Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Please Don't Let This Happen

Short version: HitFix's Drew McWeeny says that Warner Bros. is inching towards making a move that could kneecap their still-shaky "Justice League" project before it even gets off the ground. Long version? Read on...

I find myself the odd man out when it comes to the production of "The Man of Steel." The general thread that runs through a lot of the film-geek press regarding the production is that it's in constant peril of being "ruined" by the presence of Zack Snyder as director, and that we are to take comfort in the presence of producer/story-approver Christopher Nolan. But me? I'm in the opposite boat. Thus far, the sole reason my expectations are positive for the film (given the many continued demonstrations that Warner Bros. simply does not have a single fucking clue what to do with their own DC Universe properties) is Zack Snyder. I'm counting on him - not just to deliver an action movie that reminds the world that Superman is awesome, but to protect the film (and the Justice League/DCU films that are supposed to spin out of it) from Nolan's influence.

Don't get me wrong. I like Nolan. He's a good filmmaker, in full view a better and more interesting one overall than Snyder is. But everyone has their limits and place, and Nolan's governing aesthetic - businesslike, asexual, ultraliteralist - may have been good for two out of three Batman movies, but it'd be toxic for Superman and really just about any similar character other than Batman. For me, "Nolanesque" realism is the cinematic extension of the "grim n' gritty" motif that drove the genre (indeed, the entire comic-book industry) off a cliff in the 90s; and part of the reason I so celebrate the success of "The Avengers" is that it's undeniable success (the same year as the third Nolan Batman film failed to fully stick the landing, even!) might hopefully go a long way into purging the superhero-movie "scene" of the Nolan/Dark-Knight "vibe."

Again, there's at least 2 (2 1/2 if you want to be charitable) films worth of great art in question here, I don't deny that - I simply hope we do with "The Nolanverse" what we do with other great art: put it behind glass, stick it in a museum and admire it on the weekends while meanwhile, on the outside, things continue to evolve. Which is why I'm now struck with nothing short of dread to read this rumor from the typically very reliable McWeeny; which suggests that Warners is not only not mothballing the Nolanverse (which, by the way, is exactly what Nolan himself wanted them to do)... they might be gearing up to let it kill the "Justice League" movie in the crib...

According to McWeeny's sources, Warners wants Joseph Gordon Levitt to be Batman in "Justice League" and maybe turn up for a walk-on in "Man of Steel." - that is to say, they want "Justice League" to be tied-in to Nolan's Batman films, which concluded this summer with the heavy implication that Levitt's Officer Mary Sue John Blake would become the new Batman.

I... I just can't fathom the level of sheer wrongheadedness that would inform a decision like this. It's been long expected that WB would be borrowing the Marvel model of using "MOS" to plant the seeds of a larger DC Universe, but it seemed like a safe bet that they everyone involved understood that the Nolan Batman characters had no place in a larger, more comic-like world and that nobody wanted to see a "Justice League" movie whose Batman wasn't the "real" Batman.

That last part is especially key. Warner Bros? You have to know this: The pre-"Avengers" 'fanservice' stuff worked because each successive tease gave 'fanboys' further indication that things were not only lining up but lining up properly. The people you're thinking of playing these kind of continuity games (which, again, the Nolan Batman movies you'd be doing this with were designed to avoid) to try and excite are also people who are likely to write "Justice League" off before they see one scrap of film because of something like this.

Fans aren't just fans of the costumes and the names, they're fans of the characters - the "big idea" behind team-ups like this isn't just to see two guys wearing a Superman costume and a Batman costume hanging out, it's to see what happens when Bruce Wayne meets Clark Kent, costumed or otherwise. I mean, not to nerd-out about it or anything... but part of the reason that the Superman/Batman thing is seen as such a big deal is that they represent opposing ideals of the same goal; the vigilante vs the do-gooder, aid vs control, protect-the-innocent vs punish-the-guilty, etc. Kal-El and Bruce Wayne have stuff to talk/argue about. Blake, on the other hand, as-presented in "Dark Knight Rises" has the same basic attitude and outlook Superman does - that's boring.

Now, it's entirely plausible that this is all being misunderstood. Maybe they want Levitt to play an entirely new Bruce Wayne Batman and this is just a jokey reference ("Heh! That guy was in a movie where they said he might be Batman!") and not a continuity nod. That'd be... dopey, but lightyear better than the alternative.

Warner Bros? Don't do this. Don't be stupid. You've got a bunch of good stuff to work with and a pretty solid template to steal from. You're working with characters and properties that have endured for decades for a reason - if you're going to show fealty, show fealty to them... not just to one adaptation that'll be well into the "oh yeah, that was pretty cool" memory-bin by the time you get this stuff together.