Wednesday, July 24, 2013

So Let’s Talk About That Announced Superman Vs. Batman And What it All Means...

We all know by now that this past weekend’s San Diego Comic Con saw the official announcement of a Batman versus Superman movie, directed by Man of Steel helmer, Zack Snyder. A sequel of sorts, this film is set to pit Henry Cavill’s Superman versus a (presumably new) Batman in a story somewhat, sort of, kinda’ inspired by Frank Miller’s highly acclaimed graphic novel: The Dark Knight Returns. It’s also set to be released in 2015, up against other huge franchise entries like... oh, I don’t know... Avengers 2: Age of Ultron and Star Wars Episode VII.

So it sounds good, right? In theory? (Especially if you can get past certain vocal sectors of the Internet’s irrational hatred of Zack Snyder. I’m personally a fan and think that most of his films suffer more in the scripting as opposed to the visuals). But what does all this mean? Why this? Why now? And what are the biggest challenges that Warner Bros. needs to overcome to actually pull this off?

Let’s chat about all this surprisingly tricky stuff... after the jump!

Firstly, you would think that this was a no-brainer, right? DC/Warner Bros. owns some of the hugest, most recognisable characters in pop culture history so you may wonder why they are struggling to bring many of these characters to the big screen while Marvel is making billions with their stable. Marvel made Iron Man an A list character. Hell, they have such huge balls that one of their films next year will star a racoon! Meanwhile, Batman and Superman are arguably Warner Bros. safest bets (the former more so than the latter) so why haven’t they appeared in a film together already? And that’s where it starts to unravel.

The thing is, Warner Bros. has promised us plenty of DC movies before. In fact, late last year, around the time that Episode VII was announced, we were told that Warner was aiming to release a Justice League film in 2015. However, dissatisfied with the script, Warner put those plans on indefinite hold earlier this year. And, of course, a few years ago they were going to make a Justice League movie with George Miller at the helm - and even cast it - but that film was also shut down early into production. And there was a Batman vs Superman movie planned long before that (it is teased via a banner in 2007’s I Am Legend) that was dissolved when the focus shifted to Batman Begins. Plus there’s the aborted Joss Whedon scripted Wonder Woman, the aborted Green Arrow escaping from a prison for superheroes movie, not to mention constant rumours of The Flash and others being in development with no completed films in sight. So with that sketchy track record, why do we think that this film is even going to happen?

The logo as it appears in I Am Legend. (Source).
Well, Warner is at least in a better position now. The Nolan Batman trilogy made a bazillion dollars, and Man of Steel is considered a box office success. There’s certainly more impetus than ever to get this film made, and Superman and Batman are more manageable (and perhaps palatable) than dealing with the Justice League as whole. And a Superman sequel will certainly benefit from the inclusion of the more popular character of Batman to give it a boost and distract from any misgivings that audiences may have had after engaging with Snyder’s first Superman outing. But it all still hinges on the script, and that’s where Warner tends to get into trouble.

Let’s look at the invoking of Frank Miller’s sacred Dark Knight Returns and consider what that might mean in the grand scheme of things. My guess is not a lot. Miller creates a very wild and stylised world - a twist on the eighties - and gets bigger and crazier as he goes. There’s a ton of assumed knowledge in that book - you need to have a basic understanding of the history of the characters (and, perhaps more importantly, the forces that drive them) in order to appreciate the way in which Miller plays around with these familiar toys. And despite Superman’s third act appearance, that book is absolutely a Batman story and is completely ingrained in that dark and gritty world.

Just about every element of that book wouldn’t work in a follow up Superman film. You couldn’t have the young female Robin because you never established the original Robin and what that meant or what it meant to lose him. And you can’t do those insane things with Two-Face or the Joker. But most of all, if they are indeed introducing a new Batman, they’re not going to introduce a Batman who is an old man. Surely they want a Batman young enough to segue smoothly into another 6 - 10 years of movies.

So what do they mean then when they say that it is inspired by The Dark Knight Returns? I can only assume that they are referring to the core dynamics of their relationship. On the simplest of terms, Superman operates with the law and is sanctioned by the Government, and Batman is a vigilante outlaw who the government sees as a big enough threat to have Superman take him down. It all leads to a big fight where Batman has to be as prepared as absolutely possible in order to last even a couple of rounds against Superman.

But Miller’s work is far more specific than that. Really the Superman of the story is a government stooge who is invading countries at the request of an especially nutty President Reagan. Whereas Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel Superman has already sent a clear message that he’ll work with but not kowtow to earth’s forces. Plus Miller’s Batman is unapologetically and unrelentingly a crazy, violent jerk. I wouldn’t call him “likeable”, although you can appreciate and respect him for surviving his unusual journey. So when they say, “inspired by The Dark Knight Returns” I think we can safely interpret this on the simple surface level of: “Batman will fight Superman, probably while wearing special armour”. Oh, and they've also used the familiar fat bat symbol in the logo.

I strongly believe that introducing and establishing a brand new Batman in a film that is also acting as Superman sequel is an incredibly challenging undertaking. The inhabit starkly different worlds and the city that Batman resides in is just as important a character as he is. So you’re not just establishing the new version of Batman, but also the new Bruce Wayne, the new Gotham City, the new supporting characters, and the new villains he faces. It’s a lot to consider, especially when juggling Superman and his own world at the same time. And let’s be honest, Man of Steel leaves Superman with a lot of work to do. His status quo needs establishing too. Who is Clark Kent of the Daily Planet? What’s his relationship with Lois Lane? With the government? What are his outside threats? There’s so much to take on.

With Nolan in a producer role, I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up hearing that Christian Bale will return as Batman. That would really be the easiest way to move forward efficiently without having to press the reset button once again. It has been reported repeatedly that Man of Steel does not take place in the same universe as the Nolan Bat-films but, when a lot of money is at stake and huge opportunities beckon, I don’t think that it’s impossible for that to change. The first Iron Man film didn’t present a character or world where you thought Thor or Loki might exist and yet Marvel somehow managed to mash together a whole lot of outlandish ideas that audiences accepted. And we are so accustomed to seeing Batman and Superman together in comics, animation and games that I honestly don’t think too many filmgoers would bat an eyelid if Bale took the plunge into a wider world.

I actually think that the person that would need the most convincing is Bale himself. They’re going to need a great script and - as we said at the beginning - that’s the part they seem to struggle with. And I feel that if they were already confident about the direction that they are planning to take Batman in this one then they would have told us already. I'm sure that part is all being currently figured out and aggressively negotiated. Marvel was prepared to do what they had to do to keep Robert Downey Jr as their hub, and if Warner is smart I think they'll be at least considering doing the same with Christian Bale. Plus he practically retired at the end of the last one. Force him back into action and you have an extra Dark Knight Returns parallel.

So I think it's early. Probably even announce to early, but Marvel would have stomped all over them if they hadn't promised something. Most will argue that Marvel STILL stomped all over them, but hey, it's a start. If a Superman vs Batman movie is a promise that Warner Bros. can fulfil then I am totally excited for it. I too would love to finally see those two characters together on the big screen but I think there are still a lot of hurdles to clear before it happens.

What do you think? Oh really? Well the hell do you know?

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