NOTE: The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Batman V Superman
After years of hype, rumors, and speculation, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice has arrived in theaters - and, like Man of Steel before it, is already set to be one of the comic book movie genre's most divisive entries. In our own Batman V Superman review, we suggested that the film's biggest challenge is a familiar one to fans of superhero films: balancing shared universe setup with standalone storytelling. For months we've known that Dawn of Justice would include cameos and mentions of Justice League heroes and villains, alike; however, few fans suspected just how directly Batman V Superman is connected to the DCEU's future. Specifically, it doesn't just set the stage, it may actually bridge time and space with direct insight into events that have yet to occur.
We've already covered some of these points in our Batman V Superman: Justice League Cameos & Connections Explained as well as Biggest Dawn of Justice Spoilers & Reveals posts, so be sure to give those a read too. Yet, even without a post-credits sequence, the end of Batman V Superman throws out some intriguing ideas that should be recognizable to comic book readers - but, very likely, left casual moviegoers scratching their heads. As a result, here's a quick breakdown of Batman V Superman's epilogue - most notably the conversation between Batman and Lex Luthor as well as the film's final fade-to-black reveal.
Lex Luthor & Batman: Who is "He"?
Following Lex Luthor's arrest in connection with the senate bombing and creation of Doomsday, Batman visits the LexCorp head in his jail cell - vowing to watch Lex's every move. In the scene, Lex replies that it doesn't matter what Batman or any other hero does, the bell has been rung and cannot be unrung - aliens from beyond the stars have heard the call: God (Superman) is dead. Showing that Superman has helped restore the good in Batman, the Caped Crusader refrains from "branding" Lex - but as Bruce Wayne leaves the cell block, Lex continues raving about dangers that will soon arrive to threaten Earth.
Luthor makes specific mention of a "He" and a "Him" that is coming - after referring to aliens that exist in the darkness beyond the stars. A reference that, for anyone who wasn't totally lost during Batman V Superman's post-apocalyptic "Knightmare" scene, hints that director Zack Snyder is already paving the way for one of the Justice League's biggest foes: the New God known as Darkseid, ruler of the planet Apokolips. In the comics, Darkseid is an imposing threat, capable of ripping people out of existence using only his Omega beams, and more terrifying than anything else, is able to corrupt heroes and villains alike with his "essence" - clouding how they perceive the world and bending their actions to serve Darkseid's will.
In service of making the teaser clear to viewers who aren't familiar with Darkseid, it's important to revisit the Knightmare scene in Batman V Superman - which not only features the villain's signature mark (the "Omega" symbol), it also depicts Darkseid's winged minions, known as parademons. Add to that the out-of-nowhere "message" from The Flash, warning Bruce that he was always right about "Him," and a different picture begins to take shape. Where the warning, which appears to be an actual message from the Flash reaching through time itself, seemed to suggest that Bruce was right to suspect Superman was a threat to mankind, adding all of the pieces together reveals a cleaner interpretation - that the post-apocalyptic dream isn't a dream at all, it's a premonition of a potential future where Darkseid has arrived and managed to corrupt Superman (turning the Man of Steel into a lethal enforcer).
Bruce Wayne was right, a war is coming and Superman will be at the center of it (either on the side of Earth or the side of Darkseid). Yet, the warning also means the future is not yet set, and in this context, the suggestion that Lois Lane is the "key" likely means that, in addition to encouraging Bruce to find his future Justice League heroes (Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and The Flash himself), the team needs to protect Lois Lane - so that Superman does not lose his tether to mankind, and become susceptible to Darkseid's influence.
So, how does Lex Luthor learn of Darkseid? It can be assumed that information on Darkseid was included in the kryptonian archive that is opened to Lex when he gains command of the crashed kryptonian scout ship. Lex begins the movie as a twisted sociopath who was neglected and abused by his father - and, along the way, becomes a twisted sociopath with knowledge of a malevolent alien threat. How much Lex now knows is unclear but his warning, paired with the information/feeling Bruce Wayne already has about the future, suggests General Zod's invasion (and operation of the world engine) put a target on Earth - for other power-hungry aliens who might be interested in enslaving a new world. With Superman policing the planet, those alien forces might have been reluctant to attack but, with Superman dead, Earth is more vulnerable than ever before.
If Lex is to be believed, Darkseid is now familiar with Earth and aware that it is susceptible to attack and/or corruption. His perspective on the situation is further exemplified by the painting he had previously referenced earlier in the film, which is now hung upside down in his father's office - with grayish winged devils descending from the sky to battle virtuous heroes on the ground.
Clark Kent's Grave: Superman Rebirth
One of the biggest surprise in Batman V Superman: in killing Doomsday, Superman also suffers a mortal wound - and appears to die. The sequence is a loose adaptation of the "Death of Superman" storyline - where Doomsday arrives on Earth and eventually faces-off in a battle to the death with Superman. In the original comic, Doomsday (a genetically modified kryptonian) and Superman collide in a mutually destructive strike that mortally wounds both of them simultaneously, and they each appear to die. Superman does succumb to his wounds - and a funeral his held for the fallen protector. Heroes, villains, and everyday people from all around the world come to mourn Superman's death - Lex Luthor even erects a crypt to honor the Man of Steel, his greatest adversary.
While the scene plays out differently in Batman V Superman, with the Man of Steel driving Batman's kryptonite-tipped spear through Doomsday's chest and Doomsday impaling the Man of Steel with his newly-formed arm growth (after Wonder Woman severed his hand), the outcome is the exact same: the hero and the monster mortally wound each other in a moment of sacrifice and self-destructive rage, respectively. Like the "Death of Superman," a funeral is held for Superman; however, Snyder takes the idea one step further - with humanity mourning the Man of Steel in different ways. The people of Metropolis gather for a candlelight vigil at Superman's monument in the city, the U.S army buries an empty black and silver casket (bearing a striking resemblance to the Man of Steel's rebirth suit in "The Death of Superman") in Arlington Cemetery, while Clark Kent's friends and family gather for a funeral procession and bury Superman/Clark Kent's body in a plain pine casket in Smallville Cemetery (next to his adopted father, Johnathan Kent).
As Lois Lane says her goodbye, with Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince watching from afar, she throws a hand full of dirt on the casket - and walks away. Moments later, the dirt begins to rattle and levitate, just like the ice particles that surround Superman's fist prior to his first flight in Man of Steel. In certain versions of the Superman mythology, levitation of surrounding objects is explained as a byproduct of the Man of Steel's bioelectric aura (more on that in our breakdown of Superman's powers) which can manipulate the effect of gravitational forces in the hero's near-vicinity. That's all to say, the presence of gravitational anomalies means that Superman is not dead - he's just in a hibernation state (until his body can fully repair itself). After all, there's only thing that actually tells the audience that Superman is dead: Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lois Lane's assumption that Superman is dead.
Earlier in the film, Superman was struck by a nuclear blast - and presumed dead, floating lifeless in space, until direct sunlight kick-started (or at the very least sped-up) his natural regenerative abilities. While a nuclear blast might sound worse than death by impalement, Superman was near the kryptonite spear when he was stabbed by Doomsday, meaning it could take significantly longer for the kryptonian to recover from this injury - especially given that he's about to be buried underground (where sunlight is in short supply). That's all to say: just because the dirt is shown levitating doesn't mean that Superman is going to erupt out seconds later; though, it certainly suggests that this Man of Steel will return (a no-brainer given that he's set to appear in the Justice League team-up film).
Exactly how long it would take Superman to recover from his Batman V Superman injury isn't entirely clear either. In "The Death of Superman" comic book, it took awhile for the Man of Steel to reemerge - but there's a caveat. Superman's body was returned to the Fortress of Solitude where he was placed in a regeneration matrix - but an Superman (known as The Last Son of Krypton aka the Eradicator) was harvesting the Man of Steel's regeneration energy (which proved to be a bane and a boon for the real Superman). As a result, it isn't entirely clear how long Superman would have recovered from his battle with Doomsday - had he simply been left alone to heal.
Similarly, it is unknown whether the DCEU's Superman will suffer from any lingering effects after his rebirth - good or bad, physically or emotionally. The resurrected comic book Superman emerged with increased strength (and longer hair) as well as a few other enhancements to previous abilities. It's unlikely that the movie hero will be changed much, if at all, by Snyder after he resurfaces; instead, given the larger DCEU story (and inevitable appearance by Darkseid), it's much more likely that Superman's absence will be a driving point in the overarching story.
After all, the people of Earth turned their back on Superman before the Man of Steel gave his life to protect them; even if Superman emerged from his grave seconds after Batman V Superman cut to black, would he return to superhero duty right away? If not, what does this post-kryptonian invasion world without Superman look like and who else will step up to carry his mantle?
Maybe a speedy kid from Central City, an amazonian warrior princess, an atlantean king, an advanced cybernetic being, and... a bat vigilante?
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opens on March 25th, 2016, followed by Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016; Wonder Woman on June 23rd, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17th, 2017; The Flash on March 16th, 2018; Aquaman on July 27th, 2018; Shazam on April 5th, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14th, 2019; Cyborg on April 3rd, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps. on June 19th, 2020.