I think Warner Brothers is crazy. I do. Because despite their best intentions and all of their efforts to do this Batman vs. Superman thing, there is no way it’s going to work. Just no way. That’s not to say it isn’t going to make money. Zack Snyder’s style results in some of the best trailers in the business. So it’s going to look cool. And of course we’re going to get that 150 million dollar marketing campaign that will subliminally convince us that we will die of Bird Flu if we don’t go see it. But the movie is going to be terrible. Why? Because there’s no way to make the Batman Vs. Superman script work. There isn’t a single variable in the make-up of this pairing that lends itself to a good story. Which leads to a much bigger problem for the franchises than just this film. If it’s as ridiculous as I’m assuming it will be, you end up killing the Golden Goose, just like Joel Schumacher did with the last Batman franchise. Both franchises, then, could be catastrophically injured.
I bring this up not from a place of hate. I’d love to see a great Batman vs. Superman movie. I bring it up from a place of knowing what makes a good story. In an imaginary world where Warner Brothers came to me with this idea and asked me to write it, I would say, “It can’t be done. There are too many things working against it.” I want to get to those things, but first, let’s recap how we got here.
Warner Brothers, who has much of the DC Universe under contract, has been watching the way Disney/Marvel’s been methodically parading out solo movies for their characters (Iron Man, Thor, Hulk) and making a lot of money off them. They said, “Hey, why can’t we do that? We have other superheroes besides Batman and Superman.” So they kept developing the Wonder Woman project. They gave us Ryan Reynolds as The Green Lantern. And the results of these experiments were… not good to say the least. It was then that Marvel took over the movie world with its orgasmic super-hero fest, The Avengers. Warners had had enough. They wanted to do their version of The Avengers, Justice League, but, as we already established, didn’t have the characters. But gosh. That Avengers made so much money. We have to have an answer to it. Batman vs. Superman has been kicking around Hollywood forever, and this seemed like the perfect time to bust it out, so they pulled the trigger. Their argument was, “We got the two best superheroes around. We don’t need anybody else.” And hence we got Batman vs. Superman. With Ben Affleck to play Batman to boot (that casting choice is a whole other discussion).
Here’s the problem though. Famous Character X vs. Famous Character Y movies never work. In fact, they actually work against the franchises because all of them carry a whiff of desperation. As a studio, you bring these out when the characters are stale or dying. Freddy vs. Jason? Oh yeah, that was a good one. Alien vs. Predator. Does anyone even remember what that was about?? Why are we bringing together two franchises that are just fine? Here are a few more thoughts I’d like to add.
It’s a gimmick, not a movie.
“Versus” movies are always gimmicks. Instead of being able to create a journey for the main character that will end up being our main plot (i.e. Lex Luthor holds America hostage and Superman must stop him), the whole script must be geared towards figuring out a way to get these two to fight. So you’re already starting from an artificial place. You’re trying to push something on the audience that isn’t natural and therefore will never feel natural, no matter how many writing tricks you use. I’m sure Goyer and Snyder will do their best, but I’m willing to bet my right hip that while you’re watching this film, you’re going to notice a ton of really ridiculous exposition that sets up why Superman and Batman will have to fight.
The tone between the two universes is too different. Batman’s darker, more realistic. Superman has super powers and aliens. Superman’s also set in a more idealistic world, despite Zac Snyder’s best efforts to eliminate that idealism. In Superman, you still get cheesy lines you’d NEVER see in Batman like, “The world’s too big mom.” Or an overly-melodramatic death where someone’s father perishes in a Level 5 tornado. Combining super human heroes with mortal human heroes and keeping the tone universal is going to be a bitch to do right. I guess The Avengers somehow mixed a Norse God into their story, but I’m guessing Batman and Superman are always going to feel like they’re in different movies. The tonal bubble that surrounds each is too different.
Neither character can win –
This is probably the biggest challenge they have in the script. Neither character can defeat the other. Both are too big and too important to the studio to lose at the end of the movie and the fanbase for each is too passionate to take on when said favorite loses. That means we’re going to get the mother of all cop-outs where both characters battle each other with all their hearts, then come to a truce at the end. It will be monumentally unsatisfying. You know that great feeling you get when the hero defeats the bad guy at the end of the movie. Batman vs. Superman can’t have that, which is going to leave you feeling confused. “Wait, a tie? Well then what was the whole point of the movie?”
False Character Motivation
How do you motivate this fight? Like motivate an all-out “to-the-death” battle between Superman and Batman? There’s nothing you can do. Superman won’t want to kill Batman. And Batman doesn’t kill good guys who have made their mark by doing good and saving thousands of lives. Any motivation you give these two to fight each other is going to feel entirely fabricated.
It’s not a fair fight, so anything they do to make it fair will feel like cheating.
As a writer, the actual battle between these two is impossible to write. This comes down to geek obviousness. There’s no way for a mortal man to defeat a superhuman. True, we have the whole kryptonite thing, but what’s Batman going to do? Lace himself with kryptonite? Would Nolan’s Batman ever do something like that? Of course not. It’s too silly, too bizarre, bringing us back to the tone issue. These two don’t work in the same universe. They operate in completely separate worlds. The writers (I’m assuming someone will come in to help after Goyer) will have to design all these artificial elements to even the fight out, and it’s going to make everything feel fake and manufactured. I could see this working in the broad universe of a cartoon. But live in a dark supposedly “realistic” world? It’s going to feel silly.
This leaves us with one obvious question: What WILL they end up doing? Well, I’m not in their heads, but the best way to approach this is to probably create some nasty villain that Batman and Superman are both going after. They may even have to team up since you want these characters around each other as much as possible. But they don’t see eye to eye and something goes wrong. Batman splits off and decides to do it his own way, and much like The Dark Knight, he goes too far. In fact, Batman’s been going too far in his street-cleaning crusade for awhile now. But local law enforcement can’t stop him, so they have to bring in Superman. There would also have to be some secondary plot where Bruce and Clark are interacting as normal people, possibly in a reporter-interview capacity so you can get a lot of dramatic irony in there via their interactions. But I contend it’s just going to be stupid and cheesy and forced when they fight. Why would these two fight each other than nerds wanting them too???
Whenever you stoop to a “fan-fiction” level with your story, you run the risk of killing it. Because you’re making the movie for the wrong reasons. You’re not trying to tell a good story. You’re trying to answer a geeky question. Who wins if Superman and Batman fight (we already answered this, of course: neither). Which is why these things need to be kept to dorm rooms at 2 a.m. after the final strand of weed has been toked. The idea “Batman Vs. Superman” sounds rad for two seconds, but when you really think about it, how they would actually make it happen, it falls apart immediately. The trailer for this will be great, but mark my words, there’s no way for this script to survive. Which is exactly why, despite them developing the idea for 20 years, no one’s cracked it yet. With that said, I leave it up to you guys to prove me wrong. How would you write Batman vs. Superman? Is it, indeed, impossible?