There appears to be a shakeup going on at Warner Bros-the studio that not only runs DC (Detective Comics) comics, but is also in charge-naturally being a movie studio-of the films based on the characters.
DC comics is the brand that owns Batman and Superman, who are of course two of America’s most recognizable and celebrated heroes. The term “Superhero” itself has it’s roots in Superman, even. In addition to the two prized heroes, DC comics is also well known for “Wonder Woman”-The Amazonian princess superheroine with roots in Greek mythology-as well as some lesser known properties such as Green Lantern (About interstellar policemen with powerful rings charged by a lantern-shaped battery) and the Flash (A man with super speed). The brand has had successful TV series for quite a while, from the popular Batman/Superman/Justice League cartoons by Bruce Timm that aired in the 90’s and 00’s, to the recent success of Gotham, Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl on network television (not to mention the earlier Smallville). The comics, after a questionable reboot in 2011, also have been adopting a largely back-to-basics approach with the “Rebirth” event.
But something is not quite right with the films.
DC’s had sort of a mixed success with films. The first two Superman movies are of course considered classics, despite being somewhat dated and having some trouble behind the scenes (Such as director Richard Donner being replaced for Superman II during production); Tim Burton’s first Batman films are still mostly popular, and of course the Christopher Nolan Batman “Dark Knight” trilogy was a critical and financial success-something which, it seems, might actually be part of the problem itself, as i’ll try to explain.
During the time the Nolan films came out, DC tried to create films based on their other Superheroes, at the same time Marvel was starting to emerge (Although their “Cinematic Universe” was still in it’s early stages). “Superman Returns” and “Green Lantern”. While well-intentioned, both films were critical and financial disappointments. “Green Lantern” in particular was going to be the springboard for DC’s attempt at a unified cinematic universe, possibly using Angela Basset’s Amanda Waller as a connecting link similar to Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson in the earlier Marvel cinematic films.
So DC sort of went back to the drawing board for “Man of Steel” as Nolan’s Batman trilogy came to an end. They sort of tried to figure out what worked with Nolan’s trilogy, and tried to apply to a second attempt to not only turn Superman into a viable film franchise again (and also start DC’s cinematic universe again). They even hired Nolan to help guide the film.
Trouble is, despite comic from the same company and source material, Superman isn’t Batman. The character has mostly in the comics been portrayed as optimistic, friendly and at times a bit camp. Not to mention having multiple super powers and invulnerability.
Batman, on the other hand-although sharing an orphan origin story of sorts, but a far more traumatic one-is completely opposite. He’s more brutal and physical, his stories in general deal with darker material (Although this isn’t always the case). He also has no superpowers-like James Bond, his skills are based on investigation, hand-to-hand combat, and the occasional gadget (Although like Superman, he doesn’t kill the bad guys-something Bond does).
Although the two have often crossed paths in the comics, they fight more on their ideologies and methods than on brute force-and they are to a degree friends as well.
The problem with Man of Steel is that it largely tries to “Batman” up Superman, by making him more quiet,angsty, and relying more on brute force-something that’s largely in tone with the film itself. While there are some glimpses of the comics Superman and the tone of the Reeve films (Although elements of the plot are largely a rehash from those films-General Zod and his Phantom Zone criminals again? Doesn’t Superman have other villains apart from Luthor and them?). Plus of course there’s that moment where Superman kills Zod-although he didn’t have a choice, a lot of people didn’t like seeing Superman execute a villain-especially after pretty much leveling Metropolis in the fight already. While Reeve’s Supes ‘sort of’ killed Zod in Superman II, it was after he’d drawn Zod from a populated area, and Zod’s fate is a bit ambiguous (I think it was originally intended for the unpowered Zod, Ursa and Non to be arrested after falling into that chasm, or something) and certainly not as brutal as snapping his neck.
So “Man of Steel” and “Batman V Superman” weren’t exactly that well received. While they did make some decent money (Although far less than Marvel’s stuff), they were largely attacked by critics and comic fans. In other words, DC’s attempts to create a cinematic universe are off to a rocky start. Perhaps it’s time they lighten up the films, go back to the spirit of the earlier films (Without going too far off into lighter territory like the later Reeve films and Schumacher’s Batman) instead of trying to copy the success of the Dark Knight films.
There’s some signs of hope. There seems to be a lot of internal realignment of DC’s film department, with Geoff Johns (Who largely guides the comics) being put more or less in creative charge, and rumors of other major shakeups as well. Plus it’s possible “Suicide Squad” will be good, although it certainly looks like it will also be fairly dark. Will DC be able to eventually catch up to Marvel’s acclaim and financial success? Time will tell.