DM Haight

 

Two years ago we watched from San Diego, CA as the Batman V Superman teaser was released. It was a huge surprise, coming right off the heels of Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel. Everyone was excited to see the Superman logo and the Batman logo combine, rearing us up to finally witness the two biggest super heroes of all time go toe-to-toe with each other. Zack Snyder was the director. Many of us had our doubts about this choice. Snyder, for all he’s worth, is not a director who’s box office track record accurately reflects the quality of his films. His past exploits, including Sucker Punch and Watchmen, were merely a drop in the lake of his disproportionate weight on the style/substance scale. He’s great at providing a theme and showing us the ethos of that theme in the structures of the worlds he creates, crafting a stylistic environment to house a thought (which is not something everyone can do). But his fatal flaw rests in his inability to bring a well-crafted narrative into that stylistic world.

We waited two years (if not five decades) for the epic clash of the two titans of comic book lore. The end result has proved to us that Warner Bros., and other entities and individuals, are only on these projects to reap the cash the DC cow can provide. That’s not to say they should be blamed for that mindset, but if you are looking to profit off the overwhelming popularity of your two clashing titans, you would think the preference would be to make a film worthy of their clash, which would in turn bring audiences in all the more. However, what we’ve received thus from WB and DC is a lackluster, melancholic, muted Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. The new look of the former almost revitalized the character; attempting to add flaws to a man who clearly has none; while the latter made the epic encounter moot at best and disappointing at worst. WB and DC have elected to forego the formulaic writing their counterparts at Marvel/Disney are shelling out, but the fact remains that although the writing can be formulaic, it is still a formula that manages to work for audiences and generate profit. What WB and DC are producing is nothing more than non-linear, over-stuffed, bloated action videos that manage to spoil themselves in their trailers.

We recently did a piece on the Suicide Squad trailer, making comparisons to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy trailer. To recap, the Suicide Squad‘s first trailer was ethereal and melancholic, but the second trailer was nearly identical in feel and pace to Guardians of the Galaxy. There is nothing ostensibly wrong with that re-edit, as it happens often. Marketing a film is the most important aspect of the film’s release. Audiences want to know what type of film they’ll be paying to see, so small details about plot and content are tidbits the film industry is happy to share. But the main concern of this 180 re-edit is that it comes off the heals of the theatrical release of Batman V Superman, which amounted to a critical failure, and a financial disappointment. What should have been the biggest movie in a decade, sparking a feud between the two legends of comic books, resulted in a heap of confusing imagery, over-hyped action, and WB spoiling the build-up to what could still potentially be a billion dollar franchise. Leaving us to wonder if WB/DC are looking to copy the success of their counterparts by applying their methods of advertising. The Suicide Squad was recently reported going back for reshoots, with reports claiming that the studio needed more comedy inserted in the film, due to the overwhelmingly positive reception of the trailer re-edit.

Ostensibly this is nothing to worry about. If we look at Hollywood films today, we’ll find that most of them are carbon copies of the films we’ve seen over the last three decades. Many of them will copy more formulaic outlines, some of them will require reshoots, and some of them need a restructuring. The catch is that this about face for the franchise seems like the preface to an overarching problem with the WB/DC films–do they know what to do with them?

Let’s put out some numbers to try and illustrate what we’re discussing here:

Batman V Superman domestic gross: $330.3 Million

Man of Steel domestic gross: $291 Million

Iron Man domestic gross: $318.4 Million

These numbers are domestic gross only; obviously world wide gross will be much larger for all three. The first two are, of course, WB/DC films, while the last is a Disney/Marvel film. Iron Man, the first in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, came up less than $12 million short of the epic clash of the worlds two best known comic book heroes. What does this tell us about WB/DC? A) Marvel has the ability to assess their audience and assume that no one knows who the characters are, thus making them accessible to everyone in hopes of reaching a wider audience. B) DC is struggling to make their characters relatable, causing a rift between the audiences and the heroes they paid to see. C) Warner Bros. hasn’t done their homework to devise their own formula to ensure profitability or originality. WB/DC’s collaborations are failing to produce the revenue they have projected, and their adaptations of the characters everyone on the planet adores are not living up to the expectations of fans or movie goers, unlike their counterparts at Disney.

Just weeks after the release of Batman V Superman, a reformation took place, leaving DC as a stand alone entity under the WB banner. The new initiative (as we understand it) is going to be leaving the films of the DCEU (Detective Comics Entertainment Universe) in the hands of their directors, in what we can assume will mean a more artistic and varied approach to individual films (i.e. Ben Affleck set to helm the new Batman film as the lead character and the director). What this means is that unlike the Marvel films, DC will (potentially) produce films that adhere to director demands–an auteur style. An incredibly bold move for a studio that already has issues with consistency in their super hero franchise thus far. This shake up, if performed right, would leave the DC audience with a variety of films that could stretch from dark comedies like Suicide Squad (referencing what we’ve seen in the most recent trailers), to a brooding drama (what we’ll likely get with the Batman film), to a feminist empowering action adventure (what we hope to see with the Wonder Woman in 2017), all of which will have a distinct style from their distinguished directors.

The flaw with this concept resides in the DC audience. Audiences like consistency; it’s the whole reason we have blockbusters, and the reason why Marvel has had so much success. Consistency drives the ticket sales because fans know what they are getting before they walk in the theater. Even with Oscar winners like Affleck, a tonally different film with each addition in this franchise could spell disaster for the heroes we’ve waited decades to see.

Iron Man, the first outing for the Marvel Avengers franchise, did almost as well domestically as the tent pole film for the DCEU. Why is it that a formerly second rate hero has the power to outperform the two most influential characters in comic book history? Consistency.

When we see films that lack focus we lose our focus as well. Zack Snyder is a director who has no narrative focus, and therefore his films do not keep our attention. With a franchise that appears to lack focus, how can audiences be expected to line up? Batman V Superman was projected to break a billion dollars, and still has yet to do so. Sitting at a disappointing 871 million as of this writing, we await the home video release that has been touted as having even more content. And that’s the problem. The DCEU has decades of content; and they should be finding ways of adapting that content in a context that makes comprehensible sense. If the new material being inserted is of merit, great! But if it is just there to add a longer running time and create a director’s cut, then we should be wary of the course WB/DC is taking us on. Justice League should be the film we’ve all been waiting for, now it’s the one we’ll be paying attention to for all the wrong reasons. We’ll be watching to see if it fails, to see if it works, to see if it does justice.

Without the consistency audiences have come to expect, and with attention spans shortening by the day, can WB/DC really put their trust in a franchise of auteur comic book cinema? Thus far, WB/DC has shown that their directors are not always the best asset on set, yet they continue onward with characters we’re still waiting to see shine on the silver screen. Let us hope they do our heroes right.

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