Some of that question might be down to a bout of comic-book movie fatigue; but actually it’s a serious concern.
A Batman movie once declared ‘to conquer fear, you must become fear’. I fear this movie might fall short of itself – I therefore elect to become that fear by exploring the possibility. Most of the information that has been gradually put out about the majorly hyped movie, along with the trailers, has failed to spark the level of enthusiasm in me I would expect; and in fact raises suspicions that this movie might actually misfire. I hope, for the sake of all the fans who’re excited about this release, that it doesn’t.
But there are immediate problems inherent with this. Firstly, I’m still not sure Henry Cavill quite works as Superman, at least not to me. But more than that, Superman himself as a character has proven very difficult to effectively translate to on-screen form. With the exception of Christopher Reeve, there has never been a great Superman portrayal. And Man of Steel (2013) – which Dawn of Justice is a sequel to – wasn’t a particularly great film, despite all the money that was poured into it.
We could go even further and actually acknowledge that even in comic-book form Superman isn’t the most interesting, dynamic or popular character and hasn’t been for a very long time. Although, in fairness, a Superman gone (somewhat) ‘dark’ usually alleviates the problem; and this seems to be the path followed in Dawn of Justice, which acts as a sequel to Man of Steel and has Superman as a subject of divided opinion. This echoes some of the best Superman source material of recent times, particularly DC’s ‘Injustice, Gods Among Us’, which is a great idea. But it isn’t the premise of Dawn of Justice I’m questioning; just fears about the execution.
The story draws some inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns, the utterly classic story by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley. While there may be some homage to that in this movie, it isn’t an adaptation of that story; and it’s unlikely this film will have as much depth and substance. In fairness, most movie adaptations generally fail to have the true depth of the source material, so BvS wouldn’t be alone in that.
Beyond that, while it remains to be seen how effective Ben Affleck is as Batman (though there’s a fair chance he’ll better than Christan Bale was), the bigger fear is that the new (for cinema) characters being introduced could also cause problems. The character designs for both Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Aqua Man look pretty bad, risking that some of this is going to come off as silly; which would be okay if this was a film in the Christopher Reeve or Michael Keaton era (which in fact would be better suited to characters like Aqua Man or Wonder Woman), but won’t work in a film that seems to be going for a very dark, somber tone.
Seriously, the Aqua Man design looks awful and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman looks like a second-rate Xena Warrior Princess.
The Wonder Woman movie release date, as it happens, isn’t far off the Captain Marvel release date, and there’s no doubt that fans are going to be making massive comparisons between the cinematic debuts of the two comic-book giants’ flagship female characters.
In general though, from the outset there was going to be a problem rendering characters like Wonder Woman and Aqua Man into a serious, cinematic medium. I can be done; after all, Captain America would’ve at one point seemed like a difficult comic-book character to translate to cinema without seeming silly or cheesy, but Marvel Studios managed it. With these DC characters, it remains to be seen how possible this transition is. The misfire of casting Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern demonstrates how easily it can all go wrong; that Green Lantern movie might’ve actually been pretty good but for the erroneous casting of the lead.
This film is a big deal in terms of properly launching/expanding the DC Cinematic Universe, not only giving us the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight sharing screen time for the first time, but also introducing a number of other DC characters and paving the way for the Justice League.
In that context, Dawn of Justice is really about launching a multi-faceted DC Cinematic Universe on a par with what Marvel has so successfully managed to do. The Green Lantern property will get another shot, with a Green Lantern Corps movie set for 2020 release. But if Dawn of Justice doesn’t perform its role effectively, it could spell problems for the other imminent productions, including Wonder Woman (2017), Aqua Man, Cyborg and the Justice League, as well as the respective Batman and Superman franchises.
The DC Comics universe certainly has great potential for cinematic transition (even if most of the best material would probably lie in expanding the Batman mythology); but if it’s done badly at this point, it might prove highly problematic. And judging by what we’ve seen so far in trailers, it’s still very difficult to tell whether this movie is going to raise the bar or cause problems.
What we’ve seen so far looks very, very macho with a lot of posturing, and with stock superhero-isms of the less-than-endearing kind.
Of course, we can’t entirely pre-judge a movie; and Dawn of Justice may in fact be a great spectacle. I hope it is, because a DC franchise firing on all cylinders would be a great thing for the genre. And with a pretty cool-as-hell-looking Harley Quinn and Suicide Squad movie out in August this year too, this could be a great year for the DC franchise.
DC’s cinematic adaptations have been a famously mixed bag. Man of Steel and Green Lantern were both underwhelming end products (and the less said about the Halle Berry Catwoman movie the better); but some of the popular misconceptions that DC-derived films ‘don’t work’ are a little unfair, given The Dark Knight and the Nolan Trilogy, as well as the fact that V For Vendetta and Watchmen were both DC properties and are two of the very best comic-book movies ever made.
But it’s still difficult to tell which side of the equation Dawn of Justice is going to reside on. And damn, that Aqua Man design is just atrocious.