One of the big news items that came out of San Diego’s Comic Con this weekend was the announcement by Zack Snyder, director of Man of Steel, that they are working on a movie co-starring Superman and Batman. For a lot of us long-time fans…
No, scratch that.
For a lot of us long suffering fans, the news that Superman and Batman are going to be featured together in a movie is the culmination of a lot of hopes and prayers. For decades now, DC comics and Warner really were unable to come to any sort of approach that would actually have their two biggest superheroes actually starring side-by-side in a live action movie. The thinking was always that they would be able to generate more revenues by having the superheroes star separately in their own projects. It really wasn’t until the amazing success of the Nolan-Goyer trilogy and the tremendous fan response to the Marvel comics movies leading up to The Avengers that the powers that be finally took a fresh look at how to best market the two biggest superheroes in the world.
Such a project would’ve likely come along a bit sooner if it hadn’t been for the 2006 Superman Returns box office dud that made DC comics go back to the drawing board and mandate the re–reboot of the Superman franchise, giving the reins to 300 director Zack Snyder. Now, while Zack Snyder is certainly a controversial director and has inspired an awful lot of fan boy hatred for his treatment of the Man of Steel, I have to say that I was actually very impressed with how he handled the property. DC comics apparently thought so as well, since they’re asking him to direct the Superman/Batman movie.
As far as the fans of Superman and Batman are concerned, I think I can safely speak for everyone when I say “it’s about damned time!”
Don’t throw money at it!
Now, looking at this project from a storytelling and filmmaking perspective, this has a tremendous amount of potential to be a very successful movie provided that they get a very solid grasp of the story and characters. The temptation is going to be to make this as spectacular as possible and to spend as much money as humanly imaginable creating this visual spectacle that satisfies both the hard-core fan boys, as well as the general public. I mean, after all, it’s Superman and Batman. Why don’t we spend half a billion dollars filming this? Don’t worry about the costs, we’ll make it back on merchandising.
To a Hollywood producer, a project like this screams “sure thing” in a town where there is no such thing.
Everybody remembers the success of the recent superhero movies. Nobody wants to remember the disasters that preceded it. Superman IV and the Quest for Peace, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Incredible Hulk, Spiderman III, and so on. Successes in superhero movies are few and far between. Those that have been the most successful are the ones that have gone and focused on story and character before even contemplating the visual effects that were involved. For every Heath Ledger that turns in an Oscar-winning performance as the Joker, there are a dozen Jim Carreys mugging for the camera as the Riddler. For every Robert Downey Jr playing Ironman, there’s a Val Kilmer or George Clooney trying to nail the Batman’s coffin shut.
The idea of simply throwing money at a movie about a group of men in tights in the blind faith that is going to be a spectacular success, especially given the track record of superhero movies – even including Superman and Batman themselves – verges on insanity.
Make it Awesome!
So, let’s take a bit to consider how this could be a really awesome movie by focusing on the characters.
First of all, we have characters and worlds that are in sharp contrast to each other. Superman is an idealistic demigod who lives in a cosmopolitan world and deals with global threats. Batman, on the other hand, has issues. Lots of issues. He fights to protect a single city and its people against the sheer insanity that the city attracts in its criminal elements. Where Superman soars above the clouds, Batman hides in the shadows. Where Superman inspires, Batman terrifies.
Bringing these two superheroes together and doing it in a way that makes sense while keeping true to the characters is going to be a huge challenge.
Let’s also take a look at their alter egos. Clark Kent is a workingman reporter who hails from small-town Kansas. Bruce Wayne is a multibillionaire who has always been one of Gotham’s elite. These two don’t move in the same circles. The only way that you get these two men together in the same room is if Bruce Wayne gives a press conference and Clark Kent is covering it.
Finally, let’s take a look at the two cities that they live in. Metropolis is a busy, bustling, successful city with gleaming spires and home to government, high-technology, and high finance. Gotham is a decaying and corrupt urban nightmare – a city that’s one bad dream away from being ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. While Gotham city does have the Wayne foundation, and likely some finance and industry, its economy is based on its criminal element. The city has known past glories, but the glories are fast fading. To put it in a real-world perspective, Metropolis is New York, and Gotham is Detroit.
Any way you look at it, the storytelling is going to be a challenge.
Everything about these two properties is a sharp contrast. But perhaps, where the edges of of these two properties rub against each other, we can get some storytelling sparks that can be fanned into an inferno.
Where the story is going to really take off is when Superman and Batman are able to look past their differences and start building the bonds on their commonalities. Getting them to this point is the heart of the story. Superman and Batman share the same goals: to protect the innocent. Each presents different perspectives on how that’s to be accomplished. For Superman, he has tremendous strength and spirit where he holds himself up to be an example to those around him. He is the one who stands between the villain and prey. Batman on the other hand, attacks the guilty. He goes after the villains directly. Where Superman is reactive, Batman is active.
This approach also reveals particular weaknesses. Because Superman is reactive, he can be manipulated. Because Batman is active, he can cross a line from which there is no going back.
Make it Dramatic!
You have so much storytelling and dramatic potential in resolving the argument of which superhero’s approach is best at protecting the innocent. Both Superman and Batman have been successful using their approaches to date. Neither is going to be inclined to see the other’s point of view, at least not easily. Will one view triumph over the other? Or, are we going to see the characters modify their approaches based on what they’ve learned from the other? Personally, that’s a dramatic question that I would love to see answered.
As I said earlier, the announcement of the Superman and Batman movie has been a long time in coming. Let’s hope that the powers that be ensure that it’s an awesome movie so that fans in 2015 are going to be able to sit back in the theater with smiles on their faces and say, one last time, “it’s about damned time.”
One final note: In recent years, DC comics has been playing up Batman as a master planner, and the only character in the DC universe who could take down Superman. While scriptwriters may be tempted to have this actually played out on film, the caution I would give is that the Batman has to earn it. If he takes down Superman without breaking a sweat, then it just cheapens the entire movie. You may as well get George Clooney back to play Batman – you remember, the actor who apologized for killing of the Batman franchise?
One of the most basic rules of storytelling is that every victory a character experiences has to be earned in order to be worthwhile.