by Carter Glace
Just a quick warning: There is a good chance I will be spoiling parts of the upcoming Batman v Superman film.
With the incredible popularity of the Captain America Civil War trailer—released two weeks ago on The Jimmy Kimmel Show—Warner Brothers need something bold to regain attention for their Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And after seeing the trailer premiere on Kimmel last week… well… that’s one direction to go.
First, the obvious note. No, the trailer did not show too much. It showed the entire plot in chronological order. Based on every report, this trailer serves as an overview of the story, the actual Batman/Superman fight takes place a little past the half way point or transitioning into the third act. The grand finale is actually a battle between the team of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman vs a new threat. Rumors are circulating that the budget has ballooned to $410 million—Man of Steel cost $225—and if this doesn’t light the world on fire, they are staring down a financial disaster and decades worth of franchises becoming worthless. So it is interesting they are going to with the more old school approach of outlining the film, perhaps out of concern that brand and name recognition won’t be enough?
But how is the trailer? Eh. It more or less confirms my general emotions. I still hate how the creative team is acting like the senseless death and destruction of Man of Steel was some kind of broader point instead of them frantically trying to fix a mess, but they seem to have dropped the false pretenses of hope and optimism from Man of Steel, and are instead going for the angst, violence and spectacle from 90’s comic books. Is that my personal taste? No, but I’d rather have this than the false sincerity of Man of Steel. And it’s nice to see Zack Snyder fully embrace his visual style, because if there is anyone more visually capable of making decadent, splash page action, it’s him.
But, because it is more or less my job, now to explain what that giant CGI monster at the end of the trailer was. Say hello to Doomsday. In 1992, DC dropped the mother of all stories with “The Death of Superman.” With such a loaded title, who would bring the heroes’ demise? Lex Luthor, Braniac, another one of his classic villains? No. A big dumb monster that we’d never seen before comes to Earth, enters a wrestling match (no, really) and proceeds to get in a multi-comic, speechless fight with Superman until both fall down and die. He eventually got a fleshed out backstory of being a prehistoric Kyrptonian experiment to create the ultimate weapon by killing a baby thousands of times to create immunity to all scenarios, but given that he now seems to originate from General Zod, his origin seems somewhat meaningless.
Yes, Batman v Superman is going to feature a villain exclusively know as the one who killed Superman, so it doesn’t take a master detective to figure out where this is going. Superman is almost certainly going to die at the end of this film, changing Batman’s opinion on heroes and probably giving pretext to create the Justice League.
This in lines my problem with Warner Bros approach though. Death of Superman is a widely panned comic, one that has become the face of overblown hype and pomp in the comic book industry, and yet executives seem to believe that this story is a vital part of Superman canon, one that must be on film. Why? Probably because it sold well. Just like the Dark Knight Returns did, another clear inspiration. I don’t get the sense that Warner Bros has a direction other than chasing their most prosperous era. Is the angsty tone something they genuinely want, or is it because it was DC’s last extremely prosperous era? With Man of Steel, there was prevailing sense that the film was built on a whole bunch of ‘don’ts.’ Don’t be the old films, don’t be like the comics, don’t be like Marvel. Batman v Superman is an extension of that. They don’t know what they want to be, so they’re just going with what made money.
With Civil War’s trailer, it seemed clear taking the catchy, marketable name and premise of a popular comic as a structure for the story they wanted to tell: that of Steve Rodgers facing his past ideals and the realties of the present in very literal, personal terms. Batman v Superman feels more like smashing together popular stories and ideas to make the illusion of direction and drive.
Looking at both trailers, one feels like a studio being driven by personal interests and ideas, while the other is driven by balance sheets and fads.
Carter Glace is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org