I think it’s safe to assume everyone interested in Batman versus Superman’s newest trailer has had a couple of days to get the worst of the fanboy love/butthurt out of their systems. So with SDCC behind us, I want to discuss Dawn of Justice’s marketing and why it makes me feel ill at ease for the eventual Justice League movie.
Let’s start with Bat Affleck. See what I did there? Bat Affleck. Can we make that a thing?
Believe it or not, I like seeing Affleck as Bruce Wayne. His introduction in the trailer is a great “show don’t tell” moment. While sane people are trying to escape from the madness of a Kryptonian royal rumble, Wayne is charging in. Though it’s now quite obvious Mr. Snyder is putting a giant bracket around the Batman Begins trilogy.
Witness Jeremy Irons giving a cut-rate Michael Caine speech. This and off-screen commentary on a “bat vigilante” seems to suggest we are dealing with a late-in-life transformation into Batman. I guess Officer Blake didn’t really make the cut as the next Batman. Oh and while we’re talking about The Dark Knight Rises, let’s take a moment to remember one of Selina Kyle’s lines to Bruce Wayne.
“You don’t owe these people anymore. You’ve given them everything.”
And now, a line from Ma Kent in the Dawn of Justice trailer.
“Be anything they need you to be, or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”
From my point of view, this is where things start to look bad. Very bad. I don’t want to live in a world where Selina Kyle and Martha Kent are cut from the same ideological block. It says something grim about the limits of our collective fantasies. Are we so cynical that we can’t have room for hope beyond the desperation for a saviour amid a disaster? Could there be a a greater rejection of the audience’s (perceived?) willingness to believe in something wonderful than seeing the icon of hope reduced to the old saying about atheists in foxholes?
This goes beyond Man of Steel taking a different approach to a familiar story. My friend Nick Montgomery is right to point out that sometimes it’s good for a long-standing intellectual property to explore a different tone. He and I might argue to no end on the execution, but his point is a sound one.
On this issue, however, I think we’ve gone beyond the realm of trying something new and fully into an alternate universe. Is this twisted up version of The Dark Knight Returns really what the audience hungers after? Can I ask who among you honestly thought to yourselves, “I could really dig a movie where A) Superman has his own Gestapo B) Clark Kent is a yellow journalist and C) Batman is basically Iron Man.”
Which brings me to snowballing Batman Versus Superman into a Justice League movie. Like most things from the Silver Age of comics, there can be an inherently goofy tone to the JLA. There’s also a generally clear moral agenda to the characters; the JLA is what the Legion of Doom is not. Putting a bracket around how the comics code made super heroes social programming for kids, they also made these heroes generally likable characters.
Enter Snyder. What happens when somebody approaches generally likable paragons with the intention to wreck-up the place? We know a “more honest” Superman equivocates, rationalizes, and ultimately acts in a way that runs counter to what many people expect from the character. Likewise, this new Batman seems proactive in his human-rights agenda, like Marvel’s Bolivar Trask or General Thaddeus “Thuderbolt” Ross. Will Aquaman become an environmental terrorist? Will the Flash get his powers through a Crystal Meth accident? Is Wonder Woman going to end up a sex kitten, or worse, such an aggressive Amazon that the MRAs see her as a symbol of misandry?
If impotent rage will turn middle-aged Bruce Wayne into Batman, then I don’t think I’m out of line for considering the potential narrative clumsiness – and Man of Steel was nothing if not clumsy in its execution – that could turn the Justice League into something where, the big bad – like General Zod – can be seen as the more rational alternative than the protagonists.
I don’t want to be the guy who objects to things changing because he simply hates change. However, I think audiences deserve something a little more sophisticated than, “Make it darker,” as a philosophy toward superhero stories.