The trailer for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel recently made it online after rolling in front of the related DC property The Dark Knight Rises. Reactions have been mostly positive to the somber looking film, with words like “restrained” being laid upon it. Many have chosen to highlight the apparent effect that Batman producer/director Christopher Nolan has had on the Superman story. The trailer for Supes does seem to harken to a more Batman Begins esque story rather than say, Superman Returns or Green Lantern.
Hey, the Batman movies were good for the most part right? Having Christopher Nolan involved is a great idea, right?
Well, not if you want your universe to do anything other than implode.
It’s indisputable that Marvel is winning the comic book movie war against DC. It’s so lopsided it’s probably not even correct to call it a war, but rather a slaughter. Marvel probably doesn’t even know they’re competing against DC in Hollywoodland, what with DC offerings like Superman Returns, Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, and Catwoman being critical and commercial failures. Outside of Nolan’s Batman films, DC hasn’t done well. Superman Returns, a boring affair, straight up lost $70 million. Watchmen, while fairing better with critics, was also ultimately a failure at the box office, unable to recoup its production costs.
Now, part of this perception is really based on Marvel kicking it into high gear in 2008 with the launch of Iron Man and their unified universe. Obviously pointing the finger at Superman Returns and Catwoman reaches a bit further back. One could point at a few Marvel failures critically, but even their panned films at other studios, like Daredevil, were profitable.
The folks at DC have to be somewhat envious, especially in light of the massive success of The Avengers which dwarfed even the Warner Bros powerhouse The Dark Knight. With the success of that team film, it’s no surprise that wheels began turning at DC to finally start getting serious about that Justice League of America movie. With Nolan’s Bat-success, it would seemingly make sense to keep him in the fold and allow his hand to help guide JLA superstar Superman.
This, however, is wrong. Very recently Christopher Nolan has disassociated himself from Batman and a potential Justice League movie, which makes his producing role on Man of Steel somewhat troublesome. If DC is serious about a JLA movie, and it seems they are, having hired screenwriter Will Beall to turn in a draft, they’re not only behind the eight ball, they’re on the wrong table.
With Nolan seemingly uninterested in continuing his work in the DC world, this further strands DC and the Justice League in a sea of nowhere. The Avengers was a cap to several successful movies – the heavy hitters of the team (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk) were all well established in films of their own before any footage was rolled on the team-up. A Justice League movie, if sent to production within the next year or two, is faced with an uphill battle.
Firstly, Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan aren’t interested. Their entire take and creation of Batman is basically moot, rendering the character back to zero. Does DC cast a JLA Batman before introducing him in a rebooted flick or a new franchise start? Zack Snyder has said that his take on Superman and his star, Henry Cavill, would be separate from any JLA team – so there goes Superman too. Anything established in next summer’s movie is basically a wash for the team-up.
Which, if you’re keeping count, means that the Justice League will be ground zero for all of the heroes. There is nothing establishing this universe. No Batman, no Superman, no Wonder Woman. This is the complete opposite of the formula that created success in The Avengers.
Part of what works character-wise in Whedon’s films comes from the fact we’re already familiar with the characters. We know Thor and Loki and their relationship. We understand Captain America’s journey and we know Tony Stark is a flashy asshole. We know who these characters are and what they look like. Avengers didn’t even have to introduce Hawkeye (who appeared in Thor) or Black Widow (who appeared in Iron Man 2).
DC has made what will likely be a massive misstep. They got three very well received and profitable Bat films from Nolan, but their approach to Superman is all wrong if he’s only part of a larger team story. They have no “godfather” of their universe. Nolan isn’t interested, yet he stewarded Batman and now Superman, both of which apparently take no steps forward on a JLA movie.
If a JLA movie is to happen, the ground work needed to be laid early. Superman was the logical start. Whoever was hired onto Man of Steel should have been hired on as a guiding hand for the entire universe. DC has made mistakes by never starting a thread of a full universe in any of their movies. No Batman film mentions anything outside of the Nolanverse. Will this Superman flick mention Gotham, a Green Lantern Corps, or a guy who talks to fish?
What has made Marvel a success comes down to a plan. The goal was always The Avengers and under the guiding hand of Kevin Feige, Marvel established a connected universe that brought a wide variety of separate characters together flawlessly. If DC wants to come close to the success Marvel has, they have to start thinking in terms of films and years, not franchises and single releases.
Jumping directly to the Justice League in an attempt to ape the success of Avengers is a leap into a money pit. The movie has too much saddled on its shoulders already. All the Marvel mash-up had to do was bring the team together and give them something to fight. A JLA movie will have to introduce not only the characters, but new actors, unify the universe, bring the team together, and give them a cause to fight for.
This isn’t a problem that can be blamed on Bale, Cavill, Snyder, or Nolan. They’re just dudes living the dream of making a movie that interested them. The blame lays higher up on the food chain, whether it’s an executive at Warner Bros or people within DC failing to plan for the long term. Marvel’s roadmap to success was no secret. They had long planned and talked about this exciting journey. Instead of watching and taking notes, DC was content to let Batman unfold in a world of his own. Now, they have nothing. No universal thread. Which makes the rush to make a JLA film a big enough of a mistake to push me past my boiling point. The whole idea of these films being popular and happening now, but disassociated from each other, pushes me past my boiling point.
DC, the time is past. Any decisions made from this point forward have to be about the universe. It doesn’t matter if you reanimate the greatest writers and directors of all history if you just give them a singular film to focus on. Open your eyes to the universe. Why do I care? Because I like great comic book movies and I’m afraid you’re about to screw the pooch on the JLA and, in a rush to make that film, potentially miscast and misdirect the Superman and Batman franchises in the process.