The following is a pre-discussion of Batman v Superman: Dawn of the Justice. Feature writer Brett Harrison Davinger and editor James Tisch got together to talk expectations and/or anxieties revolving around Zack Snyder’s hugely anticipated superhero title, one that pits the DC Comics titans mano y mano; neither party has viewed the film at the of time of publishing. Batman v Superman opens in theaters nationwide on March 25, 2016.
Brett: 2016 is the biggest year for superhero movies ever (not to mention the countless other established franchises and aspiring franchises set to hit the theaters this summer), and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could be one of the biggest (successes or failures) of the genre ever. Before it hits theaters this week, I and editor James Tisch decided to have a pre-discussion about our hopes, concerns, and expectations for the desperate Justice League mega-franchise starter.
James: This is a monster year – Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse are all waiting in the wings. Yet, I wonder if Deadpool’s surprising success (along with its anarchic tone) may put a whimper on the more conventional titles yet to open. It seems like the superhero boom has been starting to tear at the seams for a little while now (Avengers: Age of Ultron, strikingly made a fair amount less money than 2012’s The Avengers, for instance)- do you think Deadpool rejuvenated the genre or sparked a need that a change-up is in order for future success?
Brett: Well it always takes time for the true effect of things to trickle down, and even then, filmmakers might take the wrong lessons. Remember how Batman Begins/The Dark Knight made many franchises think they had to go dark and realistic (e.g. The Amazing Spider-Man) without realizing why it worked for the Nolan movies – while also completely ignoring the humor and personality in those films? To consider the “Deadpool Effect,” we need to think about all the superhero movies currently in production and worry if they’re going to undergo massive script changes in the middle just to be more bawdy. Then we need to think of all the superhero movies in pre-production/development that will be forced to be bawdy/R-rated even if it doesn’t fit those characters. So although I think Deadpool can definitely help the genre, it can also hurt it. It all depends on whether the studios realize the key is giving each movie their own personality rather than trying to ape off the popularity of other films. (Though maybe Fantastic Four should have a bit more like Guardians of the Galaxy…)
James: This week will be a huge test not just for the superhero genre with Batman v Superman. It’s also a risky one for DC Comics, who has had a lot of difficulty over the years in trying to spawn a mega-franchise, which you’ve already eloquently detailed. It seems inevitable that curiosity alone will make Batman v Superman a hit (at least on its opening weekend), but do you think anyone is really interested in seeing the movie? For me personally, Man of Steel kind of did me in.
Brett: This is one of those situations where it’s hard to use online reaction to gauge how the regular public feels. Who would have thought Jurassic World would have become the third highest grossing movie of all time until Star Wars: The Force Awakens? The Internet clearly hates Batman v Superman and has ever since the initial thrill of “Batman AND Superman in the same movie?!?!” wore off. But Man of Steel did really good box office, and Wonder Woman and Batman may hold enough appeal to lure a lot of people in. I don’t know how good/bad the memory of Man of Steel is for average folks … or if it matters at all. Maybe people still feel burned from the first one, though I’d argue that’s a minority. Most people have probably forgotten enough about that first movie to position this as the true starter of the mega-franchise. WB/DC has to know they made mistakes with Man of Steel and they could use this movie to remedy them. Will they? From the trailers, it doesn’t exactly seem like it, unfortunately.
James: What did you think of Man of Steel? Does it get a bum rap?
Brett: I think it gets a bum rap, but I think it’s deserved. I found its visual style to be a step above pretty much all the others in the genre, and the entire “Clark Kent walks the Earth to find himself” aspect could have had a nice emotional hook to differentiate it from others of the genre. (Though one that might not have the fun appeal of the Marvel movies). But the final battle went so over-the-top that it became ridiculous and to throw in both the Terraforming and the Codex plot devices was gratuitous. The destruction of Metropolis never really bothered me (it’s no different than what happens to the city in pretty much every cartoon and comic) and the killing of Zod also didn’t. The main problem was that Superman wasn’t likable. I personally didn’t mind that, but looking back, I can definitely see how that was a mistake.
James: I don’t remember the movie all that well and I only saw it once when it opened in theaters. However, I vividly recall being angry after it ended. The whole thing just seemed so joyless and exhausting. You’re correct that the online world really went after Man of Steel in such a vicious way. That may have been unfair but I’m not really sure that I trust director Zack Snyder. I’ve seen all of his films (except the animated owl movie) but still can’t decide if he’s a visionary or just a hack that got lucky.
Brett: I wouldn’t call him a hack. I think his visual sense is too keen to call him a hack. Snyder can create images that stick with you – for good or ill, which is more than you can say for someone like Michael Bay. He just needs to tone down his impulses – or do quieter scripts. I was hoping that Batman v Superman would be toning it down, but then Doomsday appear and it’s like “great, more of this.”
James: Since neither of us have seen the movie yet, I’m wondering if there’s anything in the marketing that, to your eyes, seems like it might work? (Doomsday appearance aside)
Brett: It might be too late. We’ve been inundated with the same exact imagery for what seems like a year straight. More variety could have helped, especially in the middle of the ad blitz – namely with Superman. I would like to see them stop making Superman seem like the villain – show him being good or at least not being angry. Let us believe that there’s a character in this movie who isn’t a violent psychopath. (And yes, I used that three-syllable word because it’s one of the ten lines we’ve heard from the movie).
James: One thing that’s struck me in all the trailers and stills that I’ve seen so far is that the movie looks rather ugly. This has nothing to do with character or casting decisions or potential plotlines, but the imagery seems is so unappealing. It seems ever since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy posited the DC Universe into some facsimile of the “real world” that any sense of color or visual panache has greatly diminished. That grittiness worked rather well in Nolan’s films but it seems like there might be a breaking point here. Am I crazy or does Batman v Superman, on looks alone, seem awful?
Brett: Color? It seems like you’re forgetting about Green Lantern. You’re not crazy. When the first teaser trailer came out with Batman in the Bat-armor in the rain with the Bat signal, I thought it looked cool. Something Frank Miller-esque (and by saying that, I realize I’m opening myself up for comments about how saying that is flat out wrong and shows that I don’t get Frank Miller at all). It was uncomfortable and ugly, but it was something unlike the other comic book movies we’ve seen. You can imagine the actual frames of the issue. However, I didn’t expect that to go on for 151 minutes. It seems like every location has geyers of fire exploding around them. It’s supposed to be cool, but its overuse has made it almost comical (and not in the… , well you know). It doesn’t look like an attractive movie, but whether that style will contribute to or detract from the tone of the movie remains to be seen. But some color at some point would be nice. Something other than black and grey. But it’s Batman’s movie, so black and grey it is!
James: On that, do you have any expectations/nerves regarding Ben Affleck’s turn as the Caped Crusader?
Brett: I think Affleck has definitely proven himself as an actor, not to a Christian Bale level, but certainly light years ahead of where he was as Daredevil (aside – Season 2 on Netflix now!) But what I’m looking for in this movie, and the best way to differentiate it from other incarnations of the character, is that I need a Batman who is Batman first and foremost. Bale was Wayne coming to terms with his issues, but Affleck needs to be a Wayne who really is just Batman’s shadow. Does that require the greatest acting performance? No. But, it’s not really something that’s been tried in live action before. I’m interested in seeing if he (or anyone) could pull it off. That’s the only way I think Batman could really “beat” Superman; he needs to be Batman first. What are your thoughts on Affleck and, since you’ve been asking all the questions, what are your thoughts on the more controversial casting decision of Eisenberg as Lex Luthor?
James: I’m a shrug on Affleck in general. I always think it’s strange that they go for marquee names for Batman in the first place – it’s silly considering his face will be inevitably covered half the time anyway. Rather wished they had cast an unknown, but I feel that way most of the time in these sort of films. Funny how Superman is always played by a rising star and Batman is always played by an established screen presence.
Brett: But would you really say that most of the Batman were marquees names? Bale wasn’t. Keaton wasn’t. I don’t think Kilmer was. These were more character actors who happened to don the cowl.
James: They were all certainly more established in the mainstream than Henry Cavill or Brandon Routh.
Brett: But ‘established’ and ‘marquee name’ to me are two different things. Clooney was a marquee name – people would go to the movie just to see Clooney. But I don’t think any of those other actors really sold their movies on their name alone – that to me is the definition of a marquee name. But I would have liked to see a more challenging actor take on the role of Batman, a Josh Brolin or even a Karl Urban. Both of whom are definitely more established than Cavill, but again, I wouldn’t consider them marquee names.
James: Definitely see your point there. I standby that the character is the draw, not the guy in the suit. So the Affleck ingredient in Batman v Superman isn’t something that’s necessarily exciting me. On terms of Eisenberg, whose casting as Lex Luthor certainly has generated more words of contention, I’m actually fairly curious. Even if it turns out to be a mistake, I think he might be an interesting mistake. I’m hoping he’s the live-wire ingredient that juices the film and gives it a little spike.
Brett: I’ve been pro-Eisenberg since essentially the start. Yes, there was some initial hesitancy, but the casting seems odd enough to work. That this wormy guy is on the same playing field against two of the strongest, bulkiest guys in history? Interesting conceptually and visually. I want a Lex whose ability to control public relations makes him as dangerous and powerful as any one of the Justice League. A guy who is smart and clever enough to keep his hands clean while soaking them in blood. And who, in some incarnations of the character, is more a misguided anti-hero who sees Superman as a threat to what humanity alone can accomplish. That’s far more interesting than another real estate deal run amok. But, let me ask you this, if you didn’t know Eisenberg was playing Lex, would you know he was playing Lex from the ads?
James: I’m not sure. It’s difficult to imagine since casting news hits the world all at once, often years before we actually see a second of footage. I don’t think the trailers have been particularly persuasive in the slightest. But I’m holding out hope on Eisenberg being a bright spot considering he can do “smartest guy in the room arrogance” probably better than any young actor working today.
Brett: I agree. My question had less to do with his performance and more to do with how the ads haven’t been selling the movie well. And while casting news does hit everywhere at once, a lot of people don’t follow casting news, or the news of Eisenberg playing Lex (which is what, two and a half years old by now?) fell so deep into their subconscious that all they see is some weirdly hyper red-haired guy. Going back to an earlier point, having more marketing focused on each of the characters would have been a valuable way to differentiate itself from rain and fire.
James: Totally agree. It’s strange how dull the marketing camp has been on Batman v Superman, especially when you compare it the how vibrant and fun the campaign on DC’s upcoming Suicide Squad has been.
Brett: (Not to mention Captain America: Civil War.) The Suicide Squad First Look was interesting and the official trailer showed us a movie that could have a really fun, almost anarchistic tone. Batman v Superman didn’t have to have fun or exciting trailers if it is a more dramatic or serious movie, but let the marketing reflect that. Let us into the characters – not just Batman and Alfred – and make it seem more intense on a personal or emotional level. Seeing Batman and Superman pummeling each other in what seems like a nonstop fight seems exhausting in the way the end of Man of Steel was. And odds are that won’t be the climax, because we still need Wonder Woman, Doomsday, and some final confrontation with Lex.
James: Despite all of this, are you still excited for Friday?
Brett: Definitely. For all the faults and complaints, I’m at least interested in seeing what they do with it. Is the movie is going to be even 1/10th as ‘intelligent’ or ‘thoughtful’ as they are painting it as (with the ‘what happens after the major battle/when we learn aliens are real’ angle)? Is it just a facade for punching? Will they recover from Man of Steel in time for Justice League or will this ramp it up to even greater failure? Will the cameos from the rest of the Justice League be as bad as they very conceivably could be or will it really does establish a fully formed universe? What about you, are you interested?
James: I’m still on the fence, but never want to go into a movie wishing any sort of failure. I hope it surprises.
Brett: Anything you’re really looking forward to/really dreading?
James: Confirmation of my feelings on Snyder as a filmmaker primarily. I loved his debut Dawn of the Dead remake (not my preferred genre) and admired Watchmen but felt entirely removed from both 300 and Man of Steel. I’m also hoping the movie’s exhaustive list of introductions are creatively handled and narratively involving as opposed to merely shoved in (Marvel’s continual woe).
Brett: My biggest concern would be a way overstuffed movie. In addition to everything I mentioned, we also have that (probable dream) sequence of Batman dressed like a 1940s bomber entering Superman’s camp with Darkseid’s emblem emblazoned on the ground. Is that really going to be necessary? Is Doomsday going to be necessary? Stop throwing so much stuff into a movie because it dilutes the impact of the stuff that matters. The same thing happened with Avengers: Age of Ultron. The reason why Deadpool and to a lesser extent Ant-Man got more respect is because they were simpler stories told well. Before we go, one final question. In the battle between Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War, which are you more interested in? As for me, while Marvel is the more proven and likable commodity (and I still maintain that Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy were its two best movies), there is a sort of Marvel fatigue that can happen and may be happening. We get the tone, the characters, and the visuals, and while the movie might be fine and likable, we know we’re probably not going to be surprised. Batman v Superman, on the other hand, is mostly an unknown. It’s the real start of the mega-franchise; it could be a catastrophe or it could be genuinely epic or it could be both. It’s this level of uncertainty that makes me more interested in experiencing this last ditch effort for DC/WB. You?
James; I’ve been feeling Marvel fatigue even before it became popular to do so. In the end, Captain America: Civil War may very likely be the better movie but, you are right, we pretty much know what we are going to get. Batman v Superman has a twinkle of the unpredictable. We will discover the outcome this Friday.