Original Post can be found at GoodTrash Media
Batman vs Superman may have been the hottest thing at the theater last weekend, but it was hardly a universally loved affair with fans and critics from across the globe fervently arguing the film’s merits. If you check our Back to the Movies review discussion, you’ll see that we’re not exactly the film’s biggest fans here at GoodTrash Media, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a thing or two to say about our DC fandom.
Before Marvel launched their interconnected cinematic universe in 2008 with Iron Man and WB decided to start playing catch up with 2013’s Man of Steel, an animator named Bruce Timm had already closed the book on one of the finest examples of a successfully multiseries universe. It began in 1992 with the classic Batman: The Animated Series which featured a retelling of the caped crusader’s adventures in Gotham as his rogues slowly rose from the shadows. While the TV series didn’t get around to giving us its Batman origin story until the outstanding theatrical release of The Mask of the Phantasm, we were given the opportunity to see how Batman’s rogues emergerged as unintentional consequences of his war on Gotham corruption. The show was considered a massive achievement in animation winning 3 Emmy awards and overwhelmingly positive reception from both fans and critics.
The success of Batman the Animated Series was followed by the likes of Superman the Animated Series, The Adventures of Batman and Robin, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and about a half a dozen additional direct to DVD movies. Through each series we are given the opportunity to see two of the world’s most iconic heroes, Batman and Superman, grow as individuals before finally meeting in the crossover episode, World’s Finest. The story moves at a rapid fire pace and uses a number of shorthand techniques to move the big moments and plot beats along. What this episode gets right is the noticeable difference in their crime fighting methods and philosophies with Batman being the obvious pragmatist who never misses a detail while Superman is often so focused on protecting individuals that he misses the larger scheme at hand. The two often butt heads, but their dedication to the idea of justice forces them to set aside their differences to work together.
Any of this sounding familiar? It should seeing as World’s Finest was one of several inspirations for the plot of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. These two adaptations may not be living in the same media space, but they are striving the tell the same fundamental story. The difference comes down to characterization and execution. What’s immediately noticeable is how our caped protagonists prioritize their duties. In the animated series, we witness a pair of heroes who go out of the way on multiple occasions to rescue civilians from danger. Sure, the best money shots are always going to feature our heroes fighting their nemeses, but it’s hardly what makes our heroes, well….heroic. In Batman vs Superman, not only do our main characters completely ignore civilians in the final battle, but neither even stop to consider the impact their fight is having on the city at large. Instead of showing us onlookers or civilians caught in the middle of the struggle, a random military crony informs the audience of the “uninhabited” battleground. Wait…an uninhabited island that close to Metropolis and Gotham? Somebody tell Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, because his plan to create more land just got cheaper!
There’s a fundamentally different approach between the way Zack Snyder and Bruce Timm interpret the roles of these characters. World’s Finest establishes the differing philosophies between our heroes, creates a conflict big enough to bring them together, and closes the story by planting the seeds for the friendship will come. BvS on the other hand spends most of the film giving these characters reasons to hate each other with neither having clearly defined ideas of justice. Batman unapologetically tortures, brands, and kills people while Superman spends most of the first act moping about his decision to protect mankind. By the time the two duke it out, they have absolutely no reason to “agree to disagree” outside of their coincidentally named mothers. The two never have a proper moment to acknowledge their issues or even working relationship before they are forced to battle Lex Luthor’s Doomsday.
There’s nothing wrong with bringing multiple interpretations to the same story, but it’s a problem when Batman vs Superman misses the fundamental ideas that makes the World’s Finest arc interesting in the first place. This is one of many instances in Batman vs Superman where Bruce Timm’s two decade old animated universe trumps Zack Snyder’s obsession to nail the powerful imagery.
Batman vs Superman isn’t the problem, but rather a symptom of Warner Bros attempt to sink their teeth into the comic book movie game. In an effort to get their machine off the ground, they’ve sacrificed the opportunity for organic storytelling in favor of expediency. Instead of looking at other directors who would likely have been more suited for such a momentous task, they stuck with their point man Zack Snyder and the result was a poorly structured and sloppily put together film overstuffed with characters, ideas, and storylines nobody quite had the handle on.
The DC Animated Universe has already done the storylines at play much better than any big screen adaptation could hope to. Given the borderline over population of comic book movies, Warner Bros should be asking themselves why they are attempting to remake something they’ve already done flawlessly. The DCAU didn’t bring them the financial success of a blockbuster film, but over the course of 15 years they mined stories from just about every B-lister in the DC universe to perfection. They’ve already set the gold standard for what these characters can be in an interconnected universe, so why try and play catch up to the other team when they’re the ones who wrote the rule book? Here’s a proposition: The studio should stop chasing the Marvel cash unicorn and deliver something even more bold by doing the thing Marvel isn’t. Telling great self contained stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end. And if they are going to insist on dragging us through the mess, there’s really only one man who can do the job. He’s got more years experience than Kevin Feige and fewer beefs than Zack Snyder. Hand the keys to the kingdom back to Bruce Timm. He’s the godfather the DC Cinematic Universe needs even though he’s most certainly not the one they deserve.