Essentially the argument in question revolving around the new Batman Versus Superman: The Dawn of Justice movie is a philosophic argument between Plato/Aristotle and Nietzsche/Ayn Rand. Batman represents the old human concept of law and order whereas Superman represents the overman. It is a compelling argument and one that I didn’t entirely expect to be conveyed so openly in a comic book movie—but here it is.
Of course it should be expected where my sentiments fall. And I’m sure Ayn Rand would be aghast that I compared her to Frederick Nietzsche. She would break things down by stating that she is more like Aristotle whereas Nietzsche is aligned more properly with the sentimental mysticism of Plato—but for this line of thought I’m breaking down philosophic development into the boundaries of western civilization itself. The minds of man have brought us into the modern age on the philosophy established in Greece. Ayn Rand and the concept of the overman is the future—it is the graduation of mankind from the boundaries of intellectual confinement driven by thousands of years of madness.
I have stated my love for both film franchises, of course the Batman films of Christopher Nolan and the Man of Steel film by the same producer. Both Christopher Nolan renditions of the comic legends have heavy doses of Ayn Rand in them—collectivism versus the individual. Yet Hollywood is directly opposed to Ayn Rand currently favoring heavily the Kantian philosophy of collectivism, altruism, and human depravity. The director of the Man of Steel films and the upcoming Dawn of Justice is Zach Snyder who obviously like Christopher Nolan, prefers Ayn Rand and even though Hollywood may not like it—the hot handed director is at the helm and is poised to deliver a powerful money-making franchise to Warner Bros that will compete directly with the wonderful Marvel Avengers films from Disney.
I’m actually going deeper into this line of thought with my Cliffhanger project, but for the masses right now at the start of the 21st century this Batman versus Superman battle needs to happen, and the trailer captured the essence of it very well. All through human history mankind has fallen in love with power and it has corrupted their minds. An overman on the other hand has no such love for power, because they understand the nature of it. Power is not given to other people through democratic measures. Just because one person can command hundreds, perhaps thousands from the lofty perches of a social title of some kind—there is no real power there—just an acknowledgment of collective will. Real power comes from an individual and will remain no matter what circumstances emerge.
In many ways in a modern since the director Ridley Scott surprisingly grasped this concept in his 2000 release of Gladiator, which won best picture that year along with a best actor award for Russel Crowe. Scott isn’t typically an Ayn Rand fan, but he did grasp the power of the individual in that film where Maximus—the protagonist had been the favored general of Marcus Aurelius due to his skill on the battlefield, but once the Emperor died, his son Commodus, deeply jealous of Maximus sought to put the general to death and kill his family. Maximus escaped, but not in time to save his family. The great man lost everything and is captured and toured around as a gladiator—one step always from death. Yet Maximus is so skilled at fighting that he quickly rose back to the top and eventually challenged again the Emperor of Rome as a masterful tactician. It is clearly one of the best films of its kind and is oozing with Ayn Rand strength centering on the individual over the collective. There is a truth in that particular film that Ridley Scott unintentionally released. I have put that truth to test many times and have discovered that it’s immensely accurate. You can take a great man and cast him onto a remote island in the middle of nowhere and he or she—will succeed in spite of the collective efforts to hold them down. Great people are not driven by collective salvation or sacrifice—they are creators of their own fates and can make success out of any situation—because success is an act of creation—not something granted by luck or the “gods.” A great person will always rise back to the top by default and there is a science to it that is predictable.
Zach Snyder seems compelled by this same resiliency and all the characters in his films embody some aspect of this. So it’s no accident that Christopher Nolan put Snyder in charge of the Superman franchise. There really is no better director today who knows how to handle the Man of Steel mythology. Superman is a superior being from another planet who simply wanted to help mankind become greater. He has absolute power, and came from a planet that collapsed under that power—not by his hand, but those of his people. Superman’s job is to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen to earth. Batman on the other hand is a broken man who lost his parents at a young age and has spent his life righting wrongs essentially out of a vigilante need to rectify justice. But that justice is very terrestrial as it has been formulated around human perception. Batman is a second generation man of wealth meaning he inherited much of what his father made for him, but he is competent enough to sustain that wealth and apply it to fighting crime. Batman is always one step away from falling off the cliff whereas there is never any real danger that Superman would or could fall. Because no matter what happens Superman will always rise back to the top just like Maximus did from the Gladiator. So Snyder in the second film of his Man of Steel series is pitting these two heroes of entirely different philosophies against each other which is essentially the debate of our day.
The essential suspicion is that no man can resist the temptation toward corruption if given the opportunity. So Superman is a threat to the world even though all his efforts have been in trying to save it. But Superman is not a man of this world; he is essentially an alien functioning from an inner self-assurance that is a graduation of mankind’s limits. Yes, he has absolute power, but he also is immune to the desire to abuse it for the sake of social adornment. An overman knows where their power comes from so the appeasement of the masses does nothing for them. The only measure they have is themselves for success. Whereas the traditional western perspective is that if the masses support the power and authority of an individual that power is thus provided to control those people. This ultimately leads to a collapse of the individual ego upon itself because power is not generated from within, but from without.
It was the Fabian socialist George Bernard Shaw who termed the name “overman” or otherwise “superman” in his 1902 play Man and the Superman which would later inspire the comic. In the play established in Act 1 is the concept that the more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. This of course leads to a disastrous life making men miserable for most of their existence. As Shaw states in his play, “A lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth.” This is the world of Batman—he’s never really happy and feels he is a Dark Night that stands in the shade between right and wrong. However Shaw was a socialist who did not believe in the abilities of mankind to overcome such faults so he regulated his sentiments toward collectivism being lead by the elite in charge—which of course took Nietzsche’s work and perverted it into the Nazi regime. A couple of high school kids from Cleveland, Ohio inspired by many science fiction writers from the early 20s—inspired by Shaw’s play—invented the comic Superman to fight for the rights of left-leaning causes during the Red Decade coming out in 1933. The big difference between Nietzsche’s overman and Siegel and Shuster’s “superman” was that one transcended the limitations of society, religion, and conventional morality while still being fundamentally human. The other was alien and gifted with incredible powers choosing honorable human moral codes, holding himself to a higher standard of adherence to them, purposely. Over time Superman has evolved ending up in the middle of those two viewpoints under Zach Snyder’s care. And that is a good and healthy thing.
So Batman versus Superman is more than another popcorn movie about superheroes. It’s a philosophy for our age that needs articulation. A lot of history has passed since Shaw wrote his play but what has come out in the end is a fully fleshed out philosophy that works. That philosophy is what the theme of this upcoming movie is between two of the most well-known and loved superheroes of our modern mythology. Under Zach Snyder’s care I think he’s going to produce something revolutionary and I’m very excited about it. But in that battle I know already who will win. The overman always comes out on top—because it’s in their nature to always do so.