Batman V Superman, Dawn of Justice; A Review (No Spoilers)

(This post is very different from what I normally do on this blog, but I’ve been so excited for this movie I had to do my day after review)

 

This is the film I have been anticipating for the better part of 2 and a half years. Batman is far and away my favorite comic hero, for a variety of reasons, and Man of Steel is my favorite comic book movie to date. It unfortunately still is. Batman V Superman had so much potential, and for me missed the mark quite a bit. This is not to say it didn’t have anything going for it, because this movie has an enormous amount of stuff in it and has a monumental task of launching the Justice League movies and the whole of the DCEU. Let’s run through the good and bad of this film. Of course, no spoilers to be found here! Here is my favorite review of Batman V Superman I’ve read so far. Great insight.

The Good

affleckbats

Ben Affleck, for me, is now the quintessential Batman. The darkness and anger we see in this newest inception of the character is everything I have wanted in a live action movie. While I still hold the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movies in extremely high regard, Bale’s version of the man in the cowl missed  some crucial elements to the character in the latter two films in the franchise.

Affleck’s Batman is essentially taken from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”,

12342347_1239625639386757_3099153482258628391_n

which is my favorite Batman story in the history of the character. He is not just a carbon copy, but takes important qualities of Miller’s Dark Knight that is so beloved by so many. His fighting style, the sheer brutality and violent nature of this version will certainly be hard for some people to accept, and like the movie, will be divisive amongst fans.

Henry Cavill was great again as Superman.

Gal Gadot was surprisingly pretty good for her short part in this movie. Her acting chops will have to hopefully grow quickly, given they are basically done filming the Wonder Woman movie, but she looks great and certainly has a great entrance in the third act of the film.

Jeremy Irons is the perfect Alfred to Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, but I was frustrated Alfred didn’t get more time on screen. More on that in the bad stuff.

The visual elements in this movie are breathtaking at times. Beautiful and grand, which is Snyder’s signature aspects of his movies.

I didn’t hate Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, although many people already have taken his portrayal of the evil doer to the woodshed. I think Eisenberg played Lex how he was written to be played: a young, maniacal, vindictive genius.

The fighting in the third act is really a spectacle to be enjoyed. Far and away the best portion of the film.

The Bad

The film is poorly edited. Not only that, but the storyline was all over the place at times. There was no real significant time given to any scene, every scene seemed rushed to possibly 3 minutes tops. This is unfortunate, because if certain things were cut, and other scenes were developed more and were allowed to linger, this could have really helped this movie. The pacing is strange in the beginning, and really picks up steam in the last hour (which was arguably the best part of the movie outside of the Batman stuff throughout). This also hurt a lot of the character development, since there was no time in the scenes to really get any significant drama that would be gripping for an audience.

The majority of the soundtrack was a let down for me. Zimmer’s score to Man of Steel still brings me to tears, teaming up with Junkie XL was a mistake for Dawn of Justice. Whatever emotional depth Zimmer brings to the project, it is stifled and loses its power from the glaring XL portions of the score.

Concluding Thoughts

I still recommend everyone go and see this movie. I really had fun watching it, and I’m going again to see it tomorrow. It is exciting to see two of the most iconic characters in comic book history sharing the screen together, and both men who play these heroes more or less having the actual physique of comic book super heroes.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Hope.

“Will it really be all men who allow themselves to be reconciled? No theology or prophecy can answer this question. But love hopes all things (1 Cor 13:7). It cannot do otherwise than to hope for the reconciliation of all men in Christ. Such unlimited hope is, from the Christian standpoint, not only permitted but commanded.”

-Hermann-Josef Lauter

CD II.1: Barth & Natural Theology (Part 3 of 7)

“The revelation of God, in which man’s fulfillment of the true knowledge of God takes place, is the disposition of God in which He acts towards us as the same triune God that He is in Himself, and in such a way that, although we are men and not God, we receive a share in the truth of His knowledge of Himself. Certainly it is the share which He thinks proper and which is therefore suitable for us. But in this share we have the reality of the true knowledge of Himself.” -II.1, p. 51

In the previous post, we were venturing into the section in which Barth is beginning to lay his ground work against natural theology. Natural theology is defined as ‘a program of inquiry into the existence and attributes of God without referring or appealing to any divine revelation.‘ (IEOP) To be sure, Barth’s argument and discussion with Emil Brunner over natural theology is a famous one, and need not concern us for our purposes here.

From what we can gather from previous readings of Barth, we can already see why Barth would be so adamantly opposed to such “sciences” as it were. I am not going to give this the full treatment it deserves, but offer my humble assessment.

As we have seen in the previous posts here and here ;

Our knowledge of God is grounded in the action of God, in which He objectifies Himself to us, meets us in our own plane as a subject calling for a corresponding action on our part in the obedience of faith.

&

God’s revelation is a free act of triune, self-giving revelation dependent upon the free act of God and in no way depend on man’s cognitive ability or action.

We are still working through the sub section entitled “The Readiness of God”.

God’s readiness means:

“He is in His nature, and as He confronts us in His action, so constituted that he can be known by us” (p. 70)

His knowability is dependent upon His action, reflecting on John 1:14:

“We are mindful of God’s grace when we say that God is knowable.” (p. 74)

Barth works within the Reformed tradition in regards to his understanding of natural theology, where the Reformed tradition is suspicious of such a practice. I do think Barth goes father than the tradition though, especially when it comes to mere “natural knowledge” of God, which is a separate issue from natural theology. What needs to be understood is Barth’s concerns are not mere academic speculations, but pedagogical and pastoral. A concern is found with the conversation and an effective basis of conversation between Christians and non-Christians, between the Church and the world. For Barth, this conversation must be done with faith acting towards unbelief:

“But this work must be the work of faith itself and alone, and therefore a faith acting sincerely towards unbelief. This is the work which must be done in any such conversation.” (p. 96)

We can see somewhat of an analogy (ironically) between how God moves towards us, who are in unbelief and gives us faith, in the same way Christians must move forward in faith towards unbelief. Not that we can give any one faith (what a silly notion). Believers should not pretend to be in some ‘neutral’ position with the unbeliever in terms of the knowledge of God and their ability to grasp it, since God is Himself infinitely distinct from us and the way we know God is through His free action towards us in Jesus Christ, the Word of God, that establishes and sustains our faith. Faith, for Barth, is knowledge and not just mere affectionate trust (although this is included in genuine faith).

What Scripture presses upon us is not so much a concern for a “natural theology”, based on human autonomy and cognitive abilities, but God’s confrontation with us in His revelation in Christ.

“The natural man is permanently occupied with the natural life of man.” (p. 86)

“What is ‘God’ to the natural man, and what he also certainly calls his ‘God’ is a false god. This false god is known by him and therefore knowable to him. But as a false god it will not lead him in any sense to a knowledge of the real God.” (p. 86) 

“…God is really known, and therefore known in His knowability; that the natural man can therefore know God without revelation, simply on the strength and in the success of his attempt to master himself and the world. There is no such compulsive fact in the whole known circle of human history.” (p. 87)

This is where I think Barth is strongest; rejecting the enlightenment project of the ability of man to master all things in the universe purely by man’s autonomous reasoning and empirical investigations. This I do hope more and more Christians begin to accept this reasoning, especially in this recent age of rationalist apologetics, in which we have implicitly accepted the notion of neutrality . Barth is not completely negative towards natural theologians, but even his positive comments really aren’t going to satisfy the individuals who practice natural theology. What Barth is moving towards is our knowledge of God is dependent on the ‘readiness of God’ and not at all dependent on the ‘readiness of man’ so to protect God’s freedom in how He chooses to reveal Himself, and in those revelations God is not mastered or totalized in our conceptions or attributes we assign to God. He is uncontrollable, totally free from us and is not collapsed into any of the sacramental realities in which He chooses to use as a medium of communication.

There is no such thing as a twofold revelation (general and special revelation) for Barth. Barth does not consider belief or unbelief as mere cognitive activities, nor should any Christian. Revelation is reconciliation. To quote from another work of Barth:

“Revelation, as the Christian apprehends it, is certainly such communication of truth [theological doctrine]. But it is also the work in which God Himself acts in His relation to man–originally in Jesus Christ, mediately in the Church of Jesus Christ. It has therefore been impossible for us to speak of the essence of revelation without straightway speaking also of Reconciliation.The truth revealed to us in revelation is not a doctrine about reconciliation but is the reconciliation itself, the reconciling action of God” (Revelation, ed. J. Baillie and H. Martin, NY: MacMillan, 1937: 74)

Revelation is actively the act of reconciliation, as we are confronted by God’s action in grace and mercy towards us. It is an act of reconciliation and thus knowledge of God is not something static in the phenomenal world for us to experience outside of God’s gracious action and communication of Himself to us.

There is a theme that runs through all of Scripture us towards something of a “static” natural knowability of God in nature and the cosmos. Man is not “independent” of God’s revelation (p. 113). The co-witnessing word of man always points “to the Word which God as his Lord has already uttered and will utter again.” (p. 128)

There is much more that can be said here, but for now this should suffice in a basic outline of Barth’s position.

To conclude, the availability of the real knowledge of God comes to us only, according to Barth, in the form of the witness to the Word, who is Jesus Christ, which is mediated by the Church. Any attempts to establish knowledge of God outside of this is to say there is access to God outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ. We will move onto the ‘Readiness of Man’ in the next post.

“We started out from the proposition that apparently nothing is more simple and self-evident than the knowledge that we find God’s knowability only in the readiness of God Himself, that we can accept it gratefully only out of the free grace and mercy of His revelation as the inaccessible made accessible to us, and therefore a theology which seeks another knowability of God is incontestably impossible in the sphere of the Church…” (p. 126)

 

The Sojourner

“…the Word of God in the human being; for he was not bound to the body, but rather was himself wielding it, so that he was both in it and in everything, and was outside everything, and at rest with the Father alone. And the most wonderful thing was that he both sojourned as a human being, and as the Word begot life in everything, and as Son was with the Father. Therefore he himself did not suffer when the Virgin gave birth, nor by being in the body was he defiled, but rather he sanctified the body also. Nor, being in all things, does he partake of all, but rather everything bore life and was nourished by him. For if the sun, too, made by him and seen by us, circling in heaven, is not polluted by touching bodies upon earth, nor is destroyed by darkness, but rather itself enlightens and purifies them, by so much more the all-holy Word of God, the maker of the sun and Lord, when being made known in the body was not polluted, but rather, being incorruptible, vivified and purified even the moral body.” -St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation, p. 67 

‘The Revenant’, Suffering and the Ethics of Beauty

“…he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” -2 Peter 1:4

“Who and what is the God who is to be known at the point upon which Holy Scripture concentrates our attention and thoughts?” -Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline

“…the good is an eternal reality, a transcendental truth that is ultimately identical with the very essence of God. God is not some gentleman or lady out there in the great beyond who happens to have a superlatively good character, but is the very ontological substance of goodness. The good is nothing less than God himself, in his aspect as the original source and ultimate end of all desire: that transcendent reality in which all things exist and in which the will has its highest fulfillment.” -David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, p. 253-254

It’s always interesting when two separate interests collide and speak to one another. I’ve been slowly and deliberately making my way through David Bentley Hart’s ‘The Beauty of the Infinite’, and I have recently viewed the movie ‘The Revenant’ and was struck a heavy load unto my heart and mind after viewing it. Reading Hart’s work informed a lot of how I interpreted the movie, mostly from a philosophical and theological position and not so much a historical or sociological interpretation. This isn’t really going to be a review of the movie either, just a discussion on various themes that came to my mind as I watched.

The ‘Beauty of the Infinite’ is a densely breathtaking essay on “theological aesthetics.” Hart’s concern and objective for the essay (in his words) is:

“…a defense of the suasive loveliness of Christian rhetoric, as the coincidence without contradiction of beauty and peace, can be undertaken according to the opposition between two narratives of infinity: one that conceives of the infinite in terms of a primordial and inevitable violence, and one that regards the infinite as originally and everlastingly beautiful.” (p.5)

What struck me about ‘The Revenant’ was the overwhelming commitment to the idea of the infinite, or being, is to its core just inevitable violence. Along with the gratuitous beauty that surrounds the overwhelming suffering in these scenes. This is where the post-modern metaphysical critique comes into play, and most specifically the work of Frederich Nietzsche. Especially in his idea of “the will to power”, in which Nietzsche attempts to show that every absolute statement is a power grab of sorts, a type of control from one person over another. It’s more complex than how I just stated it, as Nietzsche himself proclaimed:

“Here we must be aware of superficiality and get to the bottom of the matter, resisting all sentimental weakness: life is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker; suppression, hardness, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and at least, at its mildest exploitation… life simply is will to power.” (Beyond Good & Evil, 203)

This is a theme throughout the entire film, the will to power. It is a brutal and grueling sight to behold as Glass (DiCaprio) seeks to have vengeance against a man in Fitzgerald (Hardy) for the wrong he has done to him. Coming back around to the problem at hand, the ethics of beauty and the will to power are pervasive themes and struck a deep nerve with me as I watched the film. Hart puts it eloquently:

“There is, moreover, an undeniable ethical offense in beauty; not only in its history as a preoccupation of privilege, the special concern of economically and socially enfranchised elite, but in the very gratuity with which it offers itself…its anodyne sweetness often seeming to make the most intolerable circumstances bearable: a village ravaged by pestilence may life in the shadow of a magnificent mountains ridge…Cambodian killing fields were often lushly flowered…” (p. 16)

This is utterly undeniable in the case of The Revenant. Not even just this film, but of life in general. If we take Nietzsche’s ontological claim seriously, it is striking and hauntingly prophetic. What leaped at me was my seeming flippant attitude towards these ideas; how much I was struck by the suffering not only historically of various groups of people, but of the suffering of creation and how much death and brokenness is to be found. This had not sat well with me, and I could do nothing but ask that inevitable question: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4) and “How long, O Lord will you hide your face?” (Ps 13:1)

This is where Hart seeks to offer an alternative ontology of being, one that is not inevitable violence but one of beauty and peace. This is the uniqueness of the Christian rhetoric, and the triune God is from which all being subsists and finds its origin. His being is eternally beauty and peace. Hart’s thought is heavily indebted to Gregory of Nyssa, and towards the end of the book gives a thought about the conclusion to be drawn from Gregory’s thought about Christian eschatology (to quote at length):

“A conclusion can be drawn from Gregory’s thought is that Christian eschatology…must inevitably subvert every kind of presumptuous discourse that would strive to put an end to the deferrals of difference. The eschatological -which remains a word of hope, a paschal evangel that denies death its tragic splendor- functions as a promise that the verdict of God is on the side of the particular, the name and face of the one lost, that his justice is not a transcendental reconciliation between chaos and order,violence and rest, but a reconciliation of the infinitely many sequences of difference. Which is to say that the promise that justice will never forget the other, that the other will always be blessed with an infinite regard and charged with infinite worth: not because the other belongs to an abyss of the ethical, but because the other belongs to the infinite beauty of the surface; because, as this eschatology insists, the entire weight of the infinite in which all things share, this infinite and infinitely various music, rests upon each instance, requires every voice.” (p. 411)

We as Christians do not own ourselves or our being but “belong from everlasting to Christ” (p. 411), and are freed from death by His work (life, death & resurrection), and are in wait until His return. Until then, we must, as Hart puts it so beautifully:

“…until that unending end that we await, though, our words may speak of him, invoke him on others, beckon others to him peacefully…” (p. 411)

As we beckon others and speak the Word, we must do it in the cadence of the infinite, as Hart puts it:

“…eternally beauty and peace…” (p. 411)

Daily Readings: God is for All

“God is the life of all free beings. He is the salvation of all, of believers or unbelievers, of the just or the unjust, of the pious of the impious, of those freed from passions or those caught up in them, of monks or those living in the world, of the educated or the illiterate, of the healthy or the sick, of the young or the very old. He is like the outpouring of light, the glimpse of the sun or the changes of the weather which are the same for everyone without exception. Abba Pambo said, ‘If you have a heart, you can be saved.'” (p. 52, Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers)

Lent and the Overwhelming Mystery of Existence and Being: The Experience of God

quia fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te (because thou hast made us toward thyself and our heart is restless until it rests in thee)”

-St. Augustine

For lent I decided to abandon time spending on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Tumblr) in hopes of directing my time and energy into far more important areas of my life. Three weeks in, I’m considering abandoning the majority of them for good. I do not mean in a legalistic/moral superiority to those who do participate in them, but I found my life becoming far to unintentionally lived and much of the joy of life being sucked into the vacuum of the abyss of needless internet arguments and click bait. I was being habituated to a life of endless consumption, without anything gained at all. Which could be a critique of American culture as a whole, but I surely do not intend to cover any of that currently.

In my time spent elsewhere, mostly reading and time spent with my wife and children, have truly been fruitful and illuminating. I’ve recently been immersing myself in the work of David Bentley Hart (theologian/philosopher) and cannot express how wonderful and truly fruitful his work has been to read. His vocabulary is beyond what I thought someone could have for a vocabulary, so in that his work can be quite challenging intellectually. Most recently I have made my way through the majority of his recent work ‘The Experience of God; Being, Consciousness and Bliss‘. Hart’s contention for this book is to show the absolute ignorance of the new atheist’s (Dawkins, Dennett etc.) when they attempt to refute God’s existence. He does this by sketching out the metaphysical understanding of God worked out by the major theistic traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam and even forms of Hinduism). In doing this historical outlining, he shows the language and understanding of the recent atheist movement to be utterly deficient and ignorant of what they even attempt to speak of. In Hart’s words: “It is certainly the demiurge about whom Stenger and Dawkins write; neither has actually ever written a word about God. And the same is true of all the other new atheists as far as I can tell.” (p. 36).

He gives an admission that is both at the same time humorous and illuminating:

“For the sake of harmony, I for one am more than willing to acknowledge that the God described by the new atheists definitely does not exist; but, to be perfectly honest, that is an altogether painless concession to make.” (p. 23)

For some this statement might seem quite confusing. However once we actually understand how God has been conceived in the great theistic traditions, this statement is perfectly succinct and needed. More than anything, this book has pointed me towards the absolute wonder and beauty of the mystery not only of being and existence, but of God Himself. Not to mention the sheer strangeness of existence as Hart so eloquently puts it:

“If, moreover, one takes the time to reflect upon this contingency (the contingency of everything that exists) carefully enough, one will come to realize that it is an ontological, not merely an aetiological, mystery; the question of existence is not one concerning the physical origins of things, or of how one physical state may have been produced by a prior physical state, or of physical persistence across time, or of the physical constituents of the universe, but one of simple logical or conceptual possibility: How is it that any reality so obviously fortuitous— so lacking in any mark of inherent necessity or explanatory self-sufficiency— can exist at all?” (p. 90) (italics mine)

Since culture is so engrossed in the materialist picture of the world, we have lost the sense of wonder and awe that we exist at all.

This season of lent, for me, has been one about the rediscovery of mystery. The reorientation towards how completely inconceivable it is that I, or anything, exists at all. As the Psalmist puts it:

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4)

We Christians view Christ as the Word of God:

“In Jesus Christ the living, free, inexhaustibly rich God has been revealed as sovereign, holy love. To know God in this revelation is to acknowledge the infinite and incomprehensible depth of the mystery called God.” (Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, p. 3)

The mystery still remains and grows ever deeper the more we pursue it. Lent is a time for reflection, putting to death the desires of the flesh through the Spirit, and a reminder of the fulfillment that is yet to come for us who are exiles in waiting. Let us reflect these words from DBH: “God is the infinite “ocean of being” while creatures are finite vessels containing existence only in limited measure.” (p. 133)  God is the ground of all being. He is not just some mechanistic demigod that the deists picture, but pure actuality and pure existence. Let us reflect of the mystery of the Gospel, and how we should praise God for His unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ.