The Sad Truth For Fans
As much as Superman fans soaked up every second of the Kryptonian backstory, Clark Kent’s struggle to adapt to his new powers, and his angst-ridden trek around the globe, the truth is that those character moments aren’t what mass audiences showed up to see. That may seem a cynical perspective, but take one look at Warner Bros. marketing push in the weeks leading up to the film’s release, and it becomes clear that the action, spectacle, and Supersuit is what puts butts in seats.
While fans and critics may appreciate some drama and character development throughout – although, going by the mixed reception to Man of Steel, even that’s debatable – it’s the Superman name (with action to match) that drives summer audiences into theaters, willing to pay the 3D ticket prices.
Hardcore fans may be the most deserving of a faithful adaptation, but a film made just for them – like, say, Watchmen (2009) – is a nightmare for studios, and a death sentence for budding franchises.
So what’s the solution? Well, that’s a loaded question, so let’s begin by realizing that a film with Superman – or Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, etc. – featured at their full power, in the form most recognizable to casual viewers, is just as likely to draw the same crowds as a dialogue-heavy, painfully-crafted origin story. Fans may flock to see a new take on a superhero’s first steps, first fight, or first failure, but from a financial point of view, that structure is as risky as it is unnecessary.
For example: a lengthy glance at the backlash against Man of Steel from critics around the world makes one thing clear – while not every one of Snyder and co.’s choices were a success, most agree that Henry Cavill is a convincing Superman, and the action is about as epic as blockbuster crowds can hope for. As a result, Superman’s first outing is anything but a unanimous success, but where the film leaves our hero, now fully embracing the role he is known for, holds incredible promise for a sequel.
While die-hard fans, casual fans, critics, and comic book writers may be divided over the origin story, fans got the Superman action that the film demanded, with an actor who gives hope for what lies ahead. Is it so crazy to think that a film bringing Superman – with an actor and style sure to please – and the rest of the League members, just as well-cast and written, would be exactly what most audiences are hoping to see from the team-up?
Had Warner Bros. decided to test the waters earlier on, and introduced Henry Cavill as Superman in the middle of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy – knowing how well he embodies the character – would audiences have been turned off, and felt no attachment to him whatsoever since they hadn’t been told his origin story again? Or would the brief look at the Superman they always hoped to see on screen have them crying for a standalone movie?
If it’s safe to assume that Warner Bros. and DC actually have some respect for their characters – and the four films centered on Batman and Superman imply that they do – it’s unfair to assume that foregoing origin films is a clear-cut case of prioritizing money over integrity. Again, some of the best DC stories have centered solely on the League as a group, with the most compelling origin stories for its members coming decades after they first became household names.
Could the same strategy work for DC’s movie universe? It’s possible. Could hooking audiences to lesser-known heroes by showing their true power and character off the bat, and diving deeper once viewers decided they actually cared about them work as well? Again, it’s possible.
All of this hinges on the right story and vision, of course, and both Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill have explained that their Superman isn’t quite where he needs to be to bring in the League. Having seen the film, we can agree. But if Goyer, Nolan, or Snyder decide in the coming years that they’ve got “a great idea for a new Justice League,” we’ll be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Not only because we long to see the greatest superhero team on the big screen, but because we know full well that once these characters shine alongside one another, fans will seek them out and demand each be granted their time in the spotlight. It already worked in the comic book pages, so why not try the same formula on film?
What do you think of the many decisions sure to be facing DC and Warner Bros. in the coming years? Is a strong Justice League movie what you’d hope to see from this group of filmmakers, or is four origin films over as many years what you’d prefer to see (along with those coming from Marvel)? Be sure to add your voice to the conversation in the comments below.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.