies at hand than it does to our understanding of Christ. As a theological exercise, Christ-figuring is a one-way street. At the movies, Christ figures will sacrifice themselves to save another–or maybe even all humankind–but they rarely do so to atone for the fallen state of others. If we take that away, what’s left?
Batman v Superman and the Limits of Super Powers
By Josh Larsen
There is a lot of “god talk” in Batman v Superman. Despite awkward allusions to Jesus Christ, Batman v Superman shudders at the idea of power through weakness. Instead, the film is obsessed with the demonstration of power in its most basic, physical forms: power is equated with pummeling. In contrast, the very crux of Christianity is that the all-powerful God, creator and sustainer of the cosmos, made himself vulnerable on our behalf.
Suicide Squad’s Devil in Disguise
By Josh Larsen
If there is a gravitational force in the film—a stabilizing presence that mitigates the encroaching nausea—it is Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the mastermind behind the villains-for-hire program. In fact, Davis not only offers relief from the inanity, she also portrays a fairly provocative god figure. But Waller becomes less and less reminiscent of the God we know. The squad members lack any sort of free will. Waller promises new life, but delivers death. She dangles freedom, but secures chains.
Wonder Woman and Biblical Womanhood
By Marilette Sanchez
God views women as strong warriors, not sidekicks or afterthoughts. The Hebrew words used for “helper suitable” are “ezer kenegdo.” The word “ezer” is a military term used 21 times in the Old Testament—used 16 times to describe God himself. There are several moments in the film in which Diana is hopeful and emotional to the point of being naive. But Wonder Woman’s compassion is arguably her greatest superpower. When we women stand firm in our God-given identity and calling, instead of heeding others’ artificial labels, we can change the world.
Wonder Woman’s compassion is arguably her greatest superpower.
Justice League: Wonder Woman Amidst the Lost Boys
By Josh Larsen
Outside of her own movie, Wonder Woman finds a world of locker-room talk. Wonder Woman still comes across in Justice League as incredibly powerful, as well as clever, intelligent, and emotionally attuned to the dynamics of this super team in ways that her male counterparts aren’t. But notice how the movie often looks at her, and talks about her. On more than one occasion, camera angles are positioned to draw our attention to one of her physical features (and not her eyes). If Wonder Woman, without obfuscating Gadot’s beauty, emphasized how her body was that of an athletic warrior, Justice League too often sees her as a body, period.
Shazam! and the Family of God
By JR. Forasteros
A spirit of adoption lies at the heart of DC’s joyful superhero comedy. The conflict that drives the film is Billy's inability to accept his foster family. He can’t bring himself to say “yes” to this family, even though the family has already said “yes” to him. One of the apostle Paul's favorite metaphors for the life of faith is that of adoption: a profound statement about God's household by claiming that God adopts us into sonship. Shazam! embodies this joy, from its whip-smart script to clever storytelling to the bright color palette (a welcome change from the drab aesthetic that has previously characterized the DC movie universe).
Harley Quinn and Degrees of Sin
By Josh Larsen
A movie made up mostly of villains, Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey prompts the question: are some sins worse than others? Sinful acts are the fruit of our willful separation from God; they both reflect our apartness and increase it. And so the question isn’t so much how Harley Quinn behaves, but what her behavior reveals about her relationship to her Creator.
Wonder Woman 1984 and the Myth of Having It All
By Michelle Reyes
Appropriate to its 1980s setting, avarice is the true villain in the Wonder Woman sequel. The foundation for the script is an indictment of greed. Just because we want something, it doesn’t mean we should have it. In fact, in Wonder Woman 1984, the more wishes that are granted, the more the world descends into chaos, death, destruction, and war. Simultaneously, wish fulfillment and instant gratification causes us to become our worst possible selves.
One Justice League, Many Members
By Zachary Lee
One of the many issues that plagued the theatrical release of 2017’s Justice League was the characterization of its lead villain. Steppenwolf is one of the characters who most benefits from the lugubrious, four-hour Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Steppenwolf elevates the central conflict at the heart of Justice League. Not only is the world attacked; so are the very tenets of true community. The Justice League champions a far better community, one that celebrates rather than smothers difference and diversity, one where the call to die is rooted in the promise of a rebirth of something better.