Roundtable: MAN OF STEEL 2 is now BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN

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DRU: I love Batman. I love Superman. I liked, but did not love, Man of Steel. So how does the announcement, made during the Warner Bros. panel in Hall H at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, that Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel sequel will be feature the Caped Crusader? And not just that, but that their relationship will be informed by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns rather than team-up comics like World’s Finest?

In short, I think it’s a terrible idea.

First, let’s talk positive potential. Batman and Superman are great for contrasting (and thereby reinforcing) each other’s character traits. Batman is dark because Superman is light. Batman’s morality is ambiguous because Superman is so straight-laced. I suppose that having Batman around would give this film the opportunity to better explore Kal-El’s psyche, particularly in a post-Zod world where he should have a lot weighing on his conscience. Probably the best thing about having a non-superpowered individual in the fray, however, will be that the scale (and amount, I hope) of the action should be toned down at least a bit for the sequel. I think we all wondered how Snyder was planning on topping himself action-wise in #2, and introducing Batman is him laying down his trump card.

They haven’t announced the title yet, but Batman vs. Superman is unlikely, given where the title cards appear in these WB superhero films (at the end). World’s Finest would better reflect the presumed status quo at the end of the film, and reinforce the optimistic, hopeful tone that they thought they had at the end of Man of Steel, and they may have had if not for all that wanton destruction…

Like all that third-act destruction in Man of Steel, I think this is a bad move. Why? First of all, while I think that Batman is a more interesting character if he exists in a world where there are superhumans — it makes the decision to fight crime as a superhero all the more baffling — I think that interest might come at Superman’s expense. Take The Dark Knight Returns, which they’ve announced will “inform” their take on the material: Superman is essentially a government flunky with a spit curl. Batman is the “cooler” character, and audiences will likely choose to identify with him over Supes. I don’t necessarily think that they’ll reduce Superman’s complexity that much, but I do doubt that Superman and Batman will engender an equal amount of empathy from audiences.

What can we assume that this Batman will be like? In my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine them departing too drastically from what Nolan did in his trilogy (given that he’s the “godfather” of the cinematic DC Universe, and will likely be producing this film and lending a hand putting the story together), and that’s a big problem. I don’t want to see more of that Batman. I want to see a Batman that is five steps ahead of everybody else, whose superpower is his brain. I want to see the world’s greatest detective. I don’t want a “real world” Batman! (Contrary to what most people claim, I think Batman is probably the least realistic superhero.) I’m not sure David Goyer, nor the universe set up in Man of Steel, is capable of giving us that Batman. I think it’s capable of giving us exactly the Batman we had before. So yes, this is going to be another “dark and gritty” Batman — if anything, perhaps even more so than last time, given that he’s got to provide a dark contrast to the now-darkened and -grittied Superman.

Despite Snyder’s invocation of TDKR, however, I think we can safely assume that Batman and Superman won’t really be enemies here. It’s a good bet that an already-established Batman is vetting Superman — perhaps he’s putting a team together? — to see if he can be trusted. And by film’s end they’ll team up to take on a bigger threat, presumably Lex Luthor. I’m not terribly interested in prognosticating plot details, though, especially since I know that what I come up with off the top of my head isn’t going to be what I see on screen. I guess I’m just not excited about this announcement and am trying to rationalize why. How does it strike you fellas?

DAVE: Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this. And while I wont go so far as to say this is a terrible idea, I do admit that I am not all that enthused by the possibility of what the finished film will look like.

On paper, I would agree that this approach to building the DC Universe is a much better idea than jumping straight into a Justice League film. Also on paper, I would agree that this is a perfect way to reintroduce Batman without having to do a full blown origin film again. Better yet, by having Clark be our main protagonist in such a film, there is every chance that Batman can be a shadowy, psychologically unknowable individual figure which, for my money, works so much better than the psychologically understandable and relatable character of the Nolan films.

However, given the miserable creative failure that is Man of Steel, I can’t see this Superman/Batman film working.  On the Superman front, this announcement pretty much sabotages any chance of correcting many of the problems I had with Man of Steel. For example, how on Earth is there going to be any time in the film to actually start defining the secondary characters of Superman’s supporting cast when we now have Bruce, Alfred and possibly Commissioner Gordon to deal with? What are the chances of seeing some optimism in the film when a good chunk of it is going to be spent in Gotham? About the only good thing I can see coming of this is watching Clark do some good old fashioned crime reporting from the back streets of Gotham, but what are the odds we’ll actually get to see that?

Then there is Batman. There are two possibilities here that I can see happening. One, as you mentioned Dru, we end up with a Nolan style Batman, which I think we all agree we’d rather not see. Option two, and I think what is perhaps more likely, is we will have a far more high tech Caped Crusader this time. Indeed, given that The Dark Knight Returns has been mentioned as an influence, I would be shocked if we didn’t see Bruce in a high tech Bat-suit which will allow him to go toe to toe with Clark for at least one scene. Which would be fun, if I didn’t get the feeling the film is going to be relentlessly dark.

What I find most depressing about this announcement though is that it clearly shows that Warner Bros. still has no real game plan for the rest of the DC Universe. Instead of letting Batman rest a good five or so years and working on getting Wonder Woman, The Flash, and/or other characters up and running during that time, Warner Brothers is going to blow millions of dollars and creative energy on a property that doesn’t need it yet. If they really want a Bat-film so badly, why not Batwoman, or Batgirl? I am far more interested in the story possibilities of those two at the moment than the idea of more Bruce Wayne.

So James, what do you two think?

JAMES: Well, I’m more than a little baffled by this news too. I’ll call this out right up front: Why are they doing this now? For once there seems to be an interest in a big screen version of Superman. Adding Batman to the mix seems like a terrible move. I want to see a movie where Superman’s the star, and that doesn’t happen too often. I don’t want Superman to take a backseat — again — in a sequel. We’ve seen main protagonists in superhero films get pushed to the sidelines far too many times in sequels, as if the studios and creative personnel don’t have the confidence that the main character can carry another film or that they think the answer is adding more characters. Every Batman sequel could’ve used one less villain and one less character (do a head count in the climax of TDKR: does everyone need to be there?).

Cavill is a great Superman and I want to see him explore the character further, and by having Batman in there — who as you point out, Dru, is seen by many as the “cooler” of the two — will severely derail any solid development of Clark Kent, let alone the relationship between Clark and Lois. The twist on their relationship is — I think — fresh, and I want to see how that plays out, especially since that’s never really been done on film (save for an hour in Superman II and a nonsensical moment in Superman IV). If this is a sequel to Man of Steel, I want to see the ideas and themes of that film fleshed out and pushed further. Given the film’s story and themes — and what it establishes at the end — I can’t really see how a Superman/Batman film is the logical extension.

That said, the idea of Batman and Superman teaming up is eternally cool. And with the right hook, could be terrific. I mean, it was done expertly in Superman: The Animated Series and on page in the Dave Gibbons/Steve Rude Superman & Batman: World’s Finest run in the early 1990s. Besides, I would much rather see Superman team up with Batman (and vice versa) to take down a threat than either solo and a handful of other characters. One of my rubs with The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel is all of the parallel action involving people who are not Batman or Superman. Moments like these are just stock-in-trade of the action film genre. I don’t really care about seeing Army people fight Kryptonians. What makes the X-Men films and Avengers so much fun is seeing heroes work together towards a common goal.

Still, I just don’t see this as an idea I can fully get behind just yet. I mean, I want to get behind it, but it just feels like lazy fan service. Yet, as always (okay, most of the time), I will reserve judgement until I see the final product (or at least until more details come out of the woodwork). Unlike you, Dave, I thought Man of Steel has some pretty great moments. It managed to subvert my expectations and put interesting twists into the Superman mythos. And with the right material — and a swift and judicial editing hand on the screenplay — we could get something that really explores the two most well-known superheroes together. So at this point,  colour me cautiously optimistic.

ANDREW: Well, the things I miss out on when I leave the house for a few hours. Needless to say, this news is shocking, but the planning behind it seems more shocking still, especially because when you get down to it, there’s no real way this film can work.

I’ll always be a DC diehard, but when you look at film adaptations, their product has been iffy and their long term planning has been non-existent. Remember when Green Lantern was going to be the first move in a Justice League film? Then it lost a boatload of money and they pulled the plug? And remember a few weeks back when Man of Steel made a boatload of money, and then they were interested again? Say what you will about the individual Avengers films, but regardless of their performance, Marvel was patient and held fast to the long term goal. DC seems to be changing its mind more often than they cancel New 52 titles.

Yes, Man of Steel proved to be a hit. And yes, so did Nolan’s Batman series. But it seems that DC wants to strike while the iron is hot and roll these two franchises together as soon as possible. Sure, it makes a kind of sense — Batman and Superman are the cornerstones, and a Justice League film would have to include them both. I’m not against the idea of a crossover or some reference to a greater metahuman world in a Superman film. The first problem is that by design, this can’t really be a decent or insightful Superman film, nor a decent or insightful Batman film. I think James called this one: a team-up would be iffy but salvageable, but building a film around Batman and Superman on a collision course just reeks of fan service and box office opportunism.

Call it the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup logic of Hollywood: people love chocolate, and people love peanut butter, so they’ll love them together. However, at no point did Reese’s build a marketing campaign around chocolate and peanut butter levelling cities as they battle to the death.

The second problem, and I think a far greater problem in terms of building a DC film universe, lies with the resolution of Man of Steel. We’ve already seen Superman essentially ascend to Godhood, and we’ve seen him pushed to the point of killing his enemies. So a) how are we going to believe that Batman could really pose a credible threat, b) what kind of cockamamied plot is going to explain why Batman and Superman end up as sparring partners? And no, please don’t tell me that a president that looks like Ronald Reagan forces them to stand up for different causes.

Call it Spectre/Sentry Syndrome. Whenever Marvel or DC had a big crossover event, they needed to show how this year’s new big bad was the biggest and baddest we had ever seen. Yet the problem was that they had characters on their rosters that effectively acted as Gods, and no costumed villain could plausibly pose a threat to either. So writers were tasked with finding all sorts of ways to remove these omnipotent figures from the action — lots of fake-out death scenes, life-model decoys, excursions to the Negative Zone and so on. Based on what we’ve seen in Man of Steel, how can we really buy a situation developing that’s so bad, Superman can’t handle it? And moreover, he can’t handle it, but a rich dude with gadgets can?

Sure, in something like Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, all these potential problems are there, but Morrison is a strong enough writer that he resolves them all, and in a very satisfying way to boot. I can’t say I put that much faith in DC’s film scripting wing. But comic books also require a slightly different suspension of disbelief than their filmic counterparts. When you consider how DC films have been all about emphasizing the “grounded” aspects of these characters, it doesn’t leave much room for the leap of faith we must take to believe in something like the Justice League.

Will the film do well? Yeah, most likely. People like seeing their favorites onscreen, and this movie will let both Superman and Batman do a whole lot of punching, and maybe even some lifting. Will it be any good? Hard to say. But evaluating the situation as is, the only reason I can think for this move to be made is money, and I chalk it up to DC’s unwillingness to invest in a long term strategy. Sure, it’ll be the right play in a fiscal sense, but it just strikes me as cynical, profit-driven, and largely unnecessary. Worse still, if this film ends up doing gangbusters business, then we may see a shift away from the team-up and more towards a “two movies and a head-to-head collision” model. How long before we get a Spock vs. Kirk movie, or Logan vs. Deadpool? Oh wait….

That said, I’m going to reserve tickets to this movie now. So what if it’s terrible? You only get to see Superman and Batman go Ali-Frazier so many times in this life. A bad call for quality, perhaps, but an excellent call for business, and at the end of the day, it’s all about puttin’ them butts in seats.

Dru

Dru Jeffries is the co-host of 24 Panels Per Second. Follow him on Twitter @violetbooth.

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