The first time I saw The Dark Knight, I came out of the theater exhilarated and breathless. I remain of the opinion that the film is close to a masterpiece, and it is firmly lodged in my all-time Top 10 movies. However – while not the usual context for this phrase – I also felt le petite mort. It appeared that Christopher Nolan had transcended pulp fantasy, and in turn, killed the superhero movie. After all, where could they go from here?
Yet I needn’t have worried, as Marvel had the sapience not to try and ape Nolan’s tonality. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe, gritty realism was forsaken. Instead the dense layering of comicbooks was imprinted onto cinema, and a licence to print money was created. But trends by their nature are transitory, and as the tills are set to ring for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it seems clear to me that the latest age of the superhero movie has begun.
Let’s make something plain. Dawn of Justice is going to make a lot of money. It’s going to make money for the same reason that Captain America: Civil War is going to make money. The quality of these stories will be irrelevant. The basic appeal of these movies are very simple: It’s a superfight.
One of the most common threads of conversation among comicbook fans is, “Who would win in a fight between <insert superhero here> and <insert superhero here>?” Such conversations were ostensibly meant to remain in the realm of chimera and fanfic, because it’s a slightly forbidden notion. It subverts the very idea of heroes to think of them tussling among each other. And yes, while the Dawn of Justice trailer clearly indicates that a Batman/Superman brawl isn’t the culmination of the film, that’s where its promotion is focused.
For clarity’s sake, this particular hype isn’t for the purpose of us nerds who will likely have already planned our visit to the theater. It’s the casual viewer that the studio is after. Superman vs. General Zod? Captain America vs. The Red Skull? Been there, seen that. But hero against hero? As the popular meme has it:
Personally, I’m holding out greater hope for Civil War than for Dawn of Justice. Firstly, because Marvel’s track record inspires greater confidence, and second, because of Screen Junkies observation (in their Honest Trailers series) that what was initially meant to be a sequel to Man of Steel has been hijacked by DC’s desperation to make more Batman films.
Another reason for concern is the positionality of both characters among the general public. While I find Batman one of (Western) fiction’s most fascinating characters, the fact that he’s an aspirational hero for so many is unsettling. Basically, Batman is the id of white capitalist patriarchy. A boy who suffered considerable childhood trauma, which has resulted in a man driven by obsession and revenge.
If Bruce Wayne’s primary concern was ridding Gotham City of crime, he would go about it in a very different way. It’s not as if he doesn’t have the resources and influence. But unable to reconcile the raw agony of his childhood, he has become a man who is essentially punishing Gotham City for taking his parents.
BRUCE WAYNE: How can I rid this city of crime
ALFRED: Mental health care access, economic development, gun reg—
BRUCE: Bring me a cape
— Matt Ford (@fordm) May 28, 2015
This doesn’t make Batman an inferior character to Superman (or to anyone), but it does make him less heroic. Ben Affleck may be a shrewd piece of casting, as it makes sense for him to have an entitled certainty that comes with the societal privileges a man like him possesses.
But while it may not reflect well on us if we end up rooting for Batman, it speaks just as poorly for Zack Snyder and his writers if we don’t end up siding with Superman.
Writer, Max Landis has elucidated on the core of the character, and it feels to me like it’s the Man of Steel who needs to shine in this movie. While not my favourite superhero, there’s a void in the pop culture scene when Superman is not a prominent part of it. In a time where superheroes are big business and mainstream entertainment, the world’s most iconic superhero should not be an afterthought.
To return to memories of Batman movies past, the Caped Crusader looked finished after the abomination that was Batman & Robin, which meant that nerves were frayed when the world of Gotham was handed to Christopher Nolan. The main emotion that I felt after watching Batman Begins was relief. Relief that we finally had a good Batman movie again. Yet the wait to feel the same way about Superman goes on.
What we’re essentially waiting for is for Superman to be given back to us – especially to the generation who weren’t alive during the Christopher Reeve era. Christopher Nolan did it with Batman. Sam Raimi did it with Spiderman. Is Zack Snyder going to do the same with Superman, or is the focus going to be on a superfight that fizzles out after about an hour?
Film studios will relish this current trend as, these days, you can break the internet with content about beef between celebrities, genuine or exaggerated. It was only a matter of time before the movies caught up.
P.S. Yes, I know we’ll also be seeing the debut of Wonder Woman, and while it’s normally something I’d look forward to, I deliberately didn’t mention her because, well… it’s not easy to root for a character who’s portrayed by someone like this.
A mixed-race film graduate, Shane Thomas comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History, and is a writer for the Writers of Colour website. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISHand @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it