Dear Warner Bros and DC Comics,
Well, the day is finally here and the news just isn’t that good, is it? The prints of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice are barely even dry and the damning reviews are already streaming in. Let me tell you, not even Lex Luthor himself could have done more damage if he tried. At the time of this writing, the rock upon which Warner Bros has planned to build the entire “DC Extended Universe” is standing at a 29 percent Rotten score on RottenTomatoes.com.
You’ve poured an estimated $250 million into the making of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and quite a bit more than that into marketing and promoting this film. By some estimates this behemoth will have to earn over $800 million just to make back a single dollar.
Will it happen? Well, that’s possible. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) managed to pull in well over $1 billion. However, despite what your marketing department has been so desperate to assert, Batman v. Superman is no Avengers. The Avengers is the result of a multi-film plan set out by Marvel that managed to get an almost overwhelming 92 percent Tomatometer rating. Your movie is currently doing slightly better than your own 2011 attempt, Green Lantern (26 percent). Somehow I don’t think that “Slightly better than Green Lantern” was what you were hoping for.
I’m sure you’re all biting your fingernails right now, watching those box office numbers. Of course, you have to get past that first weekend to see how the reviews might impact ticket sales. Opening weekend is virtually a sure thing considering the fact that the hype you generated has resulted in presale tickets, but that second weekend drop is the kicker.
If Batman v. Superman goes on to make a ton of money you can just consider this your Transformers series. You’ll get horrible reviews and still make bank at the box office. Good trade? Well, sure, except for the fact that your main rivals over at Marvel are making critically acclaimed box office smashes and improving their brand.
As you’ve already said, you’re making movies for the fans, not for critics, but do you really want your brand tarnished in this way? After all, Superman is not just “a superhero”, Superman is the first Superhero, upon whom all others are based. How can you settle for this American Icon to be trapped in laughable films, regardless of the amount of money it makes? You know better than I how negative word of mouth can cause disturbing second weekend drop off, so we both know you’re not counting your gold coins just yet.
But even if this is a success and the DC Comics movies become your Transformers series, the damage to the brand will ultimately be catastrophic. People will tire of these and flock to the better made superhero films. Worse, such a thing would be detrimental to the venerable comics your subsidiary has been publishing for a century now.
I, for one, have been hoping for an excellent series of DC movies so that I can see my favorite heroes triumph. That’s not what I’m seeing and, let’s face it, neither are you. But you could… and it really wouldn’t be that hard to do. In fact, with all due respect, I’m hoping that your vaunted movie is a major box office disappointment so that you will be forced to stop in your tracks and reevaluate the steam train you’ve created to see if it’s on the right track.
After all, you’ve already announced no less than nine more entries in your DC Extended Universe (DCEU), all of which have huge budgets and all of which are, because of the way you’ve set this one up, essentially sequels to Batman v. Superman. Yes, you’re scrambling to reevaluate these lofty goals now, but you don’t have to. You just need to take a good, solid look at what you’re doing and right the train before it goes off the tracks completely.
What went wrong? Pretty much the same thing I’ve been saying since this entire questionable affair began. While it’s obvious to me, you at Warner Bros. and your subsidiary DC Comics seem to be completely oblivious to the actual problems here. Hence this open letter that might help you resolve these things.
Here are some very serious steps for you to consider:
1. You’ve got to fire Zack Snyder as soon as possible!
I realize Snyder has his fans and those fans will not be fans of mine after reading this, but hear me out. Snyder has no business directing movies this important. In spite of his very public claims to the contrary (most disturbingly defensive), Snyder does not know anything about comic books and doesn’t care about the source material. He also hasn’t done you many favors.
Let’s take a quick look at Snyder’s career. Snyder is a commercial director. Literally. His career as a director began (and really should have stayed) with television commercials for automobiles, athletic shoes and sports drinks. He also made a mark directing music videos, aka promo films, which are essentially commercials in and of themselves.
So what? Lots of your directors start out that way, right? Well, sure, but the problem is that your boy Zack still thinks he’s directing commercials. Remember what killed the Batman series from the ’90s was changing them from smart, character-driven action films into toy commercials (which met their apex with the appalling 1997 film, Batman & Robin).
For those of you at Warner Bros. who do not believe in the supernatural, let’s look again at Snyder’s resume because, he clearly sold his soul to someone. Based solely on his music video and commercial work, Universal had enough faith in him to let him direct the 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). Yes, somehow the director of Soul Asylum’s “Somebody to Shove” video was allowed to helm the remake of one of the most intelligent, critically acclaimed horror films of all time. Naturally he missed the social commentary and satire that made the original such a classic and instead delivered a very standard action film entry in the resurgent zombie subgenre of horror. The film managed some good reviews and positive box office, but if you ask critics (like me) his career only went down from there.
Dawn of the Dead made almost four times its budget back — but that budget was only $26 million. For reasons unknown outside of the third circle of Hell, this small victory led you guys at Warners to hire Snyder to direct his first comic book adaptation, that of Frank Miller’s 300 (2007). I don’t have to tell you, that film was a success, pulling in over $456 million against a $65 million budget. This is in spite of the fact that the film is self-important and unintentionally funny in virtually every scene.
Snyder gained experience fibbing to the press during the promotion of this movie, claiming that he showed it to “world-class historians” who “can’t believe how accurate it is”.
Actual historians (outside of Zack’s imagination) have laughed at this claim, but what does that matter when the film made money? Enough money, in fact, for you nice folks at Warner Bros to eye Snyder for further comic book adaptations. If only you hadn’t started with Watchmen.
Watchmen is among the very best, most intelligent and most critically acclaimed graphic novels ever made. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons infused every panel with meaning and the entire story is so gripping that it remains one of the most popular and talked about books of the past 50 years. A-List filmmakers like Terry Gilliam had to walk away from the project because it was “un-filmable”, so you guys decided to give it to the guy who didn’t understand the metaphors in Dawn of the Dead. Worse, you actually began promoting the untried helmsman as “Visionary Director Zack Snyder”… for his third film… for which he was out of his league. No pressure, right?
Critics who never read comic books liked to call Watchmen (2009) the most accurate comic book movie ever made and, in fact, there are moments that are framed exactly like the comic frames and many scenes work as a beautiful companion piece to this amazing novel. I would know. I’ve read the damned thing about ten times. However, Snyder clearly didn’t really understand the film. There is virtually no depth, the face of the “villain” (which should be a surprise) is shown in the first few seconds, lines are arbitrarily reassigned to other characters that have no business saying them (implying that someone must’ve had a bad hangover that day) and worst of all, Snyder completely changed the poignant and intelligent ending in favor of something silly and incongruous.
In short, Watchmen was too important and too deep to be any director’s third film. He just wasn’t ready!
Your marketing department did a great job with him, though, as he continued his (sadly transparent) massaging of the press. When fans reacted negatively to the ridiculous looking nipples on the Ozymandias costume (so reminiscent of the much reviled costumes in 1997’s Batman & Robin) Snyder cleverly explained that he was attempting to parody such films with Ozymandias’ eccentricities. This, too, was a lie, considering the fact that Snyder carefully selected costumer Dawn Brown for the film — the very costumer from Batman & Robin!
As your accounting department will gleefully clarify for me, Watchmen was not quite the huge hit you would like to make it out to be. Falling 68 percent in attendance for its second weekend Watchmen ended its run with a little over $185 million. Do the math and you’ll see that with a budget of $130 million, Watchmen would have needed to make $260 million to earn a profit, meaning (to be generous) your company experienced a $74 million loss with Watchmen.
Slightly better reviewed than 300, critics were polarized about the film and it barely registers as “fresh”. So I have to ask the question, why did you still bank on him? Was it because you already invested so much (including in the claim “visionary”) that you couldn’t cut your losses? Because you again invested in him to direct the 2010 animated tale Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (which also underperformed) and then funded his next vanity project called Sucker Punch (2011).
Sucker Punch is the most “Zack Snyder” Zack Snyder movie of them all and a true sign of what he can do and what he is ready for, considering the fact that he conceived, wrote, produced and directed it himself. At this point you should seriously have considered severing ties, because once again you lost money on a Zack Snyder movie. With an $82 million budget, the film failed to break even $90 million, meaning you lost almost your entire marketing and distribution budget. Further, Sucker Punch left a sour taste in critics’ mouths, earning it a mere 23 percent Rotten rating. Yes, that’s worse than the failure of the same year’s Green Lantern.
Green Lantern made $220 million against a budget of $200 million, which makes it less of a failure than Sucker Punch, but that dashed any hopes of continuing with the saga and caused Warner Bros. to rethink where it was going with its DC Comics adaptations.
Your solution? Double down on Snyder, the guy who has repeatedly lost you money and received bad reviews.
How exactly does that make any sense? By way of direct comparison, your previous “big blue” film Superman Returns (2006), which has a higher critical approval rating than any Snyder film actually did make back much more than its budget (earning over $391 million from $204 million) and was directed by Bryan Singer, who has a proven track record with successful superhero films.
But you decided to scrap that series and hire Snyder, the guy who made money for you… once… and lost money for you several times, to be in charge of a more expensive Superman movie in Man of Steel (2013).
Can you explain that logic to me? It seems to me that the last thing you would want to do is take such a risk, especially with someone who doesn’t even understand the character.
So the decidedly dark Man of Steel came out and had everything spelled out for the audience. There was no mystery in the film, which rather betrays half of the interest in Superman. You can read my article on what was wrong with that film, but in short, everyone in Smallville has figured out that Clark Kent has superpowers.
Lois Lane figures out that Clark Kent is superpowered, not just before their wedding, but before Superman even exists. Kal-El’s own birthing matrix rocket is found right there on the Kent farm (where, incidentally, the other Kryptonians attack) and Superman even tells the military, “I’m from Kansas.” Now, if you were the military and you were looking for Superman, wouldn’t you go to the very Kansas farm where his baby carriage was found (where the bad guys just looked for him) and then ask a few questions to the Kent son who happens to look exactly like Superman? I would.
Instead, Clark puts on a pair of glasses (which he never wore before) and his secret is suddenly safe.
Of course Snyder continued his press dishonesty by announcing that he didn’t change Superman at all. In short, Snyder doesn’t understand Superman any more than he understood Watchmen, and arguably significantly less. While I grant you that Man of Steel made a lot of money ($668 million against a $225 million budget), critics largely savaged the film, earning it a certified Rotten rating.
Still, you drank the Kool-Aid and missed the problems, going instead for the green. So you went all in and put Snyder in charge of your entire slate of DC based films. And to compete with Marvel Studios, you announced a full ten more films on the way (including Batman v Superman).
Not only did you give Snyder carte blanche on Batman v Superman, but you also set him up as producer or executive producer on every single DCEU film that he isn’t directing. Then you announced him as the already carved-in-stone director of not one but two Justice League movies to be released in 2017 and 2019.
Then There’s the Matter of David S. Goyer
Knowing that people do not go to see sequels to movies they don’t like, do you really think this unprecedented risk was worth it? You now have nine films in the works that follow a movie that is being savaged in the press significantly worse than Man of Steel and the money the film might make is not worth the damage to your brand.
Your best bet is to really look at the resume of the guy you’ve put the hopes of your entire cinematic universe on, really ask yourself, does he get it? Does he care about these characters? Is he just making another commercial? Are we going downhill from here?
Take my advice and cut your losses. Learn the right lessons and diversify your talent pool. Zack has had his shot and blew it. It’s time to let him go.
Now before you (or any other readers of this open letter) start to assume that I simply dislike Snyder, I assure you that this is not the case. I simply love comic books, especially DC Comics. I have no axe to grind against Snyder. In fact, he may one day become a very fine filmmaker.
But he’s not there yet. He isn’t ready. He hasn’t earned it.
Looking at the budgets of your DCEU films so far, you’ve got well over a billion dollars invested in your future superhero slate, and every single one of the upcoming films have Snyder’s name on them. Cut your losses, or they could all be losses.
Putting Snyder in charge of the DCEU at this point in his career is like making an intern the CEO of your company or like, I don’t know, appointing a cadet the Captain of the Starship Enterprise (thank heavens that never happened).
2. Get rid of David S. Goyer now and stop returning his phone calls!
It annoys political pundits to no end that Donald Trump’s entire plan as potential commander in chief is “Trust me, I have a plan.” However, that same sort of frat boy logic has propelled the career of screenwriter Goyer on the strength of “It’s okay, I read comic books!” for 20 years now, right there in Hollywood. And nobody seems to mind at all.
I realize that most of you probably don’t read comics (in spite of the fact that your company owns one of the biggest and most esteemed comics companies of all time), and that’s okay. You’re in the business of making movies, so why should you, really, right? Sure, but you also shouldn’t simply take someone’s random word for the fact that they do read comics and give him millions of dollars to write some of your highest-profile adaptations.
Let’s take a look at Goyer’s career. The only film he has ever been involved with that isn’t certified “Rotten” and wasn’t related to Batman was Dark City (1998), from Alex Proyas, the director of The Crow (1994). Want to know what Goyer’s first ever comics adaptation was? The Crow: City of Angels (1996), the critical and financial debacle that tanked the once promising Crow series of movies. Yeah, he wrote that.
Care to guess what his second ever comics adaptation was? The reviled TV movie Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998) starring David Hasselhoff. Let that sink in for a few minutes before you read on.
From there he went on to write the Blade trilogy (based on the Marvel Comics character), the first two of which were financially successful, but less so when it came to the reviews. The third film in the trilogy, Blade: Trinity (2004) was produced, written and directed by David S. Goyer. Trinity is the least successful critically or commercially and no more Blade films were made.
Blade: Trinity is also well known for its portrayal of Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds). This was, in fact, something of a consolation prize for both Goyer and Reynolds as they had been working on the Deadpool movie for your other subsidiary, New Line Cinema. Goyer rewrote King as something of Deadpool clone, a mercenary with a sarcastic attitude, since they couldn’t get Deadpool off the ground.
Fans and your kids will probably tell you that the Ryan Reynolds-starring Deadpool (2016) ended up being a great film, and it did, but Goyer had absolutely nothing to do with that version. Unfortunately for your bottom line, neither did New Line.
None of these aforementioned films were made for Warner Bros. but somehow you believed the hype and hired Goyer to work with Christopher Nolan on Batman Begins (2005). That’s right, “From the writer of The Crow: City of Angels and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes, Batman Begins.”
For some reason you thought this was a good idea and your accountants and fans would seem to agree, considering the fact that Batman Begins was a monster hit for your company. This, of course, led to “The Dark Knight Trilogy”, rounded out by The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), all of which Goyer’s name appeared on.
However, let’s face facts. Christopher Nolan has yet to make a bad film and Goyer’s contracted role in writing these films is questionable at best. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan increasingly took over the saga with Jonathan obtaining “screenplay by” credits and Goyer being reduced to “story” credits.
The honest truth is that you folks at Warners believed the hype that Goyer really was a comic book expert and you insisted on his inclusion, isn’t it? The Nolans, quite simply, didn’t need him, and part of this is because of the fact that Goyer is not a comic book expert.
Out of Goyer’s hundreds of missteps, let’s take a look at what the “expert” said about Marvel’s She-Hulk character. Goyer famously went on a weird diatribe in which he described comic fans as “geeks” and described She-Hulk as “a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could fuck.” Anyone who has any real familiarity with Marvel Comics will tell you that She-Hulk is not someone the Hulk “could fuck”, but is, in fact, his blood relative. Further, far from being a “porn star”, She-Hulk’s alter ego of Jennifer Walters is an attorney at law. Clearly Goyer didn’t know that. Some expert.
Comic creator Stan Lee not only denied that this was the case, but said “only a nut would think that.” Yes, you put “a nut” who doesn’t know about comics in charge of some of your biggest films, because he claimed to know about comics.
Do you need further proof of who really wrote The Dark Knight Trilogy? Well, in the midst of the production of these three films, Goyer’s other two comic book based movies were the derided Ghost Rider (2007) and its sequel Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance (2012). Now do you see any of Goyer’s fingerprints on The Dark Knight? Yet based on this misunderstanding, you also gave him the pen to Man of Steel (which, again, is certified Rotten) and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (which is already being lambasted beyond belief).
Much as we looked at Snyder’s most “Zack Snyder” film, Goyer also wrote and directed the abysmal Zig Zag (2002) and The Unborn (2009) and directed The Invisible (2009) all of which were critical failures and none of which were hits. Is this the guy you really want to keep trusting with your movies?
His claim to fame is knowing comics and delivering hits. He does neither. In fact, he probably owes you a ton of money for the unearned royalties he has received from The Dark Knight Trilogy.
3. You’re learning the wrong lessons from Marvel Comics’ success.
Really, who could blame you for taking the (as I’ve proven, ill-advised) risk of putting all your chips on Snyder for your cinematic universe? You’re looking over at Marvel Studios (whose characters mostly came years and decades after your own) and you want the chance to earn what is yours, so you’re going for everything you can get.
So you take a look at your only recent successes in the Superhero genre and you see the Dark Knight Trilogy and Watchmen. Well, you should have taken a closer look at Superman Returns, but hey, you didn’t, so let’s move on.
The Dark Knight Rises ended decisively, so you couldn’t really build your franchise from there, thus you get the idea to build a new saga and you’ve got this guy who, at a very cursory glance, makes big comic book movies. You build your new saga around him, much as you built the previous three Batman films on Nolan. Nolan returns as producer in name only of Man of Steel and you’ve got a sure winner that can compete with the big Marvel movies, right?
Sure. But that’s really missing the point.
Snyder’s movies have all been examples of style over substance. Watchmen (again, not nearly the hit you made it out to be) had some shots that were framed like the comics, but that was it. The depth, the trust in the audience, the intelligence was all gone. Man of Steel was a financial success but a creative nadir shot with more green screens than all of the Star Wars prequels to the point that the whole thing looked like a nauseated nightmare cartoon.
But you have to compete with Marvel, right? Well… Marvel’s Cinematic Universe wasn’t a success by rushing things and picking out a singular strangely declared “Visionary” director. Marvel carefully looked at what they had and then created a long, well-laid plan that could lead to crossovers in one unified movie continuity. With this singular vision they hired directors like James Gunn (incidentally the writer of Dawn of the Dead, Snyder’s best-reviewed film), Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon.
What do these guys have in common? None of them are known for directing blockbuster films. Every one of them became known for making thoughtful, intelligent films with good stories. That’s right: substance first, style second.
Yeah, all of the films are expensive, but all of them have made a ton of money, because the stories and the execution are good. Further, they don’t look like they were filmed on a back lot just outside of Beetlejuice’s house. Every one of the Marvel films looks like it happens on our own Earth unless they actually take place on another planet. Take one look at Batman v Superman and tell me if a single frame looks like it takes place anywhere you’ve ever set foot.
But these are comic book films, right? They aren’t supposed to take place in the real world, right?
Sure, you could argue that, and you can even point to films like Sin City (2005) that amped up the surreality in order to really make a comic book on film. The thing is, this disconnects us even further from the humanity of the characters that we are supposed to identify with.
Superman is an alien. He’s not biologically human. He is, however, due to his upbringing, one of the most “human” characters in comics. We don’t love “big blue” because he is super powerful. We love his duality and his very real human side in Clark Kent. We don’t love Batman simply for the shadowy figure of the night. If we did, we wouldn’t need the story of Bruce Wayne at all. If you truly want to compete with Marvel, sure, you need films that are your own and don’t carbon copy Marvel, but you also don’t want to go so far in the other direction that nothing is relatable anymore.
You Warners folks looked at The Avengers and decided you wanted to emulate that formula as soon as possible. This is why Batman v. Superman not only features the title characters but also Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Cyborg. All are meant to feature in the upcoming Justice League films (hence the “Dawn of Justice” subtitle) and in solo films of their own.
However, you’re doing this backwards. Marvel started with Iron Man (2008), then a lesser known character outside of comics fans. They then introduced the new version of The Incredible Hulk (2008) that same year. In each subsequent film like Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), they carefully introduced new characters who would all come together in The Avengers. Batman V. Superman is so overloaded with characters (and the responsibility to introduce them) that the promised bout of the title is almost edged out. And that’s not even counting the villains.
Trying to catch up with Marvel isn’t easy, I realize, but you can’t exactly sprint to catch up with them. You have to first focus on good stories with good characters and go one at a time. Marvel’s unveiling of a huge slate of future films didn’t come until after they already had a number of big successes under their belt. If they hadn’t been successful, much like your own Time Life books, they could cancel any time.
Now you have one completed film that was a commercial (not critical) success and you’ve already announced ten more, which are already of dubious quality and all surrounding one man, not a slate of great directors. If you fail, then you either have to cancel this enormous slate you’ve announced or you’ll have to churn them out at a loss.
I can already hear your protest because your announced business plan is take these beloved characters and put them in the hands of master filmmakers and make sure they all coordinate with each other. That sounds a lot like Marvel’s plan (and seems to belie the concept that you’ve built it all around Snyder) until you take a look at the directors you’re talking about. Of these ten films, at least three (so far) are being directed by Zack Snyder (with his name on every other one of them as producer).
Who are these other “master filmmakers”? Well, David Ayer looks good for Suicide Squad (2016) considering the fact that he directed 2014’s well-received Fury, though he’s far from earning the title “master”. Next up is Patty Jenkins who seems to be a good choice for Wonder Woman (2017), because she also wrote and directed the Academy Award Winning Monster (2003). But that was well over a decade ago and everything else she has directed since then has been made for television. How much is the budget for Wonder Woman? Over $200 million?
Considering the fact that no “master directors” have yet been announced for Cyborg or Green Lantern Corps (both 2020), The Flash (2018) or Shazam (2019), that leaves only the director of 2018’s Aquaman: James Wan. That’s right, the director of Saw and The Conjuring 2 is in charge of Aquaman’s biggest big screen bow. Now, sure, you may love these films, but is he a “master filmmaker”? Kenneth Branagh is a master filmmaker. James Wan is the director of the puppet horror flick Dead Silence (2007).
If you’re looking for a “master filmmaker”, you already have one associated with your franchise, and it sure as hell isn’t Snyder. His name is Ben Affleck and you’re not using him.
Yes, there is the rumor that Affleck will develop, direct and star in a solo Batman film, but that’s not part of your schedule yet and said schedule is full until 2020. It remains to be seen whether Batman V. Superman will completely tank the saga or not, but with this many entries already in the works (and Snyder’s name on every one of them) do you think you’ll still have a DCEU after 2020?
Remember Twentieth Century Fox cancelled sequels to Daredevil (2003) and Affleck walked away. That film made well over double its budget back and has a (Rotten, but still better than Batman v Superman) approval score of 44 percent. Will Affleck still be around to direct that rumored solo Bat-flick in half a decade?
Look, I don’t want you guys to copy Marvel. Arguably Marvel Comics got so popular by copying DC Comics (Marvel’s Thanos is a ripoff of DC’s Darkseid and in response to DC’s Wonder Woman Marvel debuted the incredibly original Wonder Man). But there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that these important movies with these venerable characters should be so bad. I want Warner’s DC Comics movies to be a great success on their own terms and, as much as I love the films of the MCU, there is every reason to believe that DC movies could be even better than their Marvel counterparts. But if you’re going to take cues from Marvel, you’re taking the wrong ones.
4. Quit revising what already works.
You don’t read comics? Try it for research. These comics and their characters became popular for a reason. You ruin those reasons when you either attempt to revise them to the point that they’re unrecognizable or you remove all of the mystery from them.
One would think that a company whose name actually stands for Detective Comics would understand how important mystery is for their stories.
Sure in the first film of the MCU, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) smirkingly announced “I AM Iron Man” and blew the secret identity thing out of the water, but that’s Marvel. As I illustrated above, Marvel is not DC. Batman is more than a brooding guy in a cape. Superman is more than a guy in a colorful costume who can fly and chop down mountains with the edge of his hand. Aquaman isn’t just a seamonster talker. Wonder Woman isn’t just a pretty face. Gotham is not Metropolis’ twin city. The Daily Planet is not a tabloid.
Batman v. Superman was influenced by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, featuring an older, more seasoned Batman. I support this move because after Batman’s origin has been told this many times, the last thing we really require is another long reminder. Plus, we could be fed a demystified origin like Superman just got.
In Man of Steel, everything was stripped away and rebuilt in an unrecognizable form. “Clark Kent” is basically a nonentity. The character we see onscreen is really Superman (or Kal-El) the entire time until the literal last minute when he slaps on a pair of glasses and is finally “disguised as Clark Kent” as the old TV show used to say. But this removes everything that makes Superman interesting. One of the reasons non comics fans often cite for disliking Superman is that a character that powerful is just not interesting. How can you possibly fight a guy who has just about every superpower you can think of (in one infamous silver age issue, he actually blew out a star). He shows up, fight’s over.
We don’t read his comics for that reason. We like the powers and what he does with them because without them we also wouldn’t have a story, but it is the story of Clark Kent that really pulls us in. His nervousness behind those glasses is real. He’s not a god, he’s a guy from Kansas. He has a crush on the prettiest girl he works with and he refers to himself as “Clark” in his mind. Superman is the disguise.
In Man of Steel we completely lose Clark Kent. The main character is the son of Jor-El and Lara only (he openly and repeatedly denies the Earth parents who raised him). He destroys the property of people he doesn’t like and literally everyone from his former classmates to total strangers have figured out he has more powers than everyone in The X-Files put together.
Revisit what makes the characters great and go with that. Superman is not a dark character. He shouldn’t look like we’re gazing upon him through a pair of old, scratched polarized lenses on the opposite side of some swamp gas. Doomsday is not the reanimated head of General Zod. Batman is not a murderer (he won’t even let anyone die). Lex Luthor isn’t Mark Zuckerberg!
You’re also learning the wrong lessons from your own successes. The Nolan brothers succeeded with the Dark Knight Trilogy because they created a more realistic, substance over style world for Batman to exist in. Batman is dark, but “realistic” and “dark” are not the same things.
I realize everybody on Earth seems to love Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight, but bear with me here. There is no textual basis for such a character. The Joker doesn’t wear makeup and he sure doesn’t look like a homeless guy with a Glasgow grin. I miss Ledger as much as the next guy, but whatever character he was playing in The Dark Knight, it wasn’t The Joker. You let Nolan get away with that (because, supposedly, it was more realistic), so when you put all your eggs into Snyder’s basket, he went hog wild with the revisions, too.
Of course we can’t have a direct translation of the comics on screen. They’re different mediums. With Superman having been around for 78 years (and Batman 77) you can’t shove it all into one movie. But you also don’t take what works and throw it away so Snyder can make another expensive vanity project like Sucker Punch. And speaking of which…
5. Watch your casting.
By now (whether you’re reading this or not) you realize putting all your faith (not to mention an investment of over a billion dollars) in Snyder was a huge mistake, but you should have realized this long ago. Way back when the news was new I wrote a PopMatters article defending the choice of Ben Affleck as Batman. I’ll let that one speak for itself. Whether that proved to be a good idea or not you have to take a good look at what you greenlit Snyder to do with your series and ask, How the hell did this happen?
Snyder is the same guy who cast the ironically named Matthew Goode in Watchmen and allowed him to “act” as if reading from a cue card. He went on to cast Michael Shannon as General Zod. Yeah, the nerdy guy from Bug (2006) plays the foil of Superman (his only stage directions seem to be “overact” and “be intense”). Shannon’s not a bad actor at all, but he was all wrong for the part. Not only that, you let Snyder and Goyer somehow turn him into Doomsday for Batman v Superman. Russell Crowe who played Jor-El in Man of Steel looked embarrassed to be there the entire time.
For Batman v Superman Snyder seemed to want everyone he has ever worked with to have a part in a film that is already way too overloaded with characters. Perhaps that is why he managed to make some of the worst casting choices of recent memory. The most bizarre choice of them all is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Yes, the billionaire industrialist who was a redhead before going completely bald and is several years older than Superman is played by the guy who aped the Facebook guy with a silly blonde coif. Now, Eisenberg is a fine actor and I can even understand why he might be chosen for this film (in some part), but he is almost as much like Luthor as I am like Shirley Temple. I repeat… “almost”.
Snyder couldn’t have picked a more humorous choice if he was actually joking. You guys gave him carte blanche and guess what? Critics are tearing Eisenberg apart more than almost any other element of this film (except, of course, the writing, the editing and the directing). Lex Luthor is neither The Joker nor the Trickster nor The Riddler. If Snyder or Goyer had picked up a comic, they would know that. Instead of Lex Luthor we get an overly silly, young, long haired goof ball who makes more annoying wisecracks than anyone in any Joel Schumacher Batman flick.
As Schumacher once said (about one of his own Batman flicks) “If you don’t like it, blame the director.” I once blamed Schumacher and now I’m blaming Snyder. There is no excuse for any Batman or Superman movie to be this bad. There is no excuse for casting a Batman or Superman film this way. I realize you did this because you put your faith in Snyder as you did with Nolan, but Snyder is no Nolan and his casting choices are ridiculously bad.
Back to learning the wrong lessons: look at your television properties. You are recasting Green Arrow and you’ve already recast The Flash. This is in spite of the fact that The Flash (2014) and Arrow (2012) are much better received than your DC films. Marvel took the right path by making their television shows part of the larger MCU. You’ve decided yours are completely separate. That may have seemed like a good idea in the short run, but taking a look at where you’re going, recasting popular characters who are already cast because you want to give Snyder more rope to hang himself with… well, that’s a terrible idea, folks.
Warners, you’re headed straight for disaster in venture you’ve invested (collectively) over a billion dollars in, not counting advertising and distribution. But it’s not too late to make this right. For the sake of your amazing brand and roster of incredible heroes, it’s time to step away from the table and think again. Don’t put all your bets on one man, especially one man whose track record is far from proven. Get rid of the dead weight that you’ve accumulated based on rumored reputation alone.
If you want your heroes to conquer the box office, learn the right lessons, not just what seems cool at the time (especially if they’re coming from a single source that has proven, repeatedly, to be unreliable). Read your comics! Take a good, long look at your properties and see what really has made them sustain their unparalleled popularity for almost eighty years and for God’s sake, when you do make these movies don’t let your directors (“master” or otherwise) cast just anyone they want against type.
Some of your films might have to be postponed, rescheduled or even cancelled while you reevaluate (many of these are already in pre-production or production), but that’s nothing new. Hell, Batman vs. Superman first entered preproduction back in 2001, long before Snyder even directed a film, under no less a (much better) director than Wolfgang Petersen. You resurrected it before, you can do it again.
It’s too late for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but look at the future. Can you really afford Snyder’s two Justice League films or might you want to go back to the drawing board one more time and hire George Miller (who was already working with you on a Justice League film way back in 2007)? Miller actually is a “master filmmaker” and his last film, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is enjoying vast critical acclaim, overwhelming box office returns and even Oscar nominations. Put some of your plans on hold (especially those without directors assigned) and fast track the Affleck solo Batman movie, regardless of cost. It’s the smartest way you can win.
J.C. Macek III
PS: See you in the Next Reel