Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is DC and Warner Bros.’ attempt to match their rivals at Marvel and we’re still a few days away from seeing if the launch of the superhero cinematic universe will be a success. We do know that the tone is going to be dark. The film draws much of its inspiration from Frank Miller’s grim story The Dark Knight Returns so that’s to be expected, but is it the right choice for the franchise?
I’m all for artistic license and reimagining characters that have been around for decades. But a Justice League in which everyone is scowling and trying to be the badass – in which every character is trying to be Batman – simply isn’t going to work.
Batman has long been synonymous with dark and brooding. He represents punishing justice and preys on the fears and superstitions of criminals. As we saw in the Christopher Nolan trilogy of movies, it’s easy to do a (mostly) realistic version of the character because he’s the only founding member of the Justice League without superpowers. Yes, he possesses vast wealth and technological resources, but Batman succeeds because of his skill, ingenuity, and willpower, making it easy to do away with a lot of the more over-the-top comic book tropes.
However, there’s no way to do a grounded, realistic version of aliens from dead planets, Amazonian immortals, and Atlanteans – nor are they all meant to be dark or gloomy or gritty. If anything, it’s a mistake to betray the characters in such a way. Superman is often teased for being a boy scout. He’s one of the shining lights in the DC Universe and an all-around good guy. He and his city of Metropolis are meant to symbolize hope. No matter the challenges presented, they can be overcome.
As much as they both seek justice, Superman and Batman share opposing views. That looks to be the reason they clash in the film, but their demeanors already feel too similar. Dawn of Justice follows director Zack Snyder’s previous entry Man of Steel, and even in his own solo film Superman never seemed to have that eternally optimistic point of view.
Wonder Woman and Aquaman come from warrior cultures so it makes sense if they’re both a little gruff and straightforward. However, they’re incredibly bright and colorful characters who can bring life to the screen in a purely visual sense. The trailers (and the early reviews) make it seem like Wonder Woman has jumped off the page and that’s fantastic. I’ll hold my applause until the credits are rolling, but at least there’s hope. Yet while I like that Jason Momoa has been cast as Aquaman, the ruler of Atlantis isn’t Khal Drago. I’m not saying he has to be dressed in neon orange and green, but hopefully BvS will have something closer to that than Dothraki leathers.
Three more heroes round out DC’s cinematic Justice League. The Flash (any incarnation) is something of a moral compass and generally the most optimistic of the group. Cyborg is a star high school athlete who, until recently, was a long serving member of the Teen Titans. It’s always possible to do the whole teenage angst thing, but Cyborg is usually a more grounded character, almost a big brother figure on the team.
Green Lantern, meanwhile, is a space cop, a literal light shining in the darkness. In the words of Ted Kord, the second Blue Beetle, “I feel a little bit safer when he shows. Like the shadows around me aren’t so dark. And that ring of his… just seems to make me stand a little bit taller.”
We already know that the theatrical release of BvS is going to have a PG-13 rating, while a director’s cut with the home release will be Rated R. Based on the rating systems, it doesn’t take much to cross the “R” line, so a few more F-bombs and a little more violence will do the trick. How that suits the characters is unknown. Everything is speculation until Dawn of Justice arrives. But if the trailers are any indication, we’re going to be sitting down for a grim, violent affair come Friday, and I don’t see that doing justice to the source material.