DC Comics is killing your favorite heroes, one film at a time

by W. Andrew Powell
Batman v. Superman

DC Comics and Warner Bros. Pictures need their collective heads examined if they think the trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice does either character “justice”. Maybe the comic book nerds of the world will celebrate the trailer and the film, but it just looks cliche and disappointing, and it’s part of a big trend that makes me wonder when we’ll see another great film starring either iconic hero.

Once upon a time, Marvel was a bit of a joke, at least if you were talking about their heroes on the big screen. Take a peek back at Howard the Duck, The Fantastic Four, or Daredevil and you’ll get an idea just how bad it could get.

That has all changed though when Marvel took control of their own characters, who previously were at the whims of the studios who licensed them. When Marvel started getting their image under control, and building a larger story that would eventually lead into cross-over films, they found the style that not only made the best use of their characters, but also brought audiences into movie theatres.

People like these characters, and they love the stars who they identify with in these key roles.

For Warner Bros. and DC, the story has been a lot more complicated, and the best thing that could be said about what’s happening is that DC has managed to get at least one decent character on television, and they’ve got two of the most iconic characters around to work with–which is obviously why they decided to make Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The first issue, however, is that the tone of DC’s characters has always been a bit darker, especially in recent years, and that mood has rarely been very successful on the big screen, especially when there’s no sense of humour or heart.

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight from 2008 was by far the most successful DC film to date, and that was DC Comics at its darkest, and at its best. You could argue that part of that success was because of Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker, but that was also one of Nolan’s best films.

Following the success of that film, it made sense to not only keep Nolan around in some capacity, but to have him oversee the Man of Steel film as a producer. Obviously, Nolan’s tone is quite dark, so once again DC and Warner ended up with Man of Steel feeling almost dystopian and otherworldly, which was a big shift for Superman. That gamble ended up paying off in a not-too-bad film that had the third biggest box office totals in recent years for a DC character.

The thing is, the box office that year, and in 2012, definitely went to Marvel. The Avengers grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide, next to Man of Steel pulling in just-over of $665 million. Even Iron Man 3 took in over $1.2 billion worldwide (although a lot of that was from foreign markets), while Thor: The Dark World nabbed just over $640 million.

Those are good numbers, and even with all the films Marvel has made, they’ve done well, with pretty solid reviews to boot.

So, what does all that prove? There’s money in good franchises, and there have never been many great franchises to start with, aside from James Bond and a few others, and especially not with the eagerness we’ve seen from Marvel.

The concept of a DC-led hero franchise must have been tantalizing to DC and Warner Bros, who have been making films together for a long time, but their results have been more of a mixed bag, probably because the long-term vision didn’t exist until just recently. That new vision is why we’re finally getting two Justice League films in 2017 and 2019, with Batman v. Superman kicking it all off in 2016 with some key character appearances, including Wonder Woman and Aquaman.

The problem is that, so far, Batman v. Superman doesn’t look very good, and to me it feels like a hobbled-together concept that has been rushed, rather than cultivated the way Marvel did it between Iron Man and Avengers. The plan might be great, and, who knows, maybe the film will be fantastic, but frankly I think Zack Snyder is overrated as a director, and the tone that they’re building on is too depressing.

Plus, the premise seems to be to get fans into theatre seats so they can find out why Superman and Batman are fighting, but I’m not sure I care. I think the concept is so ridiculous, it can’t possibly pay off in the end, and the gear they’re wearing in the trailer looks more like something you’d see in a video game or a toy shop, than in any film I actually want to see.

Who knows, maybe the kids will bring in enough revenue to make it a hit?

(And, yes, don’t get me started on Marvel. They have the same issue with some costumes–especially with Iron Man–but I think Marvel has made their gear a better part of their stories and films.)

Take a look at the trailer below and see what you think. There doesn’t seem to be a lot to look forward to, and since we don’t see any villain, the best we can assume is that Superman is somehow the bad guy. Now, imagine Batman trying to defeat a god-like character, and tell me how he’s supposed to win without it getting ridiculous? Also, Batman is almost unrecognizable, and it’s yet another star (Ben Affleck this time) in the role, so how are we supposed to root for him?

Next year we’ll get our answer, and perhaps Snyder and his team will make this film work, but so far, and based on the films it follows, Batman v. Superman may put a tombstone on the feel-good vibes that most fans get when they think of these two heroes, and that’s saying something.

Yes, after all these years, even just the memory of Christopher Reeve as Superman, and Michael Keaton as Batman makes me smile, but it’s getting a lot harder to remember the good old days.

That’s a pretty dark turn in itself, and it’s completely at odds with what Marvel is doing: making great films and finding some magic that has turned even obscure characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy into a massive success story.

Time to dig yourselves out of that hole, DC and Warner. You’ve got two of the best comic book characters ever created: don’t screw this up… but I think you’re going to.

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