The superhero movie used to be a small niche genre. Before 2000, mainstream moviegoers weren’t all that interested in caped crusaders and vengeful villains. Sure, there was the occasional Batman or Superman movie, but for the most part those characters stayed off the big screen. But at the turn of the decade nerd culture began to burst into the mainstream. It all started with a string of hits: X Men, Spider Man (The OG Tobey Maguire version), Batman Begins, Fantastic Four and more. It wasn’t until 2008 that things took off, though.
In 2008, MARVEL studios released Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr. That movie became the centerpiece of what is now the highest grossing movie saga of all time (The Marvel Cinematic Universe). It also planted the seeds for a connected cinematic universe unlike anything mainstream audiences had ever seen. Growing from the seeds planted in Iron Man, Marvel has launched three successful movie franchises, and fascinated comic book nerds and mainstream audiences alike.
Also in 2008, Warner Brothers released The Dark Knight, a movie that proved superhero films can be more than pure popcorn entertainment. The Dark Knight won critical acclaim and is now thought of as one of the the best movies of all time. The movie grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide, and suddenly movie theaters were packed with comic book adaptations.
Since then, audiences have continually embraced almost every MARVEL and DC adaptation that has come their way (The Green Lantern, The Amazing Spider Man 2, and X Men Origins: Wolverine withstanding). Heck, MARVEL has a good enough relationship with audiences that they can adapt virtually unknown properties like Guardians Of The Galaxy and Ant Man and get people to turn out in huge numbers (Guardians is currently tracking to make over 70 million bucks in it’s first weekend alone).
But the whole thing could come crashing down. It has to, right? Superhero movies can’t dominate pop culture forever, can they?
MARVEL has begun to shake things up a bit to keep audiences interested. Captain America: The Winter Soldier more of a political thriller and Guardians of The Galaxy looks more Star Wars esque than a straight superhero movie. But their attempts at maintaining pop culture domination may be in vain, because if I’m right (Keep in mind that I am wrong very frequently, and this is in no way fact) the beginning of the end of the reign of superhero movies will begin with DC’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
The movie business is about money, and the Marvel cinematic universe is currently making a ton of money. Naturally, DC Comics and Warner Brothers want to make the kind of money they see their friends at Disney/Marvel making. With The Dark Knight Trilogy coming to a close, DC had a blank slate to work with, and a pantheon of possible heroes to choose from.
The hero they took to the big screen was The Green Lantern, which turned out horribly. The Ryan Reynolds fronted film grossed 219 million dollars worldwide, almost half of what most experts agreed it needed to make to be considered a hit. It was also panned critically, scoring a meager 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. So DC has started off 0 for 1 in the post Dark Knight era.
DC quickly backtracked from the adaptation, saying that 2012’s Man Of Steel would be a new beginning for DC comics on film. Everything onward from there would be considered a part of a connected universe. Man Of Steel was going to be DCs Iron Man.
That’s an enormous amount of pressure to put on a movie. On some levels it managed to live up to expectations, it did well at the box office (Over 600 million worldwide), but left critics divided (Scoring 56% on rotten tomatoes). But Man Of Steel was a commercial success, so DC comics began making plans for a Justice League movie.
I didn’t like Man Of Steel, I thought it was bland, absent of any amount of fun, with a wandering sense of focus. Also, the tone of the movie can’t possibly work when you add in characters like Batman and Aquaman, both of whom wouldn’t fit with the mythological epic tone set in Man Of Steel. But that’s not the problem, well it’s a problem, but not the main one. The problem is that DC is introducing it’s characters too fast. Half of the Justice League has been cast already and we’ve only seen one of them onscreen. MARVEL’s success came from letting audiences connect with Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and to a lesser extent Black Widow and Hulk individually before throwing them all together in one epic team up.
Think of all the heavy lifting that would have to be done if we went straight from Iron Man to The Avengers:
- They would have to explain who this alien god with a hammer is, why he talks so funny, and why is his brother is so hellbent on destroying humanity, also how he manages to teleport from earth, and why he even cares at all about the human race.
- They would have to explain who this Steve Rodgers guy was, why he’s been frozen since World War 2, and how he got to be so strong, not to mention all of the important information about Hydra and the cube introduced during Captain America: The First Avenger as well.
- They would have to tell us who Black Widow, Agent Coulson, Nick Fury and the entire SHIELD organization are, although Fury was introduced in Iron Man, you didn’t know much about SHIELD until Iron Man 2.
- You would also have to include the set up already in the Avengers: Hawkeye’s introduction, Black Widow’s backstory, and where The Hulk has been all this time during the movie, and the process of getting them all in one place.
That’s a crazy amount of stuff to pack into one movie, but DC and Warner Brothers are basically trying to pull it off.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice not only has to get audiences to accept a new Batman that isn’t Christian Bale, (An extremely tough task on its own, just ask Andrew Garfield and company about The Amazing Spider Man 2) but is going to introduce Wonder Woman and Aquaman as well. All of these heroes will face the new version of Lex Luther, who will also have to be introduced. In addition to all that, they’ll have to reintroduce Superman and establish his growth since the events of Man Of Steel.
Also appearing in the movie are Superman’s Mother, Lois Lane and the Daily Planet team, as well as Alfred (Bruce Wayne’s Butler/Father Figure) and I’m assuming more characters from Gotham as well. That’s already an insane amount of characters to try and cram into a two, or more likely, three hour movie.
But wait, there’s more! That’s only the stuff that’s confirmed. FOUR (not a typo, 4!) other villains and every Justice League member you can think of has been rumored to appear, though that’s only speculation at this point. But the main point is the same, the movie has so many moving parts and so many characters existing at once, the odds of it doing it all successfully are very low.
Which puts a ton of pressure on whoever takes on the challenge of making this movie, after all the main reason The Avengers succeeded was the excellent work done by writer/director Joss Whedon and Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige. Their brilliant character work and patience in developing and teasing plots, characters, and storylines has been remarkable considering how easily they could have failed. The Avengers was an incredibly ambitious undertaking and with less talented people behind it, theres no way it would be the success story it is.
Who’s doing this for DC Comics? That would be director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer. Snyder had one big hit (300) but then followed it up with two disappointments (Watchmen, Sucker Punch) before directing Man Of Steel. Goyer co-wrote the Dark Knight Trilogy and Man Of Steel with Christopher Nolan, but without Nolan’s help he hasn’t proven himself at all, with only modest hits like Blade and overall disasters like Jumper on his resume. Do these two have what it takes to follow up Man Of Steel with DC’s version of The Avengers?
I seriously doubt it.
The hype surrounding the Justice League will be immense to say the least. Audiences will be expecting something out of this world good. I’m talking Avengers level good. Batman and Superman in the same movie? If that doesn’t sound awesome, I don’t know what does. People will see this movie, I have no doubt about that, but I do doubt that they will walk out thinking Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice met their expectations. There’s almost no way in the world that happens.
If it does, then Goyer and Snyder have pulled off the impossible, and I will be wrong. But if they don’t, that’s it for DC, at least for their mainstream heroes.
Audiences aren’t going to come back for more Superman or Batman if Justice League disappoints, they most likely won’t be interested in finding out more about Wonder Woman or Aquaman either.
Plus, if the movie is truly, truly bad (Not likely, but certainly possible) audiences could be somewhat turned off of Superheroes in general. Comic book movies will still get made, but not with the frequency and and not with the almost guaranteed box office results they have today.
A Justice League movie isn’t a bad idea, Warner Brothers is just going about it wrong. You need to build the characters on their own before teaming them up. Give audiences time to get to know each character on their own before throwing them all together. Patience was the key to MARVEL’s success, but DC doesn’t even have to look that far to see examples on how it shoudl be done. DC Comics TV is doing superheroes incredibly over on the CW with Arrow and The Flash (Which I got an advanced copy of and is really, really good. Like surprisingly good, definitely check it out next fall).
Look, I hope I’m wrong. I hope the movie is awesome and all my fears are gone within 20 minutes of the movie. But DC Comics is going all in at the metaphorical cinematic poker table, and from where I’m standing, it doesn’t seem like they have the winning hand.
Welp. That was a ling rant on a movie that doesn’t come out for two years. Feels good to be back! Thanks for reading, see you guys next time!
For more on Man Of Steel, I’ll point you towards Max Landis’ excellent rant on the movie, which I agree with wholeheartedly. He explained the problems with it’s final act way better than I ever could: