The flood waters are rushing in. You get your family and huddle on the roof to await rescue. You reach out your hand toward a man in the sky, who bears on his chest the same symbol painted on your rooftop. It is an S; and it stands for hope.
Recently there have been reaction videos released over the latest Justice League trailer, which premiered at the San Diego Comic Con. The reactions have been for the most part, enthusiastic. There have been some, however, who have criticized a line spoken by Batman. He tells, presumably to the Justice League, or alone to Diana, that Superman gave hope to the world. Although they say Superman stands for hope, they argue Superman has not shown hope to the people in the DCEU.
But you have been shown the hope, only not in the conventional comic book movie way. Snyder did something different in the two films featuring Superman. His films are distinguished from other films of the genre because he shows you the hope Superman brought, through the eyes of the people he saved.
As events unfold in both Man of Steel, you see him as others do; such as Lois Lane, or rig workers, restaurant owners, and even low- and high-ranking members of the military, among others. As Superman is the symbol of hope in the DCEU, Lois and the others represent how most of the world reacts to that hope: with gratitude.
Before he dons the suit and cape from his home-world, you are given glimpses into the hope he can bring to people. Even as a kid in high school, you see his natural instinct to save on display when he rescues his fellow classmates from drowning after their school bus careens into a lake. Then, later on, when he rescues workers from an oil rig about to explode, you discover for the first time his sheer, raw power as he holds the entire rig up so they can escape on the rescue helicopter.
So when Superman acts to save the lives of Colonel Nathan Hardy and his men when they were in the unmerciful hands of Faora, you already know what kind of man he is. After he saves them, Colonel Hardy turns and tells his men something that you already knew, “This man is not our enemy.” And throughout the rest of the film, Superman works alongside the humans, and helps them find a way to save their planet. Because of his actions, characters who once were grim and untrusting of the Man of Steel now have hope; and you hear him called “Superman” for the first time.
Early in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it is implied the popularity of Superman has only grown in the 18 months since the Man of Steel was revealed on earth and protected it from General Zod and his outcasts. A statue is erected in his honor, along side tablets with names of the people who died during the battle for Metropolis. You don’t build a monument for someone (other than dictators) who you don’t like. And even when the tragic character Wallace Keefe paints “False God” in red on the monument, The Daily Planet offers up the headline “End of Love Affair with Man in the Sky?” All of this hope between what happens in Man of Steel and BvS is an implied and felt hope. That is why when Lex Luthor takes and twists and mangles it into a negative thing, the loss of that hope is felt so strongly by Superman and you.
Slowly, the adoration the media has for Superman turns to distrust, then to disdain. But it is a manufactured disdain, as you are given behind-the-scenes access into Lex’s plan to topple the towering Man of Steel. But Superman continues being Superman. He never stops saving people. You watch, along with him, those in power question if he should be allowed to act unilaterally to save – and see as he subsequently becomes somewhat distraught over their continued distrust of him. And yet still you see hope.
During the montage of him saving others, pay attention to their faces. Watch as the families reach their outstreched arms toward the man who came to rescue them from the flood; or the joy on the people’s faces juxtaposed against their painted skulls when he rescued the girl from a fiery building during the Day of the Dead celebration. And in that scene you also see Superman smile as he returns her safely to her family. This is what Superman lives for; to rescue others. And it brings him joy.
Through the eyes of those in power and most of the media, Lex’s plan is working. But through the eyes of the every day person, the beacon of hope that he stands for still shines bright. That is why you see it felt so strongly, the people’s faces filled with so much grief, when they learn their rescuer died saving them. Lex’s plan to undo Superman ultimately didn’t work, though he killed his Moby Dick. His plan was foiled the moment Superman picked up the Kryptonite spear and whispered in Lois’ ear “You are my world,” and charged forward to save the world one last time. His sacrifice was brutal, and the allegory toward that of Jesus Christ, of the savior dying to save, is not lost on you. It is this sacrifice which solidifies the hope he brought to the world.
Once again you are shown that hope near the end of the film through how the world reacts to his sacrifice. He is given a hero’s burial, and another monument toward the hope he brought to the hearts of the people. “If you seek his monument, look around you.” Although he died, hope didn’t. In fact that hope grew. It is his death which rekindled the hope long lost in the two others – Batman and Wonder Woman – and caused them to try and usher in the age of heroes once more.
Superman is not a name he gave to himself, but one given to him by others. It is one you see earned by his actions in the films. Through his deeds, he took a symbol for hope on his world, and brought it to yours.