Already dividing critics and fans, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was perhaps always bound to be controversial. The very thought of bringing the world’s two most recognizable superheroes to the screen and then setting them against each other was destined to create dissension and conversation among audiences. Batman V Superman gives us a seething, angry Bruce Wayne/Batman, whose first-hand glimpse of the events at the end of Man of Steel convince him that Superman is a threat. While Superman himself grapples with his responsibility to the world, industrialist Lex Luthor also conspires to bring him down – and sees a way to make Batman his accomplice.
Even the lead-up to the movie’s press day was fraught with secrecy and uncertainty, until finally the cast and filmmakers convened for a press conference on the Warner Bros. Pictures lot just days before the movie’s premiere. Joining director Zack Snyder at the dais were his wife and producer Deborah Snyder, producer Charles Roven and stars Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White) and Holly Hunter (Senator June Finch).
Snyder spoke first about whether it was intimidating to move forward with the idea for the film in the first place.
"I think if we had not evolved the project the way we did it would have been a little more intimidating. For instance if someone had come up to me and said, 'Hey, you want to do a movie where Batman fights Superman?' I would have been like, 'Okay, ease back a little bit.' But because it evolved over time, by the time we were shooting I realized - when I was looking at Batman and Superman in their costumes - I realized, 'Oh shit, that's gonna happen.' But it was amazing and fun and an honor to deal with these icons."
Batman V Superman isn’t just a film on its own or a sequel to Man of Steel, of course; it’s meant to be the launching pad for the DC Extended Universe on film and its core team, the Justice League. Snyder said, "The idea of having Batman fight Superman..."
"Is ridiculous,” jokingly interjected Cavill.
"Is not only ridiculous,” continued Snyder, not missing a beat...
“But also once we had committed to that ridiculous idea, it was then only that we were like, 'Okay, so that implies that a universe exists where Batman and Superman exist together.' Which I know seems obvious in the comic book world, but had not existed in the movies. But once that idea had taken root and existed as a reality, it was then only that we were like, 'Well...'”
Snyder added that he was “obsessed” with seeing the “Trinity” – Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman – onscreen together, and that only led the filmmakers to consider what was next.
“Those conversations are what led to this Dawn of Justice subheading for the film, and we could now begin to talk about the fact that the Justice League and/or the DC Universe could now evolve from this."
Unlike its obvious counterpart, Marvel Studios, the Warner Bros./DC Entertainment entity does not have one central figure – like Marvel’s Kevin Feige – operating as an anchor. "It's a team of us,” said Roven, who’s been working on Warner superhero movies since Batman Begins back in 2005. “The team is obviously Debbie, Zack, myself, (DC Chief Creative Officer) Geoff Johns is part of it, and then the studio creative guys, they're all a part of it." Roven continued:
“It's a very interesting challenge, but it's also a lot of fun. Because even when we're making movies that might have sequel possibilities, even in the past with movies like The Dark Knight, we never really thought about what the next movie is going to be. Here, we're constantly thinking about the future and not only making each individual film stand on its own and be compelling, fun and thought-provoking, but we're also thinking way down the road about how these things are going to interconnect and make sense, while also making room for other great filmmakers to be involved."
The other major aspect of Batman V Superman which came under scrutiny during the film’s long production process – besides its links to a larger film universe – was the casting. With Cavill, Lane, Adams and Fishburne all returning from Man of Steel, it was the three biggest new additions to the cast that each nearly melted the internet with a storm of commentary both positive and negative. “It's certainly strange and unnerving to be criticized for a part you haven't yet been able to screw up,” said Eisenberg about the fierce debate over his casting as Luthor, who added:
“If you look at just the canon and the mythology of Superman, I might not be the first person to come to mind. But if you read the script and understood how the character was contextualized in this modern era and the way he was written, I knew I could do it well and I hoped that after people had seen the movie they would understand that I was more appropriate than they originally feared."
Said the Israeli-born Gadot, who recently wrapped filming on a solo Wonder Woman movie – the first ever – under the direction of Patty Jenkins: "It's a huge honor to be the one who got this amazing opportunity to tell such an important story, and I feel very, very grateful. I never planned on being an actress, I never planned on being Wonder Woman, everything just happened and I'm grateful and happy and in love with what I do."
But it was the casting of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman that was the most contentious with the public and diehard Caped Crusader fans. But Affleck himself – a fan since childhood – immediately understood where this version of Batman was coming from: "The Dark Knight Returns, the Frank Miller book, was obviously something that had set that precedent before,” said the actor about the classic 1986 graphic novel that redefined both Batman and comics – and featured a battle royale between the Bat and Superman.
“It was interesting and original and turned the genre on its head and was a morally gray sort of story that changed the way I saw comic books. So I had been familiar with that idea for a long time, and when I heard that this was the idea of this movie, I thought that was brilliant because it was one of the great ideas in comics that hadn't been mined yet for films."
"I knew the Frank Miller comic book,” chimed in Cavill. “And also the relationship in the comic books between Batman and Superman, and the idea was nothing but exciting because we're opening up the cinematic universe for all of DC."
What happens after Batman V Superman comes out, at least for the immediate future, is this: the supervillain offshoot Suicide Squad arrives next in August, followed in 2017 by Wonder Woman and the first of two gargantuan Justice League films. Assuming those all do well, movies starring the Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and Green Lantern are planned to follow in short order. And the possibility of Affleck directing himself in his own solo Batman movie can’t be ruled out either. "I learned a lot from Zack on this movie,” said Affleck. “And one of the really valuable things for me, aside from just the personal experience of playing the part, was watching a guy who really understands how to make films on this level with cutting edge technology."
“I wondered about directing movies like this before. And it was really a very valuable learning experience for me to watch Zack do it and see how he did it, so that I felt like if that day did come I definitely picked up a lot of valuable information and tricks."
That day may come soon, because like it or not, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is here and the DC Universe on film has gone from a “ridiculous idea” to a reality.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opens on March 25, 2016, followed by Suicide Squad on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman on June 23, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps. on June 19, 2020.