Batman v Superman is out and it is dividing the audience like rarely any superhero movie before, including the already controversial predecessor Man of Steel and last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron by the Marvel Studio, which also surprisingly received mixed reactions.
Even the Supernaughts writers cannot agree if the movie is uninspired or “messy but breathtaking”. And while the professional critics are panning it unanimously (at this point residing at a disastrous 28% on rottentomatoes), the first BO results are more than solid.
Not to talk about the heated debate that will continue to split the fandom. One point that is coming up frequently, is:
Could a possible backlash make the foundation of the DCEU (DC Extended Universe), which is still comparatively fragile to that of the successful MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and already raised some skepticism with its Gung-Ho “all-in” approach, go crumble? Is this the price Warner Bros. will pay for trying to replicate the Marvel Studio’s success with a crowbar?
I am going out on a limb here and claim that the DCEU might not be as in danger as some make it out to be.
And here are the reasons why:
#1 Wonder Woman
If there is one element of Batman v Superman a majority of even the most disappointed critics and fans can agree on, then it’s the introduction of Gal Gadot as the superheroine Wonder Woman. The fact that the casting choice has been criticized in advance plays in her favour now, as there is nothing that people love more than a story of success against all odds (more about that later).
A standalone Wonder Woman feature film is already in the making and to be released in June 2017. The advance praise for her cameo in Batman v Superman is creating an invaluable buzz for the movie. Furthermore, it’s the first big female superhero movie ever, directed by a female director, a feat that the competitor Marvel Studios were not able to pull off yet. This novelty will definitely garner further interest and finally crack the female demography. And last, but definitely not least: the fandom for Wonder Woman is huge and they have been clamouring for a WW movie for ages.
…and if there is a second element in Batman v Superman almost everybody praised, then it’s the characterization of the new Batman and the performance of the man behind the rubber mask, Ben Affleck, yet another casting decision that worked far better than it sounded initially. Affleck’s Batman is determined and passionate about his nightshift- job, something fans have been missing about the incarnation in Nolan’s trilogy. I would be surprised if Warner Bros. isn’t fast-tracking a standalone Bats- movie in the background, maybe even with Ben Affleck as director as it has been rumoured. Affleck’s recent career resurgence is, see also above, another unexpected success story and -again- people just looove a good comeback.
A new Batman movie can also benefit from an improved costume- and CGI- technology, making the superhero act more agile than ever before. Story-wise, a lot of the heavy-lifting (origin story, setup, introduction of characters, etc.) has already been done in Dawn of Justice, so we can expect a Batman- adventure that is leaner and meaner than any before it. Considering all this, the strength of the “Batman brand” and, as in the case of Wonder Woman, the hype created with his introduction in Batman v Superman, it’s almost impossible that a standalone Batman movie will be anything else than a huge success.
#3 Suicide Squad
Deadpool is so far the biggest cinematic sensation of 2016. A benefiter from its enormous success might be Suicide Squad, as Deadpool left behind a audience that is apparently craving for a raunchier kind of superhero movies and also willing to accept lesser known characters as leads. Suicide Squad might not be R-rated, but the trailer promises a more anarchic and chaotic tone that will play in its favour, now that Merc without Mouth paved the way. In a certain sense, it might also owe a lot to Guardians of the Galaxy which made the concept of the “lawless motley crew that includes surreal characters” fashionable. The relentless, immoral characters and the dark humour are a refreshing contrast to the superhero movies of late, that either forced their heroes to grow as humans (Ant-Man, oh the irony) or confronted them with moral dilemmas (Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age of Ultron). Visually, it also seems to go against the grain with its dirty, neon-lit aesthetic.
Another important factor are the characters and the actors who play them. Comic book fans have been demanding a movie version of the insanely popular Harley Quinn, Bruce Timm’s genius creation from the lauded Batman: The Animated Series ever since and the casting of Margot Robbie has been met with mostly positive reactions. The character of the Joker still resonates strongly with the general audience and Jared Leto’s performance promises to be delightfully unhinged. While Will Smith isn’t as big a draw as he has been once, he still has a bankable name and he might incite interest with a villain role that is outside his usual comfort zone. The star-power of Cara Delevingne has been on the rise since she has been officially cast as Enchantress, partly due to a role in the upcoming Luc-Besson Sci-Fi extravaganza Valerian. Margot Robbie’s status might leap from “star” to “super-star” after the release of Suicide Squad.
Also, it was pretty clever by Warner Bros. to keep the fact that this takes place in the Batman v Superman– universe out of the trailers (apart from a second of footage of Batman). Audience members who were disappointed by the superhero brawl will not be deterred from checking out Suicide Squad and in case they enjoy the movie, they might gain a more favourable attitude towards future Batman– adventures again. The introduction of the Joker is also another element that will up the stakes in a potential upcoming “Batfleck” movie.
#4 It’s different
This is not a new argument, but it’s still valid. The DCEU movies exude a different vibe than the Marvel movies and also the Fox superhero movies. Unless the long-expected “superhero fatigue” really kicks in suddenly, people might flock in just to see something that feels different from the Marvel fare. This is also the first year when Marvel and DC seem to go on direct confrontation course with their releases, finally transferring their old feud onto the screen. In days when the hype surrounding a movie becomes more important than the movie itself, I could imagine that many will see those movies just for the fun to witness the battle of those giants and compare their outputs. Which could bestow the DCEU with some precious momentum. Talking about hype…
#5 “PR fixes everything”
We live in times where the marketing- and PR-department is the most important subdivision of a studio. As I mentioned above, the hype and buzz surrounding a movie often surpasses the actual product. The same goes for “brand recognition”, a concept whose importance became increasingly important with the rise of the Marvel Studios and J.J. Abrams’ production company “Bad Robot”, to cite two egregious examples, who took a page from the book of Steve Jobs. It seems that the fans’ perception of and the discourse about a movie can be influenced in manifold subtle ways by, to quote American Crime Story, “spinning a narrative”. To hammer it home a third time: People. Love. A good “underdog success story”… no matter how phoney it might really be. See “Apple” again, a brand that successfully posed itself as the thinking person’s alternative to Microsoft and other companies, despite inhuman conditions in their factories and a long list of environmental sins, not to speak of the software from hell that is iTunes. Marketing experts managed to shift our desire for identification from movie stars to multi-billion dollar corporations. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean their movies are actually all bad (…but they occasionally can be…), but even a brilliant movie can barely sustain itself relying on its quality alone these days. It needs the hype.
And this also means that every image is malleable and can take a 180° turn, which includes the slightly damaged image of DC. It seems that Batman v Superman will receive a massive backlash, but that doesn’t have to mean anything in the long term as long as it can be integrated into the “narrative” in a meaningful way.
Let’s use Ben Affleck’s career as an analogy: Would his turn as director and comeback as actor regarded as highly if he had not been the laughing stock of Hollywood for almost a decade? Not to belittle his recent work in any way, but his latest output would probably not as appreciated if he would have been constantly delivering good work, as paradox as it is. Or to come back to DC’s greatest competitor, Marvel: Their movie Ant-Man could be seen as a return to the safe and proved realm of simplistic, humorous origin stories following the convoluted and overblown Age of Ultron that did not meet the expectations of many fans. Yet it was, among fans, perceived as a proof that Marvel “still has it” and the choice to build a movie around a hero with such “unusual” powers was even considered as the studio’s increasing willingness to be daring and experimental. Wishful thinking from the fans or clever marketing? Both, I think.
Upcoming DCEU movies that peruse elements introduced in BvS will, if they fare better among fans, also shed a more favourable light on the latter in hindsight. The Director’s Cut of BvS might tie things together more convincingly and lead to a reevaluation of the film. It was further explicitly stated, by Aquaman– director James Wan among others, that the future instalments will feature a different tone than Snyder’s efforts, offering something for everyone.
Zack Snyder is going to shoot Justice League in a few weeks and I am almost willing to bet that they will issue a statement that he will be joined/supervised by a writer with geek cred (maybe even a DC comics artist) and that they will address the fans’ most common complaints regarding BvS. It might be window-dressing, but it works. By 2017, the year Justice League is released, they might have garnered enough goodwill again to carry on with Snyder.
Yet, brand recognition is not everything. Most of that is directed at fans, a valuable but small part of the audience, not the general crowd. This can be witnessed by the success of the….
#6 The FOX/SONY way…
What happens if all this doesn’t work out?
Well, in this case DC could abandon the idea to become a veritable competition to Marvel and retool their concept after the model of Fox or Sony, aka the “Money talks” concept. Okay, they don’t really have what one would call a “concept”, it’s more a muddled mess. But that mess is still pretty darn successful. For every abandoned project like Sinister Six and mega-flop like the latest Fantastic Four adaptation, there are a slew of X-Men and Spiderman– movies of wildly varying quality and resonance among fans and critics, but with BO- receipts that usually range between “solid” and “outstanding”. The continuity of these franchises is wonky and apart from some half-assed, lazy pandering, there is close to zero contact with the fanbase. The success of the X-Men franchise is, including the best and the worst instalments, based on 30% reliance on the popularity of the characters, 30% star power, 30% spectacle and 10% actual creativity.
Means in the worst case scenario, DC could pull the plug of their cinematic universe and focus on countless star-studded sequels to movies about their most popular characters, maybe even reboot every single one of them in a few years. Given that Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman might be more well-known than the X-Men and are endowed with a mythology rich with different villains and famous storylines that you can tease fans with and just wait for a really disappointing realization, the BO- power would stay on their side.
Batman v Superman might have put off many due to its crowbar approach to set up a cinematic universe that rivals that of the Marvel Studios- although I personally would argue that it still retains an independent story and individual identity unlike noteworthy efforts by competitors that also fulfilled a franchise-building function, namely Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Amazing Spiderman 2.
If I am correct with my points made above -time will tell- it would be unfair to say that this approach is unorganized or not well thought out. I’d rather think it’s wise, as the audience might be unwilling to sit through another bunch of origin movies if DC decided to copy the Marvel recipe to a T. The current strategy could prove as a more dynamic and fresh alternative that successfully kickstarts the universe with a jolt.
What’s your opinion on this? Agree? Disagree? If I prove to be wrong with my assumptions, feel free to come back to this comment thread and tell me how it is!