We’ve already held a pre-discussion where we laid out our anxieties and expectations, formally reviewed the film, offered a second take, and had a post-discussion. We will hopefully now complete our takes on Batman v Superman with a discussion about the future of the DC Extended Universe. Warning: there will be spoilers.
Brett: Since its release, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has faced near universal derision from critics and audiences (namely because of director Zack Snyder) and a 69% drop in second weekend box office. Needless to say, this response will affect WB’s plans for the entirety of the DC Extended Universe. But before we get into our overall thoughts on where this mega-franchise will go, want to give our brief, overall thoughts on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice? I know we talked about it in our respective articles (see above) but for convenience sake, in one or two sentences, your overall thoughts on Batman v Superman.
Erik: Well, the first time I saw Batman v. Superman, I thought it was bad, but the more I thought about it, I realized it was shit. It had a shit script (which is where basically all of my problems lie – with the writing) and as a springboard into a new film universe, I don’t think it did its job in creating intrigue regarding its characters or world. And I’ve taken the time to think about it as a comic book fan, a film fan, a comic-book-film fan, and someone who just wants to have a good time at the movies, and I just don’t have many nice things to say about it.
Brett: I wrote a Benefit of the Doubt article where I talked about some of the aspects of the film I liked/appreciated, but overall it’s not a good movie, though I found it more disappointing than flat out bad (I say that as an aficionado of bad films). I didn’t completely hate the universe we’ve been thrust into, but I can’t say I’m overly excited about jumping back into it (with the possible exception of Batman and I do admit a fondness for Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor). But with a gigantic drop off in the second weekend, I think it’s clear that this movie doesn’t have much broad appeal – critics, general audiences, fanboys have all turned against it. Its biggest selling point is that it’s not as bad as a lot of the critics would have us think. Which naturally brings us to the big question…Justice League Part 1 under the guiding hand of director Zack Snyder and writer Chris Terrio is supposed to start filming in the next couple of weeks (April 11 according to Entertainment Weekly). Do you see this happening or do you expect massive retooling?
Erik: The way I see it, there’s two ways Warner Bros can react to the audience drop-off and negative reviews: they could go “well plenty of blockbusters have seen big drop-offs in their second weekends [and they have], plus who cares about the critics, we’re making money bitches” and basically stay the course. Or, they could take a long hard look at themselves, at Zack Snyder, at Marvel, and (I know this is impossible) some actual comic books while they’re at it and have a good long think about how to proceed. In my ideal world they would push back Justice League (which I think they’re getting out too soon anyway), at least until after the Aquaman, The Flash, and Wonder Woman movies are out, fire Snyder, and hire someone who is more adapt at creating original stories. However, I’m well aware this probably won’t happen given the time and money they’ve most likely already invested in Justice League as it is.
Brett: Of course, WB is no stranger to throwing away a lot of money on DC properties. Superman Lives is a major example. Not to mention how Batman v Superman’s release date/filming schedule was thrown off by practically a year (it was initially supposed to come out the summer of Avengers: Age of Ultron). Despite WB’s claims to the contrary, you have to imagine that they’ve realized something is not entirely right with this mega-franchise. While all movies have big drops their second weekend, the Batman v Superman one is a lot bigger than most, which is a sign of audience reaction far more than a sign of critics influence. It’s at the point where their latest TV ad has Twitter pull quotes, which is really kind of shameful for a movie of this size and importance.
Erik: It’s a strategy usually reserved for mediocre jump-scare-packed low-budget horror movies.
Brett: Exactly. This was supposed to their Avengers – and this is what they’re down to because they have to contend with all the negativity surrounding the film. If you look at what Disney has done with Marvel and Star Wars, they have clearly recognized that getting fan support is important. Obviously, you’re not going to please everyone – especially with a fanbase as passionate as comic book readers – but you can develop kind of a rapport with the audience. WB’s quotes responding to the bad publicity has gone the opposite route: “Well, we made millions of dollars so nuts to you.” An approach like that will definitely turn more people off because it shows that all they care about is the bottom line (even if the bottom line isn’t as good as they were hoping for). Let’s be honest, this is true for all these movies, but playing the public relations game is an important factor in how we relate to these films. Look at what happened with this film. According to Variety, it needs to make at least $800 million to break even, which it probably will, but just barely. WB clearly wanted this to be a billion dollar grosser, and odds are it won’t. Odds are it won’t even hit Deadpool’s domestic total. So what to do? I am not a Zack Snyder hater, but with everything surrounding this movie and the mega-franchise, and him being the biggest target for the derision, WB might need to figure out some way to get him out of directing Justice League (make him a producer or give him some token title) as a way to possibly regain audience trust.
Erik: The stuff you mention about WB’s rapport has been part of the problem, I think, from the beginning. Early on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lifeline (maybe shortly after Iron Man came out), we were getting thrown tidbits of information that only a comic book fan could really appreciate – for instance, the fact that Jeph Loeb, comic book writer and higher-up at Marvel Comics, would be involved to some extent (I believe he’s been a creative consultant on some of the films and TV shows). The result was comic fans getting a feeling that the big guys in Hollywood might actually care to some extent about the source material they were adapting. I’ve never gotten that sense from WB. I mean, sure Snyder talked extensively about the comic book storylines he was taking inspiration from, but did anyone ever say they were talking with folks at DC comics, or getting them involved in any way?
Brett: I don’t believe so (I think Snyder mentioned he talked with Frank Miller, but Miller isn’t necessarily a ‘DC’ guy).
Erik: Plus, he’s fucking insane these days.
Brett: True. But there is no sense of a brain trust behind these movies in the way that Marvel has Kevin Feige. You mentioned earlier about trying to see Batman v Superman as a comics fan and a film fan and it failing on both levels, which I agree with. It seems that WB is looking at DC as some sort of ‘focus group’ experiment – I can only imagine the countless changes made between the first and final draft of Batman v Superman as they tried (poorly) to add more Justice League members in and rush their development. The movie has a feeling of them adding things rather than integrating them. I bring this up especially, because I was reading stories about how Suicide Squad is now undergoing reshoots to add more levity to the film due to the completely reasonable complaint about how there was no joy whatsoever in Batman v Superman. However, Suicide Squad comes out in August and I trust David Ayer to have put together a film that works. Part of the reason behind that is the latest trailer, which indicated to me an energetic, fun, and possibly weird movie. While I know reshoots are common in major movies like this, reshoots in response to a complaint about another movie tells me that WB is not thinking of the movie itself but rather trying to fix something from one movie which may not even be broken in this one.
Erik: Much like you, I have a lot of faith in Ayer (I mean have you even seen Fury? Come on!), so unless he’s involved with, or gave the okay to these reshoots, I don’t like the idea of them. I get the impression – from both Squad trailers actually – that film would already be humorous, but it would be a dark humor that would not pervade the entire film, just be there to kind of balance out the serious moments. More than the proper amount of jokes could upset the balance and turn the whole thing into a farce. Look, I loved Deadpool, but Suicide Squad does not need to be Deadpool. Also, who’s writing the new jokes? If they weren’t involved with the initial scripting, isn’t there a good chance the new humor won’t fit the tone of the rest of the film? This is making me think of Fantastic Four and its reshoots. Are there going to be scenes where Jared Leto’s face paint abruptly changes?
Brett: Tonal consistency. From the ComicCon footage and trailer, Suicide Squad seemed to have a tonal consistency based around dark humor, but it fits the property. After all, this is a movie about villains who are on a suicide mission. Trying to apologize for Batman v Superman’s problems by making Suicide Squad have more likeable characters and a lighter tone will only end up hurting both movies. The way to ‘apologize’ for Batman v Superman is by making a better sequel to Batman v Superman, not panicking and trying to make all the other films fix those mistakes which might not be mistakes in their respective films. But speaking of respective/future films, I think another big question is – did anything you saw about Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, or Aquaman interest you in their standalone films?
Erik: Starting with Wonder Woman. I will say she was one of the better parts of the film (most likely because her lack of screen time gave the filmmakers less chances to fuck her up), and knowing that they’re keeping some magical aspects of her in tact (what with her being old enough to have fought in wars of the early twentieth century) makes me a little bit hopeful for her future big screen depiction. Moving onto Cyborg and Aquaman, no and no. I didn’t think they looked bad, but their cameos didn’t really reveal anything about them I didn’t already know. Flash is an odd one. His appearance seemed to be doing the most to set up Justice League, but his involvement with the plot felt so inconsequential and forced that I don’t really know what I’m supposed to get out of it. Also I’m just gonna take a wild guess and assume that post-Apokaliptic (see what I did there?) Earth Batman dreamed about isn’t gonna come to pass, and even if it does, it’ll probably get resolved by the end of Justice League. And that’s thing about the scheduling; Flash’s solo movie isn’t supposed to come out until after Justice League Part 1, so anything we saw of him probably doesn’t have much to do with his film. I will say though, Snyder’s apparent lack of involvement with any of the solo hero films already makes me more interested in them than either Justice League.
Brett: Before I get to the Apokolips scene (which was one of my most despised parts of the movie), I will say that Wonder Woman … while I’m interested in seeing the stuff on Paradise Island (or Themyscira or whatever they’re going to call it), I didn’t get fascinated by what happened between her and Chris Pine in World War I. While I do love me a World War I movie, I never felt compelled to learn what happened to her that made her turn her back on humanity in the way the Robin suit fascinated me in the Batcave. Cyborg and Aquaman did nothing for me as well, which is strange considering how hard they’ve been pushing Aquaman from essentially the start of the movie. He had his own poster. Jason Momoa was promoting his involvement harder than anyone. We got rumors about him getting involved in the land-world because Zod’s World Destructo Machine damaged the world’s oceans – and all we got was him upset at James Cameron’s submersible? (I am pretending it was James Cameron’s because with a movie like this, you have to add your own bright spots.) I liked Flash going back in time, I thought that was a nice sequence (even if it made no sense and was clearly filmed way after anything with Affleck), but his own little video did nothing for me. And the Apokolips thing was another style over substance situation. If anyone should have visions of Darkseid, it’s Lex because he’s screwing around with Kryptonian technology. Similar to how Charlie Day had visions of the kaiju’s realm in Pacific Rim. Batman thinking about parademons? Why? Actually, none of Batman’s dream sequences had any real significance or bearing on anything; for a movie that’s 2 and a half hours, you really could have cut them out and lost nothing.
Erik: Brett, Brett, Brett. Don’t you see the mistake you’re making? You’re thinking about this movie and that’s clearly not what the filmmakers want you to do. You’re supposed to look at the big, bold, iconic images (Superman and Batman staring each other down, Superman flying in front of the sun, that shit with the painting being flipped upside down
Brett: SO DEEP!
Erik: And get nice feelings. That’s all these snooty critics’ problems, they’re thinking with their heads and not with their hearts. But in all seriousness, that’s one of the major things that removes all of my confidence with these folks’ ability to tell good superhero stories. I don’t think they know what makes superheroes work. They see the imagery and the iconography and think, “all we have to do is put that on the screen and people will come drooling like Pavlovian dogs.” They don’t understand that you have to earn these icons, you have to build up to them, you have to give people a reason to care. And that’s something that (for the most part) Marvel has been excelling at. So when you see Iron Man and Captain America fighting you’re also seeing the breakdown of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers’ friendship. You have a reason to care if the Avengers split up or War Machine dies.
Brett: I like how you said “big, bold, iconic” images realizing that for a movie like this you can’t even say “bright” or “colorful.”
Erik: That’s another thing Marvel’s done better: they’ve demonstrated they’re not ashamed that superhero costumes are often bright, colorful, and frankly goofy looking.
Brett: And the strange thing is that the DC Television Universe understands, accepts, and revels in that aspect of itself. Shows like The Flash, Supergirl, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow don’t feel ashamed about what they are or feel the need to make things overly serious or dark. They’ve figured it out so well that they got King Shark to work.
Erik: Hey, don’t be dissing King Shark, he’s awesome.
Brett: I’m not denying that, but conceptually, you can imagine him being completely ridiculous in live action. And he is, but in a way that works. It’s remarkable that something on a CW series budget can pull this off better than the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a single movie. But speaking of things working, how do you see WB/DC righting a course that is clearly in tumultuous waters? If at all.
Erik: The cynic in me says they can’t, because as we’ve been saying, they don’t seem to realize what makes the MCU and the DC TV universes work. I think the best they could do at this point is let the non-Snyder filmmakers create their own superhero movies with their own distinct tones and voices without interfering too much. Then, see how Wonder Woman, The Flash, etc. do with audiences and critics, and take what about them works and try to apply it to the big team-up movies. One thing that could really set the DC cinematic universe apart from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is self-contained stories. One common criticism I’ve heard for the Marvel movies essentially goes like this, “I like the characters and the stories and the action, but I always feel like I have keep track of this larger story.” And I think some of the biggest flaws in some of the Marvel films (ones I really enjoy even) are scenes that add nothing to the story and only exist to build up a future team-up film. If DC made each film completely its own thing – without cameos, name drops, and phrases that only make sense if you’ve been taking extensive notes and have them handy – and relegates the team-up teasers to post-credits scenes (which Batman v Superman didn’t have, oddly enough), they could stand as a true alternative.
Brett: I think the first thing DC/WB needs to do is drop Zack Snyder. I didn’t hate Batman v. Superman and I don’t hate Zack Snyder, but he’s too much identified with the hatred for the entire franchise at this point. Put off Justice League and set up a universe that people want to see, not that the studio feels that they’ll be compelled to see. I can understand if the movies were moving forward in spite of the criticism, but now the movies seem to be going forward to spite the criticism, which leaves DC with enemies on all sides. However, I have to disagree with you on the stand-alone stories as a way to differentiate themselves from Marvel. I think that possibly up until Captain America: Civil War, Marvel movies were fairly stand alone except for the one or two odd scenes you mentioned where someone technobabbles about the Infinity Stones. I’d like a more interconnected DC universe where you feel the repercussions of each previous movie reverberating throughout the current one. I know they shouldn’t base their plans on people seeing all the movies, but I think it could be a better and more interesting approach than standalones. And finally, I get that DC wants to paint themselves as the more intelligent, pensive, thoughtful superhero genre pictures in comparison to the fun, lively Marvel movies. I personally think that would be great — if they can get it to work. If Batman v. Superman was any indication, they cannot. I liked the angle of the species-wise existential dilemma about Superman being all powerful and whether we can trust a being with that much strength. Unfortunately, they just abandoned it, other than having Lex repeat the “demons from the sky” line. And having Batman and Superman stop fighting because both of their mothers were named Martha? Did they really think that was deep? Wasn’t there anyone on set who could have said “This is going to go over so poorly.”
Erik: I’ll make it easy for the people at Warner Bros (who are obviously reading this) and give them some recommendations for comic books that do exactly what they were trying to do with Batman v. Superman. For Superman: Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. It waxes philosophical about what Superman means, and why he’s so great, and then demonstrates it (here’s a teaser, and Supes quote Snyder would do well to borrow: “you’re stronger than you think you are”). For Batman: Jeph Loeb’s (remember him?) The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. They’re dark, gritty, and at their core murder mysteries (and you can’t tell me those don’t sell) but still have a distinct feel you can only get when crazy men in costumes are involved. Plus those are the two of the stories Chris Nolan stole, I mean borrowed from to create a little film called The Dark Knight (“I believe in Harvey Dent” anyone?). Well, I’ve done my good-comic-book-nerd-deed for the day.
Brett: I’d also like to add Brian Azzarello’s Lex Luthor: Man of Steel to that list. The idea of a Lex who is intelligent and sees himself as an anti-hero who combats Superman out of mistrust is something I really wanted to see in this movie. That book, plus the animated series voiced by actor Clancy Brown, combine to form a Lex Luthor who is a true threat because you can understand his point of view while fearing his maliciousness. Much better than real estate mogul Lex. They kind of hovered around that incarnation of him in this movie, but never really went as far into it as they should have. Any final thoughts before we wrap this up?
Erik: Basically, to all current and upcoming superhero filmmakers: just write good stories with fun and/or relatable characters. That’s all anyone really wants. The explosions, the lasers, the doomsday devices will follow, but they mean nothing if we don’t care who’s getting exploded, lasered or doomsdayed.
Brett: And I’m glad I can finally stop writing about superhero movies…at least until DC/WB removes Snyder.