Batman v Superman: Is this one step too far for DC Comics?

Another array of heroes. But can DC Comics replicate Marvel's ever-expanding cinematic universe, asks Tony Earnshaw?

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

Maybe the time has come. Maybe fans of comic books and graphic novels have been praying for this moment. Move over Marvel, the DC heroes are in town.

For years Marvel has dominated the film scene with a seemingly never-ending run of superhero flicks which, over time, has become ever more intricately interlocked.

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And when the Avengers – in the guise of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow et al – crosses over into the mainstream, no longer the preserve of millions of ageing fanboys then clearly producers, studios and stars see dollar bills stretching off into eternity.

But it’s taken time, money and a great deal of planning by the mandarins at Marvel. One has to assume that DC Comics and Warner Bros. have put the same energy (and $250 million) into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the debut entry in their alternative franchise.

Aficionados will tell you that Marvel has been actively constructing its universe of characters for years, crossing over heroes and villains from movies, TV and Netflix. DC’s separate entities don’t cross over, though one has to expect the likes of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Green Arrow and the Flash to soon be rubbing shoulders with one another.

The clue is in the title of Batman v Superman. Loosely based on The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s 80s graphic novel, it casts Superman as a conflicted hero. No longer a lackey of the state – and far from an extra-terrestrial boy scout – he’s considered a dangerous outsider.

Meanwhile Batman is a brooding vigilante more concerned with clipping the metaphorical wings of the son of Krypton. Thus the scene is set for a titanic battle between man and immortal.

In this umpteenth reboot/reimagining of a shared mythos Ben Affleck is Bruce Wayne aka Batman and Henry Cavill is Superman aka Clark Kent. The supporting players include Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White) and Jeremy Irons (Alfred).

Perhaps the biggest introduction is that of Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, who complements the chaps and is scheduled for her own stand-alone film very soon.

For those who remember the gothic fairytales of Tim Burton or who were immersed within the post-modern hyperrealism of Christopher Nolan, this new direction by Zack (Watchmen) Snyder is exactly that.

Ben Affleck, castigated by many when cast as Bruce Wayne, has his own thoughts on where this first film might take this new franchise.

“I never feel that you play Batman; you play Bruce Wayne,” says the 43-year-old former indie champ. “It’s really where your investment is and it pays off into the Batman side of things. Zack approached me and had a really specific take on the character.

“This was not a guy who was 25 and mourning the death of his parents and decided to become a vigilante. Instead [this] was a guy who had been a vigilante for 20 years and [is thinking], ‘what’s the point? Is it worth anything?’”

The conflict between Batman and Superman – Wayne has lost friends in a terrorist atrocity for which he blames Superman, channelling rage and disillusion towards him – is what drives this latest box office behemoth.

Affleck is keen to address what most fans are struggling with: why two allies of Earth are at each other’s throats.

“I think it’s interesting to note that these two guys – who are at total odds in this movie – actually want the same thing in truth. That’s the question people ask: ‘Why Batman versus Superman? Why are they fighting?’ because they see them both as good guys.

“And the movie kind of points out that two people who both consider themselves good guys can find themselves on opposite ends of a complex [situation].”

Henry Cavill, the 32-year-old Englishman returning as Superman and looking at a lucrative future as the Man of Steel, sees the son of Krypton as a manifestation of the human response to a shattered world.

“The setting of the world is a world in which Superman exists for the first time. So it’s a world in turmoil, in flux and it’s the human response. You see that human response in Batman, who fears him. You [also see it] in Lex Luthor, who hates him because he hates a part of himself.”

He adds: “A lot of people want to direct their fear against something whether it be everyday real world stuff or this new god in the sky and whether [they are] praising this saviour or hating him. These are the things that Superman faces. He’s still trying to do the right thing by everyone but at the same time trying to get a closer connection to humanity so he knows how to be and how to best serve the human race.”

In amongst the destruction of the world as we know it is the intimacy of two orphans seeking validation. Wayne has what Affleck describes as “a substitute father figure” in Alfred.

“Alfred raises him after his parents are gone. [But Bruce is] not a guy looking for a father figure. Alfred’s more of an old friend who’s been through the war with him and who is probably the one person who can speak to him honestly.”

It’s that notion of communication – or the lack of it – that drives this latest epic. In the end words speak louder than actions.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (12A) is on saturation release.