Editorial: In Defense of 'Batman v. Superman' & DC Film Universe
by Dan Marcus
April 22, 2015
The first teaser trailer for Zack Snyder’s highly anticipated sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was unveiled on Friday – and expectedly, there were plenty that loved it and plenty that didn’t. There were some that praised the trailer’s dark tone but some that argued the trailer was too oppressively bleak. At the center of this debate lies a microcosm of Warner Bros. and DC Comics' approach to how they are handling their cinematic universe – which has created plenty of detractors, including those on Marvel’s side already accustomed with how to build a comic universe on film. However, I believe the trailer represents what WB and DC are trying to do in direct contrast with what Marvel has done, and that's okay.
If you haven't watched the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice teaser, here you go:
First of all, it should be noted that when the trailer was unveiled on Friday, it was after an international version leaked online a day prior. It also came right after the second teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted to high praise, where it was unfortunately trampled on by fans that were still busy swinging around their lightsabers in euphoric joy. This was clearly not how Warner Bros. envisioned the rollout of the hotly demanded first trailer to their superhero epic would go. Warner Bros. intended for die-hard fans to see the trailer in IMAX when they offered fans a chance to see the trailer early in theaters around the country – not to see the trailer on computer screens via a blurry cam recording.
It didn’t exactly go “according to plan” (not to steal words from a certain Joker) as WB had to deal with their plans unexpectedly being thwarted. Nevertheless, WB and Zack Snyder followed through with their plans – not to be deterred by pirates – and showcased an exclusive IMAX trailer with extra footage and an introduction by Zack Snyder himself. I was fortunate enough to attend one of those screenings. It’s so unfortunate some fans had their first glimpse at footage from the film via a blurry cam recording because seeing the trailer on the giant IMAX screen was incredible – especially since Snyder actually shot portions of the film natively in the giant IMAX film format.
After the screening, I received the IMAX posters of Batman and Superman that debuted last week – plus a free pass to see the film a week early in IMAX. For those that say Warner Bros. doesn’t treat their fans well, the event went a long way to turn the tide on that notion. It also helped curve some of the backlash the leaked trailer created. Not everything goes “according to plan” but sometimes – like Batman and Superman will next spring - you gotta roll with the punches. All things considered, Snyder and the studio went with the flow pretty well for the most part.
Of course, there are still plenty of fans that aren’t convinced. The trailer was too bleak, it was too depressing. Where was the awe and excitement? Marvel gets praised all the time for creating movies that are fun and lighthearted, even though critics are already calling Avengers: Age of Ultron darker and more serious than its predecessor. To play devil’s advocate, some Marvel fans are calling Netflix’s "Daredevil" the best thing Marvel has done yet – which is amusing given how that show is incredibly serious and dark. However, this isn’t meant to criticize Marvel Studios (or the fans) and the excellent work they’ve been doing ever since the first Iron Man movie. This is to address those that would critique what WB and DC are doing and to say, “Hold up a bit.”
First of all, the DC Comics cinematic universe is just beginning. If we choose to ignore the Green Lantern movie starring Ryan Reynolds (as most fans would probably enjoy doing anyway), then Man of Steel was the first ‘chapter’ in this new cinematic universe that WB and DC are trying to create. Batman v Superman will be the second film in this universe and you can already tell how WB/DC are planting the seeds with the first trailer. Many people criticized Man of Steel for ignoring the devastation that occurred in the film’s final act – and I was one of them. However, those concerns are addressed in the opening moments of the trailer.
As we slowly approach a Superman statue in what’s presumably a part of a Metropolis that’s in the middle of being rebuilt, we hear voice-over of many different people arguing for and against Superman – who he is and what he means for the world at large. As we get closer, lights reveal the words “false god” as we hear people chanting “go home”. Clearly not everyone was happy with how Superman handled Zod and the destruction in Man of Steel. This is indubitably directed towards some of the fans that had issues with that. As I was one of those people, I was very relieved to see that addressed within the first 30 seconds of the very first trailer for the film.
Beyond addressing fans’ concerns, the footage also sets up what is assuredly going to be the main conflict of the film’s story: gods and larger-than-life beings existing on this planet. There are those in the past that have criticized DC’s pantheon of superheroes and admittedly you can understand why. Unlike Marvel, whose superheroes are usually embedded with relatable problems that make them palatable and tangible to readers and audiences, DC’s superheroes are different. Most of DC’s superheroes are god-like figures that either come from distant worlds or strange places. Most of Marvel’s superheroes come from Earth – such as Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man or the X-Men. Even the heroes that don’t come from Earth are characters – such as a walking, emoting tree or talking raccoon – that are full of problems and worries. Most of DC’s superheroes come from the sky, under the seas or beyond – such as Superman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern (although admittedly usually the person that inhabits the Green Lantern Corps ring comes from Earth). They are fantastical beings and are treated as such.
Marvel focuses on heroes that you can connect with on a personal level – Spider-Man is who we wish we could be as outcasts in high school. If you’ve ever been a repressed minority or felt different, then reading issues of X-Men might have empowered you to feel good about not blending in. DC is usually about heroes that you fantasized about being as a kid. When I was growing up, I remember wishing that I could have been rich and fight crime as Batman. I wished that I could fly and have superpowers like Superman. I wished that I could have rode a giant sea horse and swam with the fishes – well, maybe not the last one.
Warner Bros. has the seemingly insurmountable task to take these larger-than-life, god-like figures and make them tangible to audiences – and it’s not an easy feat. However, by addressing Superman’s place in the world and what he means to humanity, it’s a first step in dealing with that paradox. We know by the end of Batman v Superman that Batman and Superman will set aside their differences, learn to work together and eventually form the Justice League.
However, in order to get to that point, we need conflict. We need to see people question Superman’s presence in our world – just as Batman will do. It paves the way for other fantastic beings to be introduced in this world, such as Wonder Woman, Aquaman and others. People are wondering, “Why is Batman fighting Superman?” Well, why did Iron Man, Captain America and Thor fight in The Avengers? Why will they fight again in Captain America: Civil War? Not just because we love seeing those characters fight, but because we also love seeing them get past their differences to work together. It took nearly an entire film for The Avengers to stop bickering with each other and work as a team. Should it be any different for Batman, Superman and the rest of the Justice League?
Those are some of the differences between DC and Marvel – but those differences should be celebrated, not argued. Of course there are going to be fans of DC that will defend their heroes that they grew up with to their last, dying breath – just like there are going to be fans of Marvel that will defend their heroes in the same fashion. In this new climate where we get three or more superhero movies a year – and judging by what’s to come in the next five years and beyond, that number is only going to get higher – diversity should be embraced. Do we want all of our superhero movies to be the same? Of course we don’t.
Even with Marvel, the comics have gone to some pretty dark places – places the Marvel cinematic universe is about to head in fairly soon if Phase 3 is any indication. The same can be said for DC Comics as well. Even if Batman v Superman seems dark and gloomy based on the trailer, there will undoubtedly be moments of levity when the film comes out next year. Captain America: The Winter Soldier went to some pretty dark places but had plenty moments of fun and levity as well.
If anything, the next five to ten years should be exciting for both fans of DC and Marvel – heck, it should be exciting for comic-book fans period. However, let’s wait until we’ve declared judgment on what WB and DC are doing –when they’ve really only just begun. Let’s not forget that after Batman v Superman opens next March, we get David Ayer's Suicide Squad just a few months later in August. That will be a movie focusing entirely on villains – since when have we seen that in the comic-book movie genre? We’re also seeing Wonder Woman finally get her own big-screen adventure in summer 2017 before leading up to Justice League: Part 1 in November 2017. By the time that happens, we’ll have seen four movies in DC’s cinematic universe – just one movie short of the amount of Marvel movies we had before The Avengers came out three years ago. So, if anything, WB/DC are on the right track. Let’s at least give them the benefit of the doubt before throwing down the hammer – or shield. What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Are you excited for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Sound off in the comments below!