Shortly before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released, I wrote about the massive financial gamble Warner Bros had taken to kick off this DC movie universe. You can read about it here.
Did it pay off? It's looking unlikely. While pre-release ticket sales will take a big chunk out of the costs, the reviews have been less than flattering. Some fans have come out whole heartedly in support of it but to wipe out the $250 million budget and nearly similar marketing costs, BvS needs to rack up a billion to be considered a proper success. I'll take this post down if it does. I don't think it will happen and when the scores are racked up, a fairly unknown superhero film made on a comparatively tiny budget called Deadpool will be ahead (on overall profit made). No disrespect to Wade Wilson but that shouldn't happen. We are talking about the two biggest names in comics, Batman and Superman. Marvel have plenty of great characters but for followings, recognition and pure superstar status, these two are the legends of the industry. And bringing them together is on the path to relatively failure.
First, let's clear up some parts that went right:
Ben Affleck was slated as the choice for the Dark Knight but the criticism and petitions were proved to be unfair. He was a perfectly decent Batman and arguably a better Bruce Wayne than most who have played him.
Eisenberg's performance will be divisive but I like that they went with something different. It is a brave actor that changes things. Vincent D'Onoforio did it with Wilson Fisk in Daredevil and gave us one of the most compelling villains of our generation. If the franchise is to last, one of the long serving bad guys will need an evolution. So love it or hate it, Eisenberg was right to give it a fresh spin, rather than be the scheming car salesman of the previous films or the cold, calculating megalomaniac of the cartoons.
Gal Gadot looks the part as Wonder Woman. Finally, we will get a female superhero film and hopefully one to shout about.
The opening was superb. The action sequences that didn't involve Superman were excellent. Some of the twists were genuinely unexpected and it was willing to ask the viability of the superheroes involved. Were they just loose cannon criminals or vigilantes that could do the things no one else could?
Where did it go wrong?
The primary blame has to lie with Zack Snyder. Man of Steel did split audiences but provided such a box office that adding Batman to the mix seemed a safe bet. Snyder's critics, however, will rightly cite his struggles with style over substance. 300 was designed for such story telling. Watchmen wasn't and neither was BvS. The fact that Warner Bros have trusted him with the Justice League films is sitting on the knife edge between immense faith and blind foolishness.
The script has clearly been through alterations it couldn't sustain. Chris Terrio and David Goyer have both done work worthy of praise. But it feels like Goyer wrote Batman v Superman and Terrio tried to turn it into Justice League: The Prologue. It didn't work. Mainly because it tried to tell two major character stories from both perspectives. Some films have pulled it off but not many (Heat would be one of the few exceptions). They should have picked one and made it primarily about them in the build up to this major showdown. Either that or keep Doomsday out of it completely.
It is that keenness/desperation to set up a multi-movie universe that crippled it. I reckon there probably is a good 90 minute film somewhere in the 151 minute mess that has been made. Spending so much time trying to set up other stuff slows the pace somewhat. Unless the next few films justify those moments, they were damaging easter eggs that could have been saved for a director's cut, which we already know we are getting.
What should they do next?
It's Warner Bros's money, so it is their call but I think entrusting Snyder with the Justice League films will be a mistake. With Affleck already on the project, I'd be tempted to throw it to him but that won't happen. Filming on Justice League starts next month with Snyder having already done all the pre-production. Changes now would be costly and the box office slump coming Warner Bros way will have to be taken on the chin.
Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman might repair some of the damage but DC has burst and tripped out of the blocks. Marvel's only concern from this film will be whether it is the comic book movie bubble bursting.
Affleck's promising performance does lend itself to the idea that standalone Batman films should be pursued. The Dark Knight has been DC's most bankable star and the safe money would be that such a run will continue.
Other than that, all DC can hope is their form picks up quickly. After all, you only have to look back at Marvel's Phase One and you'll realise it wasn't replete with mega hits. Most of them are pretty mediocre. DC can recover but it has to do it quick because Justice League has now become a make or break movie. It is one that Warner Bros cannot afford to lose.