The newest trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice debuted to mixed reactions. While Zack Snyder has certainly taken an approach to the characters that embraces big ideas, the tone of the trailer (compounded by Man of Steel‘s wanton destruction in the third act) seems to be one of unending brooding and darkness. The darker tone isn’t surprising, given Warner Bros. has been rumored to have implemented a “no jokes” rule in their DC films.
How dark is too dark, though? And furthermore, does the grimness have a point other than for its own sake? One aspect of the movie featured at the end of the trailer is the battle between Batman and Superman, an image familiar to anyone who read Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Zack Snyder has cited Frank Miller’s work as a massive inspiration from the beginning… but is it the right inspiration?
But The Dark Knight Returns is awesome.
It is indeed. It’s a very really strong tale about an older Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement in a dystopian 80s Gotham while simultaneously acting as a commentary on super hero stories as a whole. Many of those themes and commentaries seem to be in Batman v Superman to a certain extent.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that The Dark Knight Returns worked for a very simple reason: it drew on the decades of history associated with Batman, Superman, and the DC universe as a whole. The past relationships between Batman and Superman, Batman and the Joker, Batman and Robin, Batman and Catwoman, and the superheroes in the DC universe were all central to the story and character journeys.
Batman v Superman may take place in a universe where that exists, but the audience has experienced none of it. There are rumors that Affleck’s Batman has been operating for quite a while and has lost Jason Todd, but simply implying that event took place doesn’t mean it’ll have any emotional impact on the audience, as they neither know who this Jason Todd was or what his death did to Batman.
So? The original Star Wars had tons of back story and audiences loved it.
Very true, but the film also had the benefit of an audience surrogate in the form of Luke Skywalker, a character who wasn’t established in the universe as a murderer from a race responsible for the attempted genocide of the human race and, despite that, is being deified in the current film. Luke could ask questions because he was the outsider to the world, where Superman is now very ingrained into it.
Let’s get back to your problems with the whole dark approach. Why is it a problem that Batman and Superman fight?
It isn’t a problem per say. If you look at the old animated TV movie World’s Finest from the 90s, Batman and Superman are at odds with each other for the first half of the movie and it’s great. They later join forces when they realize the true enemies are Lex Luthor and The Joker. The difference between World’s Finest and Dawn of Justice seems to be in tone. Where Batman and Superman simply don’t like each other at first in World’s Finest, Batman seems intent on, at the very least, maiming Superman in the forthcoming film. Next page, we’ll talk about how that ties into Batman v Superman‘s spin on The Dark Knight Returns.