Contains spoilers go Man of Steel.
So, the Internet snapped again. It doesn’t take much nowadays, not now we’ve adopted it as the designated home of nerd rage. The Net was designed to survive nuclear Armageddon, but announce that Ben Affleck is going to play Batman and you’ll immediately feel the servers start to buckle under the strain.
I have a pretty easy-going take on the news. Man of Steel may have had a few scripting issues, but its casting was spot-on; I have no reason to believe that Zack Snyder and co. have dropped the ball this time. The Batman mythos is full of left-field casting decisions – Adam West? Michael Keaton? Heath Ledger? – and yet they worked for the type of stories their producers and directors were telling. I’m going to give Affleck a break.
Besides, everyone knows that the One True Batman is Kevin Conroy.
No, my worry about the forthcoming Superman/Batman movie is that we’ve yet to have a solo Superman film set in this continuity, because Man of Steel was really about the last generation of Kryptonians and their mess; in some respects it felt like a prequel to a more dedicated Superman story.
Okay, I might be off-base here, but think about it; Superman’s deal is that he’s an old fashioned, straight-forward hero figure, the guy who’ll save your cat from a tree and your kid from a rampaging alien death robot. You can play around with that, but that’s his thing. Problem is, that’s yet to be established in DC’s movieverse. On his first day on the job, he’s involved in a war his dad’s generation started, resulting in obscene property damage and, presumably, thousands of casualties. Compare this to Chris Reeve’s first action set piece, where he catches a helicopter and saves Lois. Yes, Man of Steel showed Clark saving a school bus full of kids and the crew of an oil rig, but they were presented as moments that threatened his future, not that defined Superman’s character and heroism.
So a sequel is coming in 2015, but a character that is yet to be fully defined is going to be sharing screen time with another character that exerts substantial gravitational pull. I’d also argue that, story wise, Batman might be the wrong character for the first DC movie team-up. Bats is a darker, more tortured character than Superman under normal circumstances, but here we have a Superman who has seen Metropolis levelled, thousands murdered and who was forced to execute General Zod on his first day on the job, not long after discovering that his home world was destroyed and the only other survivors were genocidal fanatics.
Beat that, Batman.
The commercial motivation for all this is to establish a cinematic DC Universe and to catch up with Marvel’s success story. From that point of view, putting DC’s two biggest characters on screen together makes perfect sense. Story-wise, however, I’m not so sure, not least because, based on the plot points left at the end of Man of Steel, and established characterisations across continuities, Batman would presumably have to the winner in any moral argument – are superhumans a public threat? Yeah, look at the ruins of Metropolis. Is killing supervillains wrong? Considering the need to keep popular bad guys like Lex and the Joker alive for sequels then yeah, have a no-kill rule. So would this lead to Superman abdicating moral responsibility in his own movie?
Now, if you want to establish the basis for a Justice League movie in the Man of Steel sequel then that’s possible but you don’t cast Ben Affleck. Why? Because the hero you need is Wonder Woman.
This is because Wonder Woman is a character from a warrior culture who nevertheless works as an ambassador for peace. If you want to ask whether Superman is a noble warrior who can live with killing his enemies, or a largely peaceful guy who helps people (necessitating the occasional smack down), then she’s a character who can illuminate both sides of that debate. She’s a known quantity and a Justice Leaguer and a character that genuinely expands the DC movieverse.
Now, I know it’s problematic introducing a major female character as a way of furthering a male character’s arc, but seeing that DC seem incapable of getting a Wonder Woman film or TV show made, then maybe problematic is better than non-existent. I may be wrong on that though.
So there we go – give Ben a chance but don’t screw over Superman in the process. The casting here isn’t as important as the writing, so let’s hope the script gives us the chance to get the Justice League movie we’ve been waiting to see.