After the mega-success of The Avengers movie (known as Avengers Assemble to those in the land of Steed & Peel), Warner Brothers has finally started working on a DC cinematic universe so it can eventually make a Justice League movie. Eagle-eyed viewers already saw Superman smash General Zod through a Wayne Enterprises satellite in Man of Steel. On Saturday at San Diego Comic Con, its director, Zack Snyder, revealed his next movie will be a Superman/Batman crossover inspired by The Dark Knight Returns!
This surprise announcement has thrust nerds everywhere into a literal tizzy of the worst sort. (There will be a Flash movie, too. You guys and gals also like Central City’s Scarlet Speedster, right?) Most are exhilarated that WB is finally taking concrete steps toward making that long promised Justice League movie. Some are already convinced that this could surpass all of Marvel’s Phase Two films.
While a Superman/Batman (there’s no chance of them calling it World’s Finest, right?) will probably be gangbusters for WB’s coffers in the short term, I still think it’ll prove to be a bad move in the long run. I’d have much more faith in the project if it was being overseen by veterans of WB’s stellar DC animation department. I’m not saying that it won’t be an entertaining film, but it does have a lot of hurdles to overcome if it wants to truly set WB’s superhero output on par with Marvel Studios. So if any of you have contacts at WB, could you make sure the right people take a look at this list before production gets underway?
8) It Makes Superman’s Image Rehab Trickier
One of the big reasons opinions on Man of Steel are so split (aside from Lois Lane’s and Lana Lang’s hair colors being confusingly swapped) is that people were not expecting such a huge body count from a Superman movie. Even though Clark Kent went out of his way to help people in mortal peril, it was most apparent before he put on his Superman suit. So it’s totally reasonable that the world would mistrust Superman. It’s a neat – if unorthodox – idea to make Superman prove himself in the sequel rather than being the guy everybody already counts on. (If they don’t address this issue, the sequel will feel very insincere.) It gets a little trickier if Superman’s main opponent and eventual ally is Batman.
In most modern interpretations, Batman has a reputation as frightening vigilante whose aid thwarting costumed gansters with oddly specific fixations is only accepted by the authorities out of necessity (the necessity being that Gotham’s authorities are either corrupt or inept). So odds are that the public will view the movie’s events as two psychos having a turf war before agreeing to share the spoils. This won’t be a problem if they go for a more Adam West-style Batman, but the predominant view is that Batman must be as grim/dark as possible. So there’s a good chance that the Justice League could be headed by two public enemies, especially if Lex Luthor marshals the populace against them. While DC has had its share of stories where the world’s governments preemptively attack the Justice League because they’re paranoid about being subjugated, the movies should give audience a reason to root for the team as it performs incredible feats of heroism instead of instantly painting them as irresponsible threats. Defending a world that fears and hates them is already the X-Men’s shtick.
7) It’s Happening Too Soon After Nolan’s Highly Successful Bat-Trilogy
Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films have a great (if over-exaggerated) reputation among fans & critics, especially as they washed the taste of Schumacher’s Bat-films out of the public’s minds. This acclaim could work against viewers’ acceptance of this movie’s Batman. Christian Bale has already stated that he and his impression of a lung cancer patient won’t return as Bruce Wayne. Fans of the Nolan franchise might be keen to see the continuing adventures of Robin John Blake (the worst attempt at superficial fan service in recent memory) as Batman, but it’s much more likely that Bruce Wayne will just be recast.
Even with Nolan producing and David Goyer co-writing, Nolan die-hards may feel that rushing out a new Batman is a cheap cash grab and boycott it just as Sam Raimi die-hards did for The Amazing Spider-Man. Snyder’s uncharacteristicly desaturated palette and “realistic” direction on Man of Steel may further confuse audiences expecting a continuation of Nolan’s franchise based on similar aesthetics and tone. If Man of Steel had a more unique viewpoint that didn’t evoke Nolan’s movies so much (perhaps one more akin to the unabashedly vibrant Watchmen) viewers would be more apt to accept a whole new interpretation of Batman that stands apart rather than considering it a pale imitation of an acclaimed version.
6) Batman is Too Similar to Lex Luthor
Since they’ve heavily implied that this is based on The Dark Knight Returns, Batman and Superman won’t see eye to eye. LexCorp featured prominently in Man of Steel’s background, so it’s likely they’ll finally introduce a Lex Luthor who isn’t obsessed with real estate, too. The problem here is that both antagonists are too similar. Both are genius tycoons who use Kryptonite (it’s another safe bet that his greatest weakness will be introduced in the sequel so these humans have any chance of besting him) to defeat Superman, whose immense power they feel is a danger to humanity. (As a comic book aside, isn’t it depressing that one of Superman’s best friends is openly stockpiling weapons against him in contrast to his worst enemy, who is openly stockpiling weapons against him?) They’re also obsessive and arrogant control freaks who don’t fight fair. Sure, Lex doesn’t care about crimefighting or know every martial art, but he’s still prepared for almost anything even without a virtually magic utility belt. Their biggest difference is that Batman’s armor is bat-themed whereas Lex’s armor is just green and purple, the color of crime in Gotham City.
Lex Luthor is an intriguing archenemy because he has the massive cojones to constantly face off against a god-like alien and the brains to not lose by that much, but he loses a lot of uniqueness when you also have Batman fight Superman. Since Metropolis has witnessed the Kryptonian threat firsthand, it’s also harder to paint Lex as the supervillain of the two since his hatred of Superman will have justification beyond the petty hubris or having his schemes foiled. This is one instance where it’d be smarter to develop these rebooted characters in different films before bringing them together so their contrasts would be sharper. Maybe in this movie continuity they’ll split the difference by revealing Lex Luthor is actually Batman?
5) The Continued Exploration of Superman’s World Will be Overshadowed by Batman’s Inclusion
One of the interesting creative choices in Man of Steel was not trying to cram his entire supporting cast into the first movie. Being able to see Clark Kent interact with his new Daily Planet coworkers without blowing his superhero alter ego (something he needed to do a much better job of in the first one) in the sequel is a big draw teased by its epilogue.
Will the sequel manage to make ginger photographer (and Spider-Man’s inspiration) Jimmy Olsen as relevant as he was during the Silver Age? (Close-ups of the controversial Jenny’s ID badge reveals her to be a Jurwich rather than a gender-swapped Olsen.) Lex Luthor was foreshadowed as being a titan of industry whose grudge against Superman wouldn’t be completely irrational. Maybe they’d even work in new foes to the silver screen like Metallo, Brainiac, Parasite, Bizarro, Maxima, Darkseid, Silver Banshee, Toyman, Lobo, Blaze, Doomsday, Livewire, Terra-Man or Mr. Mxyzptlk? What about S.T.A.R. Labs, Metropolis’s Special Crimes Unit, Project Cadmus, Intergang, Kandor, Bizarro World, the Fifth Dimension, or finally showing us what the inside of Phantom Zone looks like? Do they have the balls and ingenuity to make the Legion of Super-Pets something that won’t turn away the general public?
Well, forget about most of those possibilities! Making Batman a major part of the sequel puts a damper on further exploring Superman’s revamped world because they need to reorient audiences to him. Like I said, they don’t want to be known for tarnishing Nolan’s legacy by confusing audiences that it’s supposed to be the same Batman from his no-superpowers (yet plenty of plot holes) franchise. If WB wants to capitalize on the Caped Crusader’s presence they’re not going to leave him a cipher and ask audiences to just roll with it. So rather than fleshing out Metropolis beyond what prior films have shown to get viewers fully invested in this version of the Superman mythos, get ready to meet Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Jim Gordon, Gotham City and Wayne Enterprises all over again! If you’re lucky, they’ll even toss in a brand new origin flashback!
4) Fighting Over a Misunderstanding Before Teaming up is a Flimsy Plot
Even though Batman and Superman will be trading blows with each other, they’ll eventually come to an understanding by the last reel. Neither one is going to permanently defeat the other because they’re DC’s top heroes. The movie has to end with Superman and Batman in a place they’d be willing to work together for the greater good in order for the Justice League movie to happen. So the whole movie can’t be Superman and Batman wailing on each other, or it risks the audience thinking that both of them are complete assholes. The Avengers had its heroes get into fan-servicey fights, but it also had the sense to limit it to a single scene (okay, two if you count the mind-controlled Hulk and Hawkeye aboard the Hellicarrier). As many of the embedded clips show, Superman vs. Batman could be an awesome sequence, but you can’t build an entire movie around it.
Superheroes fighting over a misunderstanding before teaming-up to fight a common foe is one of the hoariest clich?s in comic bookdom. People complained that Man of Steel’s fights were almost as over-the-top as those on The Powerpuff Girls, so there better be something meaty beneath the superhero slugfest to get people invested. Batman fighting Superman to avenge all those Metropolitans who were killed by Zod’s extra-dickish gravity cannon while he was busy protecting the Earth’s entire ecology is probably an okay reason to get the two into the same movie. (Or maybe Batman just wants to bring this vandal to justice for breaking his satellite.) Whether or not it’ll work in this movie really depends on who their mutual enemy is. Please don’t let it be the Prankster.
3) Resources Should go to Other Superhero films because Superman & Batman are Overexposed
Batman and Superman have dominated the DC’s mass media output for decades; they’re about as overexposed as superheroes can get. While different demographics may have attachments to varied versions of these icons, everyone at least has a working knowledge of who they are. Even without any new introductory movies, WB could’ve gone straight to the Justice League movie and non-nerd moviegoers would’ve immediately thought “Hey! It’s Batman and Superman! I know those guys! I trust this movie to explain why they’re working together. Carry on, blockbuster superhero team-up I mistook for an Avengers spin-off!” It’s all the other Leaguers they need to worry about explaining to the public. Doubling up on their two biggest guns is just counterproductive. If they want to do team-up movies to lead up to Justice League, it should be Superman or Batman teamed up with a lesser known Leaguer, such as Martian Manhunter or Vixen, so that the public has a popular character as an incentive to learn about a new one.
Superman/Batman is a waste of resources that could go towards funding a brand new solo flick. In particular, the WB needs to stop dicking around and make a Wonder Woman movie. She’s a very complicated character who absolutely needs her own movie to recontextualize her mythos to the public. As the remaining third of DC’s “Trinity,” it’s vital that she be a fully-formed character audiences can relate to rather than a mannequin who might get fleshed out if a spin-off is greenlit. Giving her movie a Superman/Batman-sized budget could help ensure that her movie is given A-list effort, unlike Catwoman and Jonah Hex. Of course a massive budget didn’t help Green Lantern much, but isn’t the WB overdue to get something non-Batman right by accident?
2) It Will Feed the Notion That Batman is Superior to all Other DC superheroes
The Dark Knight Returns is so monumentous because it has Batman putting a savage beatdown on Superman. This was astounding because it was completely unheard of before. The problem is that fans started taking it as gospel that Batman would always beat Superman, ignoring the fact that the story takes place in an alternate reality where an aged Batman had to prepare for years in order to pull off that stunt (and its Superman should be known as the Man of Straw). Similar “Batman kicks Superman’s ass” scenes have since popped up in various comics and cartoons so frequently that this went from being a jaw-dropping, once-in-a-lifetime event to regular as clockwork. Batman went from being inspirational because he can stand alongside superhumans despite being powerless, to being the baddest motherfrakker around because he can automatically wreck any god-like being in the most humiliating way possible. That misconception of Batman is especially wrong because it would give him the legit superpower of unbeatability. Batman is the crafty underdog who’s only able to save the day because he has extra time to plot while supervillains tucker themselves out fighting his more powerful teammates.
Having Batman be able to immediately trounce Superman is incredibly problematic because it negates any cool points Superman may have gained with moviegoers from Man of Steel. The easiest and most common way to prevent Batman from being upstaged by folks with powers is to depict all the other superheroes as utter nincompoops (the Frank Miller Method), which is disastrous for building any other superhero fanbases. Batman’s already awesome enough that anything more is just gilding the lilly. A Batman who’s so badass he makes the rest of the Justice League superfluous is a very bad idea. WB should be dissuading people from the notion that he’s superior to the rest of the Justice League. This movie could go the College Humor route of showing how a Nolan-level Batman (the one that spent 80% of The Dark Knight Rises epically failing) would fare horribly in a world of superbeings to keep his cultural cache of cool from overshadowing less popular Superman, but I doubt WB wants to incite rabid Bat-fans to riot over that much realism.
1) WB Needs to Wean People off Batman if its DC Movie Franchise is to Have any Longevity
The real reason the WB is crossing over Batman with Superman on the big screen is for guaranteed easy money. While Man of Steel performed strong internationally, it still hasn’t earned double its production costs domestically. That’s the biggest criterion by which Hollywood deems anything successful. So they’re adding the ever-popular Batman to lure folks turned off by Man of Steel back into theatres for its sequel. If Superman/Batman underperforms at the box office, WB will pin its shortcomings on public’s disinterest in Superman rather than any flaws in the movie or its franchise-building strategy. If that happens, the Justice League movie will probably be thrown back into Development Hell and the WB will go back to churning out Batman movies non-stop. Batman is a very versatile cash cow, but it’s a massive waste for WB to sit on the rights of seventy-five years of DC properties without thoroughly exploiting them. You can already see this myopia enveloping its DC Nation TV block and direct-to-DVD offerings.
The whole point of building a shared cinematic universe is to sell people on diversified films that are all interlinked for maximum profitability. Giving consistent attention to varied projects is what’s given Marvel Studios the success needed to create huge buzz over space epic starring C-listers the average person has never heard of. It’s great that WB has consistent popularity with Batman, but the long-term success of its franchise plans depends upon getting moviegoers to like other DC characters just as much. While it may seem like crazy talk now, there will eventually come a time when people become sick of Batman adaptations. At that point, the WB will have nothing, because it failed to cultivate any DC successors.
WB could be enjoying the same level of success as Marvel if they’d just treat the rest of the DC universe with the same love they reserve for Batman. They need to get the general public excited about seeing all their favorite superheroes together for the first time in Justice League. If they can’t manage to raise the public’s enthusiasm for all its DC adaptations, WB might as well retitle the movie that Superman /Batman foreshadows to Another Batman Reboot Unfortunately Co-Starring Some Other Superheroes That Are Totally Lame!