It’s fair to say that fans of DC Comics based characters are awaiting the release of next month’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice with baited breath. The film represents not only the first on-screen pairing of (arguably) the world’s two most iconic superheroes, but an act of real investment on the part of Warner Brothers in bringing DC’s pantheon of comic book characters to the screen and, henceforth, to the attention of audiences outside of the relatively tiny confines of comic book fandom.
However invested the fan community may be, it’s fair to say that digits aplenty are being crossed in Burbank. After the intensely divided (and still hotly debated) reaction to 2013’s Man of Steel WB’s first step toward a shared cinematic DC Universe pretty much needs to be a slam dunk. Indeed, many a glib blogger has prognosticated that the film needs to make at least a billion dollars in order for certain parties to keep their jobs.
While initial marketing played well and intelligently, with Warner clearly establishing the theme of the world’s reaction to Superman and the ‘Black Zero Event’ before dropping the curtain for Ben Affleck’s newly-minted Batman, subsequent trailers proved more divisive. Critical barbs were aimed at the film for all manner of alleged sins from a forced sense of humour to a ‘wrong’ looking Doomsday. Dissenting voices seemed all but silenced with this final trailer:
Despite a few rumblings about Superman being side-lined the final trailer was generally very well received and while I for one would have liked to see more of Superman doing Superman stuff in the trailer, I can understand Warner Bros. opting to play safe and showcase both their most proven box-office draw and their least known (in the universe at least) in Batman.
Hell, the opening half minute of the trailer is probably already my favourite Batman film, with a ferocious and agile Batfleck taking a dozen armed thugs apart like they were made of tissue paper.
For Batman and Superman fans the stage seemed pretty much set. Executive screenings were said to have led to standing ovations, Affleck’s Batman was a revelation, upcoming projects were pimped on the CW and the future of the DCEU (or Justice League Universe, depending on whom you ask) seemed locked in. Hell, even the Dr Pepper promotional comics were great!
When HitFix posted this article last Thursday, however, it cast a pall over the seemingly rosy future. In it, film critic and screenwriter Drew McWeeny posits that test-screenings have received a much more mixed reaction than the studio were hoping for.
If the article is to be believed then Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor were met with near universal acclaim, yet test audiences were far less sure how they felt about the rest of the film. McWeeny further presupposes that this lukewarm reception may throw a spanner in the works of the emerging DCEU, even staking a bet that the studio’s reaction will be to postpone the upcoming Justice League (2017) and replace it with a standalone Batman film .
Now, the purpose of this article is not to debunk or discredit Mr McWeeny or HitFix.
It’s more than likely that WB are concerned about Batman V Superman since, as I’ve already illustrated, they’re betting the farm on its success. It’s also entirely possible that test screenings have met with mixed reactions, but that’s no grounds for DC fans to panic.
The caveat that stops my guts from going into spasms here is that test audiences are composed of a broad cross-section of demographics, many of whom may not be particularly predisposed to superhero films. Or, they may be more kindly disposed to the more accessible, popcorn-friendly approach favoured by Marvel studios. That’s not a knock on Marvel or Disney at all, by the way! If you’re at all familiar with our editorial or our podcast you’ll know that we love Marvel’s output as much as anyone, but Warner Brothers have made it clear ever since pre-production began on Man of Steel that they had their sights on a darker, more cerebral brand of superhero film.
Does that mean that Batman V Superman is destined to fail? Even if the scuttlebutt is true, I doubt it. The sheer cultural status of its protagonists guarantees at least some level of success.
To me, the issue highlights the egregious state of affairs that the new media finds itself in.
The media is now run by 25 year olds who measure value in click volume and headline grabbing rather than quaint anachronisms like “story”, “facts” or “journalism”. I’m not necessarily accusing McWeeny of adopting the click-bait mentality that pervades in digital realms today (although the name HitFix is somewhat telling).
I do think, however, that in an age where opinion is currency and the internet is a hugely competitive buyer’s market that Mr McWeeny may well have to adopt shock tactics in order to gain some purchase (remember that this is the guy who insisted that the WB/DC brain trust had a ‘no-jokes’ policy).
The proof will of course be in the pudding come release day. BvS may well divide and incense fans, but I’ve seen enough from the trailers alone to make the price of admission worth paying.
Batman V Superman opens on 25th March and I’m currently harvesting organs to pay for my repeat viewings.