Yesterday, Batman v Superman got a subtitle — Dawn of Justice — and began filming. I wrote about the film in a news story, but I thought I’d complement that with a few brief thoughts, opinions, and speculations of my own.
First, that title’s not good. “Dawn” is one of those overused metaphorical words (and it doesn’t help that it recalls those tedious Twilight subtitles). “Justice” is of course a reference to the Justice League, but the idea that these super-heroes personify justice has always been a problematic one — and is probably more so in a Zack Snyder movie. The only way this subtitle works is if it’s somehow subverted, or acquires multiple meanings, within the movie itself. But I wouldn’t bet on that.
Honestly, that “v” irritates me even more than the subtitle. Why would you abbreviate in a title, unless you had a very good reason? Maybe Batman’s going to sue Superman in a court of law. But I wouldn’t bet on that either. (And even if that were the case, you wouldn’t want a subtitle — because lawsuits don’t have them.)
Personally, I’ve been inclined to be a bit kinder towards Snyder than most. I agree with virtually all the criticism of his work, although his films at least tend to be visually distinct. They’re strong statements, even if they tend to lack subtlety. . Watchmen gets the tone wrong — its costumed heroes all seem to have super-powers and look very slick, in contrast to the comic — but it’s slavishly faithful and at least an interesting experiment in adaptation. Sucker Punch is superficial and very much like a video game, but it’s a visual and musical treat with some evocative ideas. Man of Steel has plenty of problems, but it’s a legitimate take on the character and probably the closest we’ve come to a revisionist super-hero movie.
There’s a place for even Snyder’s most extreme cinematic tendencies. But that’s not the question. The question is whether that place is as the architect of DC’s cinematic universe. And it’s hard to imagine Warner Bros. building a DC cinematic universe using Man of Steel as its foundation. He could easily have a place in a DC cinematic universe, were he matched to the right character. Like I said, I think Snyder’s a distinctive and interesting filmmaker, and he could do very well matched with the right script. But it’s hard imagining him guiding this generation’s definitive versions of DC’s characters.
But perhaps, given the success of Nolan’s Batman — which was defined by his vision — Warner Bros. is inclined to find someone who can deliver a version of a DC universe, rather than a definitive one intended to be the “main” face of these characters. Warner Bros. seems a lot more open to allowing multiple, divergent versions of DC characters to co-exist — as its recent live-action TV expansion seems to indicate. But it’s doubtful that there’ll be two different Batman or Superman film franchises (much as I’d like exactly that), meaning that — definitive or not — it’ll be Zach Snyder’s versions of these characters that get the biggest spotlight.
For the record, I have no problem with Affleck as Batman — he’s a capable actor (and director), as well as (for what it’s worth) a total comics fan. A lot of the derision aimed his way is due to disapproval of the Daredevil movie, starring Affleck, but that was a long time ago; I think Affleck’s grown since then. He’s not who I first envision, but I could see him working, and I’m willing to suspend judgment. Laurence Fishburne, Jesse Eisenberg, and Jeremy Irons to me feel like inspired choices, and I’m eager to see them in these roles. Or see them again, in the case of Fishburne, who I hope will get more screen time — though it’s hard to see how this is possible, given how many characters will be in the sequel.
I’m not sure how an older Batman will work, though, given that this would mean he was operating during and before Man of Steel. It seems odd he wouldn’t be mentioned there, especially given how important it is whether a super-hero had a previous example to contemplate. (Consider how key it is to Nolan’s Batman that he have no predecessor.)
I’m also concerned about how many characters are in the film. Too many super-hero movies are cluttered with villains and plotlines. It’s hard to imagine how Batman’s going to be introduced (not to mention his supporting cast), as well as Wonder Woman and Cyborg, while also focusing around the machinations of Lex Luthor. Time also needs to be given to establishing the Clark Kent persona — which Man of Steel didn’t do — and to his (and Superman’s) relationship with Lois, which didn’t get all that much attention the first time around. This feels like an awful lot to include. It’s not impossible, but it’s certainly a big yellow “caution” light.
But then, I’ll probably go to see the movie anyway. Wonder Woman’s cinematic debut? Affleck as Batman? Eisenberg as Lex Luthor? How could I not? So maybe I’m not the target audience. Some politicians try to maximize their base of support, while others try to branch out. And like most politicians, big-budget movie franchises usually only worry about the next election… or the next box-office take.