Ok, so I’ve been super excited since seeing the latest trailer for the new Batman v Superman film. I adore Batman as a well executed, brooding exercise in moral crusades and sociopathic tendencies. I grew up with the animated series and Kevin Conroy will always be my Dark Knight. I have however only perused the comic book source material; have little interest in beginning to and while I have a deep respect for the lore that has given birth to characters and films that delight me, they’re not for me.
So the Internet is going berserk by trying to figure out the plot details of the new film. You don’t have to be a comic book aficionado – in the same way, you don’t need to like football to know who David Beckham is – to appreciate that many consider the greatest batman graphic novel to be The Dark Knight Returns. It’s an intense, miserable and a consequence-driven character study of Batman mythology. It’s also largely responsible for planting the ‘dark’, rather than comic aspects of the character, in the minds of people like Tim Burton who turned the character into the perennially lonely school child; like a warped Peter Pan with a billion dollar trust fund and murdered parents.
The new film is set to draw influences from the graphic novel with Batman coming out of retirement to put Superman in his place. But you don’t need to have read the source material to appreciate the story. Who doesn’t love a hero coming back for one more fight? The monomyth journey is literature’s great inevitability for a fictional hero. That Rocky Balboa and The Dark Knight Rises have the same emotional resonance is a case and point. When you take a character and put him up against his own age and decline it reinforces our original faith in their worth and ends their story on a high.
So, what is the non-comic book aficionado’s wish list for the new film?
1. Nobody likes a boy scout
Although Man of Steel did much to ground the character à la the Nolan Batman series, Superman’s still a Jesus knock-off when he’s not fighting on par with his own kind. The ending of the film tainted the character (Superman killed General Zod!) but they need to keep going. No one likes a boy scout, and it’s time for the character to be brought down to our level.
2. The Bat voice
You know what I’m about to say. Batfleck needs to have a voice that doesn’t sound he’s gone hell for leather at a metal concert but one so inconspicuous that people don’t figure out he’s the richest man in the world.
3. Consequences! More death
So if the world went mad for Superman killing Zod, how will they feel about collateral damage? Much of the trailer intimates that Batman comes out of retirement because people are killed when Supes and the Kryptonians fought.
The big criticism against the first film was that thousands must have been killed but it was never talked about again. The same is true of the Marvel Avengers films. Here they need to embrace it fully.
Please be good. All indications suggest Ben Affleck will be, but he should play up the not-seen-for-a-while playboy facade and limit the sitting-in-a-room-waiting-for trouble Wayne (like Michael Keaton in Batman Returns) or doing a Howard Hughes and absconding from the world for eight years like Bale’s take. Let Affleck be the actor he can be when he puts his mind to it. Less Daredevil comparisons and more remembering Argo, please.
5. No Jesus
Supes is Jesus. We get it. You don’t need to be religious to get the overtones. Superman Returns and Man of Steel couldn’t help themselves in doing this tragic, saccharine ‘my Dads believed in me’ montage of religious imagery: the father’s only son sent to save people, death and rebirth, the proverbial crucifixion pose etc.
The film should chime into our worst instincts for being an ungrateful bastard race, not idyllic followers in need of constant saving by the supernatural.
6. Because he’s Batman!
The Dark Knight Rises was splendid in every way but for some irreconcilable plot holes: how did Batman get back to Gotham City when it was sealed off; how did he get back from the Middle East in the space of a few hours (with time for a haircut and a shave in the midst of a nuclear countdown)?
He’s Batman, and we love his toys and the deus ex machina they bring, but they need to be semi-logical and not the ‘lucky we have already had skates in our boots’ nonsense of Batman and Robin.
7. Lex is more
Make Luthor a decent villain. Better yet, make his motives ambiguous and not a stock Iago wheeled out just to be a foil. Jesse Eisenberg can do scrawny and Machiavellian (think The Social Network), but draw on his talent for understated malicious charm.
8. Make Alfred badass
Jeremy Irons is young and spritely enough to take on a few bad guys himself. One of the downsides of having the wonderful Michael Caine as Alfred was that but for him hitting someone with a golf club, he didn’t get any action scenes that his army back story suggests might come more naturally. But I suppose he told a cracking story about rubies.
9. Commissioner Gordon and Perry White figure out who the two heroes are
This one is a bit of a push, but if White as the editor of the Daily Planet and Gordon as police commissioner are the best in their fields, surely they would both figure out that Batman’s gadgets are expensive and start investigating billionaires? Likewise, White wouldn’t be fooled by a pair of glasses or ignore someone who clocks off from work every time a disaster occurs. Also, has no one at the Planet looked at Kent’s passport and the photo that he’d have to take his glasses off for?
It would be a beautiful touch if both were in on the act. Then again that might ruin the retro charm of cognitive dissonance and secrecy.
10. Make the dichotomy between Clark Kent and Superman compelling
The traditional Superman film has Kent as the clumsy oaf. We want a story that makes use of Kent, one that justifies the existence of the alter ego rather than having Supes being Supes 24/7. Without the classic Lois Lane-being-an idiot to his true identity, there’s work to do here to explain just why Clark Kent is needed.
11. Don’t retell what we already know
Did you know that Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered before his eyes? We get it. The flashback in the film should focus more on Batman’s greatest hits in this continuity, not what we already know. The story might be forgoing the formation of his crime-fighting identity in favour an established story, it can’t be so established that we feel we’ve missed too much or wastes a film rehashing origins that we already know.
12. Pray Hans Zimmer does his thing
There is no better film composer out there than old Hans, and for my money Inception is the best film soundtrack ever put together. But he also composed the Nolan Batman series. Can he do an unrelated and totally different signature soundtrack? We need it to be so, his music makes films. Or certainly gives them their character.
13. We want to see Jared Leto kill Robin (we don’t care which one)
Everyone knows this; it’s even been adapted into an animated movie, Batman: Under the Red Hood. The trailer has the costume on display taunting the big man. The Joker kills one of the Robin incarnates and Batman goes into retirement is the working theory. Leto, from the Suicide Squad trailer, looks like the most twisted and off the rails Joker yet. We need something genuinely cruel to make Batman more complex than the repeated ‘my parents are dead’ motive and this could well be it.
14. Batman returns and still kick ass
So there’s an established backstory and while the film will draw on the Batman comes-back-plot elements of The Dark Knight Returns, the physical consequences of doing so has been done in detail with Nolan. Have him return, but skip the old man Wayne montage. As this is Affleck’s first appearance you want the show to go on for years to come, so let him kick ass rather be a shadow of his former self.
Likewise we want lots of Batman moments. Remember when Bats went through the sewers in TDKR to find Bane, taking out his guards in a series of epic Bat styles (dodging gunfire in a closed room, hanging upside down and taking out bad guys etc)? That’s what we want.
15. Don’t make Wonder Woman useless
I feel for Gal Godot in a movie billed as being about two other members of the Justice League. Don’t make the character a third wheel and for the love of God let’s preempt a backlash and pray she’s not merely eye candy. Scarlett Johansson was treated as such by Marvel and it nearly derailed the respectability of the Avengers franchise. Make sure Wonder Woman is a complex character.
16. Lots of cool toys
It’s time for Batman to be less of an introspective sociopath and more of a hero’s hero. Don’t be shy of having the toys and toning down the detailed Lucius Fox/Wayne Enterprise details as to how he got them. And we want to see the Batmobile do more than speed around corners – make it cool, have speed chases and a good few battles with it.
17. Make Lane not war
What’s the point of Lois Lane but to be a muse to Superman? Man of Steel commendably intertwined her into the narrative and moved her beyond being a stock damsel in distress. The new film needs to find a place for her that is relevant and I’m happy to bet money it has something to with researching The Batman.
18. Good dialogue!
Please, we beg of you, no cliché. If our heroes are to go head to head out of a distrusting, self-righteous sense of responsibility then the script needs to be packed with Nolan-esque questions about right and wrong, good and evil and what the world truly needs beyond paternalistic superhero protection. And audible dialogue (bloody Bane).
19. Pacing is a virtue
There’s clearly a lot to do here and even if you love Marvel you have to admit their ensemble films are a sugar rush actions-fest. DC characters are, and forgive the overuse of the word, darker. There’s a complexity that Marvel can’t rival because their characters, their abilities and purposes make action and spectacle inevitable. The same is true of DC but in such a way as to make what they have to say as interesting and important as to fight sequences. Iron Man 3 tried to do a Dark Knight Rises and have an entire act of the film with the hero out from behind the mask being introspective. The result was a poor man’s broken Bruce Wayne.
The film owes itself and the fans a script that balances an itinerary of action and good dialogue.
20. Be dark. Be really, really dark
So the trailer looks good, but Suicide Squad looks insanely twisted if the Joker’s anything to go by. The Nolan series was dark on a deeper, moral level, and this needs to be more so in a less of a real world way. Not quite Watchmen, but a few levels below to make sure we can believe that in this universe the villains dress up and the heroes wear masks for a more explicable reason than ‘that’s just what we do.’
We’ll have a review of the film as soon as it’s released. Even though March 25 feels a lifetime away.