Special Features – How a Batman vs Superman Movie Can Work

Liam Trim explains why he believes that the Man of Steel sequel can work, even if the inclusion of Batman seems to be an act of desperation by DC and Warner Bros. to compete with Marvel’s success….

Zack Snyder and Harry Lennix made an announcement at Comic-Con that has surprised even the most clued-up fans of movies, superheroes and comics. The ending of Man of Steel left a lot of questions hanging, chiefly about Superman’s traditional ‘secret’ identity as a journalist at The Daily Planet. But little of the speculation about the sequel to Man of Steel included the words Gotham, Alfred or Batman.

All of that has changed of course. Now, much to the chagrin of those who prefer Superman, all of the discussion centres on exactly how our favourite Dark Knight will fit into Man of Steel’s narrative universe. I agree with Martin Deer’s earlier assessment on Flickering Myth, which argues that Batman’s inclusion in a Superman sequel is simply an act of desperation by the studios to ensure a guaranteed mega-hit. I share Martin’s worries that such a film, whether it’s titled Batman vs Superman, Superman vs Batman, Batman and Superman or My Big Fat Superhero Showdown, will be a mega-hit because of the team-up alone, and not due to the merits of its story. However, I do believe such a film could work with a strong thematic spine, allowing both characters to co-exist happily in the same universe.

I am not a huge fan of comic books and I’m not well qualified to talk about all the possible plots the filmmakers could take from the DC archives. When I was young though, my Dad always used to buy me the Batman and Superman comics. I loved them. I completely understand the thrill some people are getting from this news. These two characters are the best superheroes around, it would be awesome to see them in one movie. As a film fan however, keen to see quality on-screen, I also get the deep concerns people have about this gung-ho, crowd pleasing announcement.

You don’t need to have read every comic book ever published to have an informed opinion on these movies any more, and everyone should be allowed to voice their hopes and fears for this project. Two key things have happened in recent years that have given these superhero characters to a much wider audience of caring fans. One is the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which succeeded in grounding a fantastical character in a realistic way. This trilogy has exceeded expectations both critically and at the box office. The second vital development is Marvel’s incredible feat of creating an enormously profitable universe for several of its characters to co-exist, spawning standalone and ensemble films.

The announcement at Comic-Con stemmed from both of these facts. Warner Bros. and DC know that Batman’s popular appeal is sky-high, and he can almost compete with Marvel’s range of characters on his own (This Forbes article shows how Batman is the only solo superhero capable of topping the $1 billion mark so far). However, they also know that they have to try to match Marvel’s success with The Avengers. By bringing other DC characters into play and working towards a Justice League ensemble pic, whole new realms of long-term profit become accessible.

So now DC have played their trump card in the battle against Marvel. The move is desperate and it’s a huge gamble. Everyone involved in the making of this new film must bear in mind the backdrop of Nolan’s trilogy and Marvel’s successful Avengers project. But they must also not let these trends restrict their own creativity.

Empire and others have already had their educated stabs at the likely structure of the film and who the villain will be. As terrific as The Avengers was, the Batman vs Superman project can learn from its weak points. And as disappointing as Man of Steel was in many ways, the sequel can retain its strengths. It would be a mistake, and an extremely confusing move for audiences, if the filmmakers moved away from the feel established in Man of Steel, of Superman as a lonely alien with God-like powers, viewed with suspicion by the human authorities. Like many of Flickering Myth’s writers, I feel strongly that the sequel to Man of Steel should remain primarily a Superman movie.

Even with the inclusion of Batman, Man of Steel’s sequel can still be about Clark Kent and his amazing alter-ego. Man of Steel sets up Clark the journalist and this is an angle that could provide a thematic link between Batman and Superman. Personally, I thought The Avengers lacked a real threat from its villains. But The Avengers excelled in the banter and rivalry between its heroes. My bold suggestion for Batman vs Superman would be to have almost no villain at all…

Empire’s speculative article talks about a bad guy who is a schemer, playing off Superman and Batman against each other. If you push this schemer into the shadows of the plot, leaving mysteries to be resolved for later films, there will be plenty of time for parallel stories following both heroes.

I would start the film with Superman discovering an evil deed by one of Lex Luthor’s companies (it might even work nicely if Batman was also fighting Luthor’s underhand, criminal dealings in Gotham – Bruce Wayne vs Lex Luthor in a billionaire battle perhaps?). To get his revenge and restore his own reputation, Lex would get the public talking about Superman. Who is he to choose who he rescues and who dies? Wasn’t all that destruction in Metropolis his fault? What’s with his interest in America? Isn’t he going to encourage mad criminals to test him and resentment in other countries? To drive this point home, Lex would secretly arrange a whole load of disasters and crimes, happening simultaneously across Metropolis and the world. Even Superman can’t be everywhere at once and the media storm will leave him looking responsible, a danger to society.

Obviously Lois and Clark will be able to watch all this anti-Superman feeling unfold from within due to their positions at The Daily Planet. Mobs will claim the streets of Metropolis and demand Superman’s departure, Clark will be demoralised and maybe Superman will do something rash in anger. Meanwhile, even Batman is convinced that Superman is a threat, and he manages to find some Krytonite, courtesy of some unseen help (maybe a mystery villain to return in future films?). Then clearly the film will end with a kick-ass showdown between our two heroes, followed by some twists, a realisation that they actually need an alliance (Batman could admit that they’re both outsiders trying to do the right thing), and at least a partial repair of Superman’s reputation.

The filmmakers will hopefully come up with something far better than this. I’m just fooling around and it’s fun to speculate, we all love doing it. But Man of Steel did a good job of grounding Superman with an origins story, albeit in a very sci-fi way. The film focused heavily on Superman rather than Clark, painting the hero as a lonely god. The sequel should continue this theme and the mistrust from human authorities could easily be exploited by a villain, whilst the media plot could allow Clark’s traditional persona to grow, as well as give Batman a reason to get involved.

The basic tension the filmmakers need to balance is between Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie. A team-up movie should clearly exploit the opportunities for humour and banter, as Whedon did so well. However, a Batman movie would do well not to forget the strengths of Nolan’s films. The difficulty is creating a world where Batman is still the believable vigilante we now love but also a hero who can co-exist alongside Superman. Thankfully, Snyder’s Man of Steel is realistic enough to allow such a co-existence, with Clark painted very much as an alien with a human upbringing, keen to rescue ordinary people from impossible situations.

An enjoyable, high quality Batman vs Superman movie is more achievable than many doom-merchants are acknowledging. It will be an extremely hard project to balance, but it can be done. Snyder and co must remember the recent past, but also depart from it where necessary. They must also not try too hard to introduce Batman. It’s probably best to do so in vignettes, whilst continuing to tell their own Superman story. Batman will inevitably get another movie of his own. It is definitely sad that Nolan’s interpretation will be trampled on so soon but if the new Batman is truly awful, we can still enjoy The Dark Knight trilogy and conveniently ignore the new version. Superman meanwhile, has the potential to improve. And teamwork gets the job done…right?

Liam Trim is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors. He is also Online Editor of the University of Exeter’s student newspaper website, Exeposé