The big news this week was the new Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer: our first substantive look at DC’s followup to Man of Steel and that company’s answer to Captain America: Civil War. Ever since details about the movie started coming out during production, I’ve harbored some severely mixed feelings on the subject, best summed up as “hopeful, but cautiously pessimistic.”
When it comes down to it, I’m actually a huge fan of Man of Steel. I enjoyed it far more than I thought that I would ever enjoy a Superman movie. It manged to turn DC’s omnipotent boyscout into a genuinely sympathetic and engaging character. What’s more is that it did so while delivering one of the most riveting action climaxes that I’ve seen from any movie this side of The Avengers. Say what you will about ol’ Supes leveling Metropolis, but it was needlessly entertaining to watch him do it.
Despite everything that Man of Steel got right, though, it never once felt like a Superman movie. It employed an overcast, grim-looking, Dark Knight aesthetic that was completely out of place for this particular franchise. Zack Snyder filtered out nearly all of the color from the original cut of the movie until everything looked drab and washed out. So although it had an entertaining twist on a traditionally stuffy character, we had to sit through footage that made it look like you needed to adjust the contrast settings on your TV.
From what we’ve been able to glean from the trailer, Snyder’s not simply maintained this grimdark status quo, but exploded it to absurdly darker levels. With the exception of a single shot of Superman against a washed-out sun (and maybe a shot of him dead-lifting what appears to be a satellite), every last second of the trailer takes place at night.
That’s fine for a Batman movie. Darkness is his whole shtick and he wears it well. But what works for Batman doesn’t inherently work for Superman. He’s Batman’s daytime foil: a fact that you couldn’t possibly get from Superman stalking around at night posturing like some kind of super-powered SS agent.
Seriously, I honestly thought that this was building this up to be an adaptation of Injustice in its final moments. Everything was so absurdly over the top, from the Atlas-styled statue of Superman defaced with “False God” to the whispering voice-overs saying things like “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and “Devils don’t come from Hell beneath us, they come from the sky.” There was even a shot of armed men kneeling before him. Exactly what part of any of this screams “Superman?”
The way it stands now, I’m afraid of what Justice League‘s actual plot is going to be. Is it going to be the League in full joining forces to take down Darkseid (or an equally stakes-raising villain), or is it going to be Batman rallying the world’s other heroes against a rogue Superman who’s more than happy to dispense his personal brand of justice from on high? I simply don’t see how we can possibly get from this version of Superman to the status quo between now and 2017.
The more that I think about it, the more inherently wrong having a Batman vs Superman movie this soon into the fledgling DC Cinematic Universe feels. The thing about The Dark Knight Returns (from which this film draws most of its inspiration) is that it was set decades after these characters first met. They had fought and worked alongside one another for year before their moral and political ideologies came to blows.
That fight meant something, not because it was two amped up dudes in tights duking it out in the streets, but because it was Batman and Superman: two characters who we had known and watched develop into the people that they were for years on end. This is the first time that we’ll see this version of Batman. This is the first time that these two characters will have met one another. How can we possibly invest ourselves in a showdown when we simply don’t know these versions of these characters (and especially when this version of Superman is so far off base)?
Now, everything Batman about this trailer absolutely works. Ben Affleck has the grim, brooding look of a haunted man trying (and failing) nightly to somehow undo his parents fate. Jeremy Irons’ voice over as Alfred comes off as the perfect cross between Gotham‘s Sean Pertwee and Michael’s Caine’s “some men want to watch the world burn” speech from The Dark Knight. This may very well be the best version of the Batman costume ever put to film, and that’s not even touching on how awesome-looking the robotic version is.
This trailer makes me stoked about The Suicide Squad. It makes me stoked about another Batman movie. It makes me stoked about Nightwing or Batgirl or any other Bat-based spin off Warner Bros comes up with. It does not, however, make me any more excited about Dawn of Justice.
Understand, I’m still planning on watching this movie the second that it comes out. I’m still hoping to like it (and just being as good as Man of Steel will be enough for me). I just can’t bring myself to get my hopes up when I can’t bring myself to believe that it’s actually Superman flying around in the sky.