Once upon a time, somewhere deep in the past, there was one comic book company who could do no wrong when it came to their branch-outs into media – and that was DC. DC had Christopher Reeve as Superman, Michael Keaton as Batman, and several vastly popular cartoon series that ran from 1992 into the early 2000’s. But then Marvel, who—aside from the popular Bruce Bixby-starring INCREDIBLE HULK series–languished in creative despair, came roaring back: Two cartoons on Fox, followed by more on UPN, and finally, a comic property (Blade) that started a cinematic revolution first with New Line, then Sony and Fox, then Paramount (and later Disney). For years, geeks across the Earth have raged about who is better. DC! Marvel! DC! Marvel! And it goes on and on. Each year, movie trailers come out. Each year, people wet their pants. But 2016 is set to be when DC hopes to finally roar back and never leave the spotlight.
So imagine the look on my face when I saw that the IMAX trailer for a certain little Batman/Superman movie leaked onto the Internet. Now, don’t get me wrong. I melted down into a pile of primordial goop when the teaser released for AGE OF ULTRON. Hell, I jumped so high off the couch that I near busted through the ceiling of my apartment after viewing the first trailer for THE FORCE AWAKENS. (I was more of a hot mess after the second trailer was unleashed yesterday. And seriously, if you haven’t watched that trailer yet, then what in Jabba The Hutt’s nutsack are you waiting for?) But I don’t think it’s any great secret how much I detest MAN OF STEEL, and I have my reservations about seeing Zack Snyder once again methodically destroy everything I used to love about DC.
Then I viewed the trailer. Despite being a bootleg (since the actual teaser doesn’t hit until Monday), it wasn’t bad quality. Okay, bad quality meaning the smug sonofabitch who sneakily recorded it onto his smart phone held his hands still for most of it. But the trailer itself is bad. Really bad.
Before I go on – let me make something clear. Batman to me isn’t always Burton. Yes, I love his two films, but they were more about the tone per se. Nor is it Nolan – I’ve come to accept that he defined Batman on film for a huge swath of fandom, but to me the first in the trilogy is the strongest. No, Batman to me is Bruce Timm. Because Bruce Timm got it right all of the time. He understood the background of the cast of characters, what made them tick, what their motivations were, and their drives in life; their pains.
And what Zack Snyder sees as pain, I see as disservice. For years, and I do mean years, I’ve waited for a DC movie to come along and just kick so much ass; something to show what these characters were made of. There have been missteps along the way and, truly, only DC Animation has really nailed it in terms of hitting home runs again and again. (PUBLIC ENEMIES, APOCALYPSE, DOOM, THE NEW FRONTIER? Fantastic examples of slam-bang fantasy action.) But MAN OF STEEL was a misfire, a kick in the nards so painful your eyes cross and your legs buckle. Yeah yeah yeah, “Superman doesn’t kill!” – “But he’s killed before in the comics!” That’s not my argument. It’s how poorly the characters were handled. Snyder has never been much on substance, he’s more about style, (WATCHMEN came out absolutely beautiful and I love the hell of the Director’s Cut.), and Goyer can’t write dialogue to save his life.
Somehow a symbol of hope became something more heinous. Despondent. Cruel. The needs for self-preservation are painfully clear, not the lives of the people in Smallville or Metropolis. Granted, the overall story itself for MOS wasn’t totally bad – but it was how it was all handled. The plot holes. The cringe-worthy dialogue. The stilted acting. Casting wasn’t too bad, and Cavill makes a fantastic choice for Kal-El if written properly. (But he isn’t.) It was just a muddled mess with a final battle that didn’t show a man who cared for the city he loves and protects, but who was fighting because he was angry. “Supes smash!” Neck snap. Fade to black.
But the trailer for BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE…listen. When they cast Ben Affleck as an older Batman, I had nothing against it. The man has atoned for his acting decisions of a decade ago. Case in point? “Argo-fuck yourself.” So no worries there. And he seems to really nail the tone of the character. The gravelly voice. The broodiness of Bruce Wayne. But as the trailer continued to run, I saw the typical trademarks of Snyder – The dark, seedy scenery. Flashy looking digital cinematography. Close-up and stare-down scenes. The diatribes of suffering and destruction. The “this character represents this” moments. It’s dull, formulaic, and, overall, unimpressive, aside from Affleck and the scenery.
And here’s my thing, – I want DC to do right. To do well. To make the right decisions. But as all of geekdom learned via a leaked Warner Brothers email, they do not want any lightheartedness in their movies. They want dark. And devilish. Seedy. Asses firmly seated in reality. And that’s the problem. With Marvel having done so well with their own formula, you’d think that DC would want to do the same. Instead, the ideology of grounded and gritty rules. And even with Christopher Nolan on as an executive producer, he’s previously said that his movies were what he wanted to do and shouldn’t dictate the DCU going forward. Someone at Warners didn’t get that memo, apparently.
“The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller is seminal. It’s a classic. Unforgettable. And, hell, DC Animation did a pretty damn honorable adaptation themselves that retained a lot of the violence and thematic material. But was it necessary to take Miller’s iconic tale and strip-mine it for narrative material so soon, and so improperly? Simple answer – no. And this is a movie that’s been bloated from the start. David Goyer wrote the original script, then saw Chris Terrio of ARGO come into polish and punch up the first draft. Characters were added to move faster towards a JLA movie. Cyborg. Wonder Woman. Aquaman. Flash. (Why?) We learned the framework from “The Dark Knight Returns” would be there…but only as Batman fighting Superman. Oh, and Luthor is involved. And he’s a possibly a snotty brat who’s got zero relationship build with Clark Kent nor Bruce Wayne. The only redeeming quality so far? The Batsuit that is a fantastic homage to Miller’s creation. But this is a movie that’s been underway for over a year now. It releases in March 2016. And so far, everything aside from characters chewing away at scenery has been vastly underwhelming.
I just wish DC would want to do right. MAN OF STEEL wasn’t the blockbuster it was supposed to be. Critics weren’t kind at all. The fans were polarized. I admit, I didn’t see it in theaters and I don’t own it on home video. I doubt I will, either. But since this sequel (well, not a sequel so much since we’re still getting a sequel to MAN OF STEEL down the line) was announced, geeks everywhere have been tearing at each other. Matters only got worse Warners announced it’d open against CAPTAIN AMERICA 3, (which Disney/Marvel set the release date before Warners). At that point, no storyline was set. And then, we learned that we’d get a MCU version of CIVIL WAR. Then Warners backed down and moved the release date up two months. For a movie that’s a year into the making, I’m not blown away. And already, with the casting we’ve seen for CIVIL WAR – and it doesn’t start shooting until May too! – there’s something magical in the works. Maybe because Marvel worked out a deal with Sony to bring good ole Spider-Man back home. (Yeah, Sony says they retain creative control. But anyone can read between the lines here about who’s really running the show?) Next spring will be a battleground. Which one will outperform the other? Until more is seen and known about CIVIL WAR, geeks around the world over just have to wait.
But I digress. The fact that the BATMAN V SUPERMAN trailer leaked isn’t what the big news is. It’s the fact that the new trailer for THE FORCE AWAKENS, which’ll probably be one of the *THE* biggest grossing movies ever, caused such a fever pitch, the Internet’s mind is still blown today and can’t gather itself back together. And yet, the reaction for the DC movie that is supposed to shred minds? Those who’ve clamored that DC is better than Marvel just shrugged. More than some will admit. To have waited years (and I mean years) for a DC movie of this caliber and possible potential and then, instead of a gold brick dropped in our laps, we get a tiny golden nugget instead? It’s not encouraging in the slightest. I want this to do well. I want this movie to blow me away. But it’s all too clear that DC’s plan of staying grounded in reality isn’t going to go away. It’s going to dig deeper. And for a cast of characters who are all about the extraordinary – as Han Solo’s said in the past, I got a bad feeling about this.
Then again – with what’s going on with SUICIDE SQUAD, maybe it’s not a bad feeling. Maybe it’s just preparation for utter disappointment. Maybe it’s time for Bruce Timm to rise up and say, “No more!” But Warner Brothers and DC have made their bed. And I hope they’re prepared to lie in it.