Despite its place as one of the most divisive comic book films of 2013, Man of Steel was a solid box office success for Warner Bros. and it didn't take long for the studio to confirm that a sequel was already in development. Some considered Zack Snyder's Superman movie to be an affront to the iconic character, while others believed that the filmmaker had successfully updated Kal-El and Clark Kent for modern moviegoing audiences - but whether you loved, hated, or were indifferent to Man of Steel, everyone stopped to take notice when it was announced that the film's sequel would heavily feature another DC Comics do-gooder, Batman.
As more and more details have been revealed for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, fans have begun to question whether the 2016 film is truly going to be a Man of Steel sequel - building on the themes and story lines established in Snyder's 2013 movie - or a prequel to the Justice League, focused on introducing a number of characters and story lines that will payoff in Snyder's full-fledged Justice League movie (rumored to be targeting a 2017 release).
In a recent discussion on Hollywood Babble-On, filmmaker and Batfanatic, Kevin Smith, addressed the question that has been on the minds of DC fan boys and girls: is Warner Bros. depriving viewers of a full-fledged Man of Steel sequel just to get a shared Justice League movie universe off the ground? According to Smith, where Batman V Superman may have at one point been a more traditional sequel to Man of Steel, Warner Bros. is now in the business of building "one massive story" - a five or six film story that grew out of Man of Steel.
Read the full quote from Smith below:
"They’re obviously beginning something, and there’s a stretch of these flicks. And so this is the beginning of the Justice League, as we all suspected as they were announcing that cast. We were like, ‘This is the beginning of a Justice League movie.’ From what I understand now, it’s no longer like, ‘This is Superman 2.’ They’re not doing these things. They’re doing like, ‘Here’s Man of Steel. Here’s Batman/Superman: Dawn of Justice.’ The next one is not like a sequel to one of the characters. They’re just going to keep building their universe for about five or six movies. But all of them, it’s supposed to tell one massive story, which is all Justice League oriented."
Of course, Smith isn't speaking for Snyder and the official Dawn of Justice production, so it's entirely possible that his "understanding" might be not representative of the final movie or the studio's current vision. Still, Smith has enjoyed an inside line on Dawn of Justice - as one of the first people outside of Warner Bros.' camp to see Ben Affleck in costume as Batman. It's unlikely that Snyder is directly keeping Smith in the loop but the filmmaker has enough connections to the film (not to mention, the larger comic book and movie industries), to get a relatively good idea of what fans can expect from Dawn of Justice, as well as the growing DC Comics movie universe.
While Smith's comments are far from official confirmation, they add context to what many moviegoers have been suspecting for months - specifically, after the success of Man of Steel, Warner Bros. green lit an interconnected Justice League movie series. Many viewers have been using Justice League Lite to express their frustration with appearances by future Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), in addition to an aged Batman (Ben Affleck), in the Man of Steel follow-up; however, while the phrasing is denigrating and skeptical, it might still be an accurate way of describing Dawn of Justice and its place within the "massive" Justice League story line. After all, we will be getting a full-fledged Justice League a couple years later, so what's wrong with setting such a high profile stage with a more intimate lead-in?
Smith himself weighed-in on the recently announced title, suggesting (as we did on the latest Screen Rant Underground Podcast) that Warner Bros. could have easily captured the same pre-Justice League "feeling" with a title like Batman/Superman: World’s Finest:
“[Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice] is a bit of a mouthful. And also, I don’t know why Batman V. Superman. Why not just throw the “s” in there? Or spell it or something like that. Or honestly, every comic book fan on the planet, who is a DC comic book fan, I think we all wanted to see Batman/Superman: World’s Finest.”
While Marvel Studios has become the blueprint for shared cinematic universe storytelling (for good reason), DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. actually appear to be going back to the roots of serialized superhero storytelling - positioning their multi-picture Justice League story like an event comic book series. Some of the best superhero tales ever written were structured as isolated event narratives, including "Identity Crisis", "Kingdom Come", as well as "The Dark Knight Returns" - and writer David Goyer has hinted at this approach on multiple occasions, stating that DC would not be emulating Marvel and, instead, have set out to tell a cohesive DC story. In this case, Snyder would use the high-profile devastation of Metropolis to kick-off a multipart narrative - one that pulls-in existing outside characters (such as Batman) until a greater threat forces them (along with new heroes like Wonder Woman and Cyborg) into a Justice League team-up.
Though, what comes after that team-up, assuming the studio really does have plans for five or six films (so far), is interesting to ponder. Does Snyder's vision simply center on the assembled team of heroes first and will we have to wait until after Justice League for a standalone Man of Steel sequel - along with Wonder Woman and (new) Batman solo movies? That might be bad news for fans hoping to see Superman retain his place in the spotlight, though Henry Cavill is likely to remain a central figure, given that many are already familiar with his character. Still, a Superman-led Justice League movie series would prevent fans from asking (as they have with Marvel's solo films) how to mesh standalone struggles with a hero's super powered allies - who apparently choose not to lend a hand in select world-threatening situations.
Understandably, those hoping for a Superman-centric Man of Steel 2 might be disappointed but, with every new Dawn of Justice news item, it's sounding as though it will be a long time before we see a more traditional Superman sequel - where the Man of Steel goes toe-to-toe with Brainiac or Lex Luthor (in a mech suit). Instead, the Batman V Superman film appears to be part two in Warner Bros. "massive" Justice League story line. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how much time is actually dedicated to expanding Man of Steel franchise staples like Lois Lane, Perry White, Jenny Olsen, and Martha Kent in Dawn of Justice.
Given that the larger Justice League franchise is growing out of Metropolis wreckage from Man of Steel, it wouldn't be hard to give each character a noticeable role in the follow-up but, at this point, there's little doubt that Warner Bros. is focused on a much bigger picture - meaning that whatever Snyder might have originally had in mind for Man of Steel 2 (Batman V Superman wasn't always the plan), building up to Justice League is now priority number one. Time will tell if that is a good thing - or not.
Batman vs. Superman is scheduled for May 6, 2016.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for any future updates on Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.