It was recently announced at San Diego Comic Con that the sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel (see my review here) will not only feature Krypton’s greatest son, it will also feature the Dark Knight himself, Batman. Even more historic than that, the two titans of the DC Universe will not be partners, but rather opponents, in a storyline influenced by Frank Miller’s groundbreaking 1986 graphic novel series, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The film, set for release in 2015, will be helmed by Man of Steel director Zack Snyder, with the chiseled Henry Cavill slated to reprise his role as Superman (if anyone is allowed to actually call him that in the sequel), along with Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne set to return as Lois Lane and Perry White, respectively. There is no word on who will play Batman, and Dark Knight trilogy writer/director Christopher Nolan will exec produce.
If the Internets didn’t get blowed-up real good after that announcement, surely they did when the duo’s mashed-up logo made the rounds.
At first blush, this sounds like a great idea. Despite the fact that Superman and Batman have been among the top superheroes in the comic book realm for decades, they have never appeared together in a live-action movie. Also, this pairing appears to be the next step towards establishing DC’s much-desired Justice League film franchise (in the mold of Marvel’s wildly successful Avengers franchise). So in the wake of the announcement, it’s easy to understand how people can get very excited at the prospect of this film.
After marinating in it for a while, I’m convinced that this seemingly very good idea is happening at a very bad time.
My first concern is that the move to insert Batman into the Superman sequel shows that DC has no faith in the Superman film franchise. I understood the desire to put Nolan in the producer’s chair for Man of Steel. He certainly had the Midas touch on the Dark Knight reboot, and his association with Superman could have gone a long way in terms of soliciting good faith from fans who might have been dubious of yet another Superman reboot, especially after Bryan Singer’s 2006 fiasco, Superman Returns. But after one mediocre outing (forget the accountants’ spin the global box office numbers – Man of Steel’s Rotten Tomatoes score of 56% is similar to that of the poorly-received Jack the Giant Slayer’s score of 52%), taking the title character of your prized franchise and giving him full-blown costar credos in your struggling franchise’s follow-up is a move of desperation: trying to raise Superman’s property value by moving Batman into the neighborhood. The short-term reward might … might … pay off, but the long-term risk could mean an even higher mountain to climb for any future Superman solo outing.
My second concern is how the next Batman will be received (and the damage that could do to the Superman franchise). I remember when Howard Stern left terrestrial radio. The burning curiosity was about who would replace Stern in that timeslot, which was usually followed by the lament that that person could never fill Stern’s shoes, followed by the statement that you don’t want to follow Stern, you want to follow the guy that follows Stern. That’s the danger of the next Batman – he is following Nolan’s Batman, and surely will be compared to Nolan’s Batman if not outright held to Nolan’s Bat-standard, as opposed to the Batman-after-that, who is one additional degree remove from Nolan. This will happen regardless of the new Batman’s context. So if it’s going to happen regardless, does DC want it to be associated with a floundering Superman franchise? Wouldn’t they be better served trotting out the new Batman on his own, letting him fail, then launching him again with the luxury of distance? I think so. Look, if Man of Steel had been a raging hit, I could see Superman providing some creative cover for the new Batman, but Man of Steel was the contrary. Now you are teaming up the scrutinized with the scrutinized, and that leaves the failure door wide open.
My final concern is twofold, involving something that is symptomatic of DC’s greater problem: character development. Part A is their inability (unwillingness?) to develop multiple characters simultaneously to reach this Justice League finish line. Since 2005, DC has produced Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, a failed Green Lantern film, and Man of Steel. That’s it: three heroes across five films. In that same eight-year span (and including the remainder of 2013), Marvel has produced three Iron Man films, two Thor films, and one film each for The Incredible Hulk and Captain America, not to mention the third-all-time-box-office-juggernaut The Avengers. That’s four heroes (plus supporters like Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury) across eight movies. As for future years, through 2015, DC has the Superman/Batman team up and nothing else. Marvel has another Captain America film (2015) and sequel to The Avengers (2015). Oh yeah, and unlimited possibilities to expand The Avengers’ realm.
Part B is that DC, in their quest to emulate the Marvel Model, is missing an opportunity to do something that Marvel hasn’t done: build a franchise around a female lead, namely Wonder Woman. For all of Marvel’s success with The Avengers and its members, as well as with The X-Men franchise, the one thing the imprint hasn’t done is create a female lead. All of its female players – Storm, Black Widow, even Pepper Potts – are supporting characters behind the likes of Wolverine and Iron Man. In Wonder Woman, DC not only has the strongest female lead in comics (as well as the third member of their “Big 3” with Superman and Batman), they have an immediate brand recognition that Marvel simply doesn’t have in a female character. It’s an instant win.
Perhaps all of DC’s printed dominance with its main two characters, combined with Nolan’s cinematic Batman success, has given everyone on that team a sense of complacency. They had better wake up. I saw Marvel’s The Wolverine this weekend. The development of the title character in this film dwarfs what Snyder did for Superman in Man of Steel. If DC isn’t careful, they might find themselves relegated to trying to be rulers of lunchboxes instead of the box office.