Why Man of Steel Just Couldn’t Take Off and How Dawn of Justice May Not Either

Superman is the world’s ultimate superhero. He possesses super strength and laser vision, just to name a few, and can do literally anything; except, of course, successfully reboot a fallen franchise.

Man of Steel can only be described as a commercial surprise, given that it earned over $668 million at the box office while earning terrible reviews. Touted as a critical disappointment, with ratings of 55% on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, one can assume that it has its financial profitability to thank for the upcoming sequel Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, rather than its thought-provoking character development (or lack thereof).

The reason? Man of Steel simply couldn’t settle on a tone and step out of the Dark Knight mold. Let me explain. First, the expectations that had been hyped up leading to its release were way too high! With this trailer using a Lord of The Rings-like score and a very Christopher Nolan tone in the beginning, fans everywhere were prepared for the Superman version of The Dark Knight. And this is exactly the problem! After the end of the Dark Knight Trilogy, the world wanted more Batman and more Christopher Nolan. After an era of a grittier and more down-to-earth superhero movies, fans needed something new to fill the emptiness after the end of Nolan’s Batman. And the first part of the first Man of Steel trailer gave the fans exactly that. Director Zack Snyder’s trademark over-the-top action sequences and larger-than-life themes became more prevalent into the second part of trailer, but were quite muted in the first. Quite worryingly, in fact, as it spoke volumes of the type of movie that would result, and the subsequent success (another Dark Knight) that Warner Brothers wanted. The trailer hinted that Nolan’s producer influence would extend in some level to the directorial area. The trademark dynamic duo of Hans Zimmer and Nolan certainly didn’t lend favours to a new Superman, but instead hinted at a Superman outfit on a Dark Knight.

As subsequent trailers were released (#2 and #3), the tone changed to one more reminiscent of Snyder’s typical movies. For example, more time was spent on Kypton’s destruction and other large-scale visual explosions, harkening back to 300’s Thermopylae. This tone changed naturally raised the question: how would the conflicting thematic styles be resolved in the ultimate movie? Who would win out, Nolan’s gritty realism driven by deep character development or Snyder’s larger-than-life themes supported by picturesque settings and action? In the end, these two styles fused (with a dominant Snyder influence as per his directorial role) into the final Man of Steel film, which suffered from a thematic compromise. The film was praised for its excellent retelling of the Superman origins, incredible action sequences, and successful re-envisioning of the Superman franchise, but ultimately failed in regards to character development and story pacing. While Nolan’s Batman Begins coming-of-age tone was more prevalent in the beginning, it seems that Snyder eventually won out and succeeded at doing what he does best, but it wasn’t enough to live up to the impossible hype and step out of the Dark Knight’s success. The hopes that Superman would ultimately rise again fell through; Man of Steel tried to have the best of both Nolan and Snyder and instead compromised its individuality.

This goes to show that rather than try to live up to the legend of a past success, a movie should try to be original and truly distance itself from what may be expected of it. With the impact that the Dark Knight Trilogy had on audiences, and the reminder of Christopher Nolan’s part in it with every Man of Steel trailer, the film was naturally compared against the behemoth that had both won an Oscar and raised the bar for superhero movies.

There is still hope for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice now that Nolan is no longer involved, but it seems from this teaser trailer that the Nolan grit has become an integral part of Batman stories. A trailer reminiscent of Nolan’s trademark darkness, one must wonder how this new iteration will try to be original and set itself apart, particularly as it will tackle the task of re-envisioning the Batman. With Ben Affleck as the new Batman, there is hope that people will accept him as the new Dark Knight and see this movie as a continuation of Man of Steel rather than a challenger to replace Nolan’s trilogy. However, there is an almost certainty that Affleck’s Batman will be compared to Christian Bale’s and may ultimately fall short.

It is clear that Zack Snyder added Batman to the sequel in order to change the comparisons that Man of Steel was drawing from its DC predecessor, the Dark Knight. This is especially evident with the fight between Batman and Superman in the movie, and I am excited to see just how Snyder pulls it off. But should people reject the new Batman, and should Dawn of Justice not manage to move out of the Dark Knight’s shadow, not even Superman with all his strength will be able to save the Man of Steel franchise.

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