Warner Bros. and DC Comics finally take a stab at establishing their own cinematic universe later this month with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A sequel to 2013’s Superman-only picture Man of Steel, Batman v Superman represents the first time DC’s two most popular superheroes will share the screen in a live action adaptation. Pairing two of the most recognizable comic book characters in the world sounds like a win-win situation on paper, but the hype surrounding Batman v Superman is a strange beast indeed.
On the one hand, it’s one of the most anticipated blockbuster films of the year and will likely generate some hefty box office returns on the back of the Batman and Superman brands alone, not to mention the ongoing popularity of comic book films in general can only be a boon. On the other hand, there is a lot more negative buzz surrounding the film than Warner Bros. was probably anticipating, especially when you compare the overly-enthusiastic hype being generated for Marvel’s next film, Captain America: Civil War, which drops in May. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not Batman v Superman will establish the DC cinematic universe as a worthy contender to Marvel’s, but if we had to go on what we have seen so far, we’d be willing to bet that Batman v Superman is going to disappoint due to the following factors, even if we really hope it doesn’t…
8. Too Much Too Soon
Having Batman and Superman battle each other on screen should be a momentous event and while Zack Snyder’s film is sure to be thrilling, it’s hard to see it making as much of an impact as it could have if Warner Bros had arranged its universe-building plans differently. The reason Captain America: Civil War has more hype surrounding it (other than the fact that Marvel is just showing off at this point) is because it’s a film that the studio has been building to. Having your franchise’s two most popular characters set against each other is nothing to take lightly and that’s why it’s taken multiple installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to get to the point where Captain America and Iron Man can believably be at each others’ throats (so to speak).
Batman v Superman has nothing to build off of other than one Superman film that wasn’t even initially designed as part of a larger interconnected universe. Sure, we’re familiar with these characters, but we haven’t seem enough of these particular incarnations to get heavily invested in them. Taking the opposite approach of Marvel could prove to be a winning formula, but that’s an awfully risky gamble for DC to make at this stage in the game.
7. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor
At this point, we’re reasonably confident in what Batman v Superman’s multiple stars are bringing to the table … except for Jesse Eisenberg. From the moment the actor was cast in the role of Lex Luthor, doubt has been cast on his ability to do justice to the popular DC villain. By casting Eisenberg, Warner Bros. signalled that they were taking the character in a different direction from previous live action incarnations, but fans weren’t overly confident in what that direction would turn out to be. Recent trailers have shown Eisenberg’s Luthor to be manic and obnoxious, and it’s hardly a confidence booster. Eisenberg is a fine actor and perhaps there’s more nuance to his performance than what’s been shown thus far but at this point, it’s hard to have much confidence in this Lex Luthor being anything more than an over-the-top distraction from the film’s more interesting aspects.
6. The Central Conflict Is Largely Meaningless
It pretty much goes without saying, but the central conflict of Batman v Superman involves Batman and Superman; it’s all there in the title. The film’s marketing campaign is really putting an emphasis on the spectacle of seeing these two heroes come to blows and while it’s surely going to be fun to see how the film handles what is by its very nature an extremely unbalanced fight, the problem is that this epic clash already feels meaningless.
Yes, we probably could have guessed that Batman and Superman would hash out their differences before the credits rolled (they are ultimately allies, after all) but then one of the trailers went and spoiled everything anyway: the film’s third act will feature Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and a few other future Justice League members taking on Doomsday. Compare that to Captain America: Civil War, another film that pits two of its universe’s biggest heroes against each other, and how details about that conflict remain a mystery. Batman v Superman showed its hand way too early and because of that, almost all the air has been sucked out of its main narrative attraction. Which is really just another way of saying that ..
5. We Already Know How It Will End
DC is so desperate to get its cinematic universe up and running to start competing with Marvel that it’s not leaving anything to chance. The film’s subtitle, Dawn of Justice, alludes to the fact that it’s laying the groundwork for the Justice League, and we’ve already seen what world threat (Doomsday) will cause Batman and Superman to set aside their differences and come together as a team. Sure, Zack Snyder has made comments addressing these concerns, claiming that there is much more to the movie than has been revealed so far (and there’s no good reason to doubt him) but it’s hard to escape the feeling that Warner Bros. revealed their hand way too early.
Waiting around for Batman and Superman to finish fighting in order to get around to the universe-building work robs the film of any surprise or mystery it could have had if the advertising campaign had just focused on the two title characters (and that awful “Dawn of Justice” subtitle was never added). Imagine how cool it would be if we had no idea that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman teamed up for a showstopping finale: DC could have had a moment on par with Nick Fury’s Avengers name drop from the first Iron Man, building anticipation for future entries in the franchise. As it stands, we’ve already seen the roadmap and it’s just not as exciting.
4. Zack Snyder
Zack Snyder is an extremely talented director and he’s put out some great movies (Watchmen and his Dawn of the Dead remake are modern classics as far as we’re concerned). That being said, he’s also a very inconsistent director, relying too often on spectacle over narrative, as seen in more recent efforts such as Sucker Punch and even Man of Steel. At this point, we just don’t know know which Snyder we’re going to get with Batman v Superman and that’s cause for concern. Will he be able to balance the film’s bombastic, CGI-heavy presentation with a thematically-rich narrative that gets at the heart of the central conflict between the film’s diametrically-opposed heroes? At least the film has Oscar-winning screenwriter Chris Terrio (Argo), who replaced wildly-inconsistent writer David S. Goyer, Snyder’s screenwriter on Man of Steel. We can only hope that having a good writer on board helped reign in some of Snyder’s less desirable filmmaking habits.
3. Overstuffed Narrative
For a film with only two character names in its title, Batman v Superman sure has a lot of spinning plates. Most superhero films that feature an abundance of characters and conflicts end up feeling like bloated messes lacking in focus (the X-Men films are notoriously bad for this) and there is cause for concern that Batman v Superman will suffer from the same issue. The film is not only introducing a brand new Batman in addition to picking up where Man of Steel left off with Superman, but will also introduce Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, Aquaman, and Cyborg, just to name a few. Heck, it’s even all but confirmed that The Flash will make a cameo.
While it’s true that other superhero films featuring large casts of characters have been successful at telling cohesive, focused narratives (the first Avengers springs to mind), they are the exception rather than the rule. Whether or not Batman v Superman is guilty of being too busy is something we’ll have to wait for to find out — the two and a half hour running time will certainly give it some breathing room — but right now, things look quite messy.
2. Grimdark Overload
If ever there was a film to apply the Joker’s famous “Why so serious?” line to, it would be Batman v Superman. There’s nothing wrong with making a dark superhero film (not everything needs to be Guardians of the Galaxy) but it’s hard not to be put off by just how overly serious this film looks. From the overuse of rain-soaked nighttime shots to the back-and-forth growling between its two leads, Batman v Superman sure looks like a dreary superhero film.
Judging by some of his quips used in the trailers, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is probably going to be employed as a comic relief device, which is fine, but what we’d really like to see is the other characters lighten up a bit. Yes, Batman v Superman should be darker than most of what Marvel puts out, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have some fun. Hopefully by the end of the movie when Bats and Supes are best buddies, they can share in some good-natured ribbing because this thing is in danger of going so far in its commitment to being “grimdark” that it’s verging on being laughable.
1. Warner Bros. And DC Have Had A Poor Track Record Lately
As badly as Warner Bros. and DC want to go head-to-head with Marvel at the cinema, they simply don’t have the latter’s track record when it comes to delivering consistently good films. The last truly excellent DC film was The Dark Knight, which came out almost eight years ago. The last great Marvel film was the last one (say what you will about Ant-Man, but it was a lot of fun and knew exactly what kind of movie it needed to be). The last three DC movies — Green Lantern, The Dark Knight Rises, and Man of Steel — were all varying degrees of disappointing and it’s hard to see Batman v Superman breaking away dramatically from that pattern. It will probably be a solid, enjoyable movie, but will it live up to its potential? It’s difficult to say.
If Zack Snyder and his team recognized the pitfalls of the last few DC movies and made steps to avoid them, then Batman v Superman could very well represent a turning point for the studio’s cinematic output. History has a habit of repeating itself and judging by the many trailers that have been released so far though, it looks much more likely that Batman v Superman is only a marginal improvement on its predecessors than something that’s going to put a dent in Marvel’s crown. That may be enough for some, but if Warner Bros. wants to truly do battle with Marvel, they have to start using the same ammunition.