By now, it is no secret that we here (read: I) at DoorMatt Review are big fans of DC Comics and the DC Cinematic Universe. While I did not give a glowing review to “Suicide Squad,” I also certainly did enjoy the film and ended up being a big fan of what they did with it despite a few obvious pratfalls in the making of the film. “Batman v. Superman” was similar for me; there are obvious flaws with the film (though many of them are addressed and solved in the Ultimate Edition cut of the blockbuster) but overall I highly enjoyed DC Entertainment’s effort to relaunch the Batman character and create their shared universe vision. While I was writing my “Suicide Squad” review, though, I really started to think these things through more in depth and came to a conclusion that I’m honestly not sure is right or wrong, shared or not; “Man of Steel” (2013) was not intended to be the start of the DC Cinematic Universe as we know it. DC Entertainment has created many detractors with their approach to the Cinematic Universe and, as I see it, this could be mainly attributable to the fact that it was hurriedly thrown together to alleviate the problem a failed chart for the future of what they thought their universe would be. Hear me out.
Let’s rewind to 2003. In the early parts of that year, Warner Brothers hired relatively small (at that time) director Christopher Nolan (imdb) to relaunch their Batman film franchise. After the failure of “Batman & Robin” (1997), the idea of doing a fifth Batman installment had been batted (PUNS!) around for some time before Nolan signed on. Up to that point, Nolan had been known mostly for his cerebral approach to film-making (“Following”) and his use of non-linear storytelling (“Memento”) but after the critical success of “Insomnia” (2002), Nolan became something of a rising star for Warner Brothers. Within two months the film series also had a writer in David Goyer (imdb) and, later, a star in the unknown (again, relative to the time) Christian Bale (imdb). With a renewed focus on making the viewer care for both Batman AND Bruce Wayne, and a tonal shift toward the hero rather than the villain, the film was a critical and commercial success. The film even received praise from “Batman” (1989) director Tim Burton (imdb) who said of the film:
“…captured the real spirit that these kind of movies are supposed to have nowadays. When I did Batman twenty years ago, in 1988 or something, it was a different time in comic book movies. You couldn’t go into that dark side of comics yet. The last couple of years that has become acceptable and Nolan certainly got more to the root of what the Batman comics are about.”
With such high praise, it was only natural that a sequel would come and it did in the form of “The Dark Knight” (2008, trailer below). The film can be taken and interpreted many different ways but, at its core, it is the story of Harvey Dent’s (played by Aaron Eckhart) journey from symbol of hope to the antithesis of Bale’s Batman, the yin to his yang. Of course, the film is most known for Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker, and his accidental death following the film’s production. The film went on to gross more than $500 million at the domestic box office, cross over $1 billion worldwide, and win a posthumous Oscar for Ledger. Most telling about the production of the film though is that Goyer originally turned in a treatment for two sequels to expand the Dent and Joker storyline over two films, rather than the one that we ended up getting. Of course this was followed with a third film in the series, 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” once again starring Bale and Tom Hardy as Bane. Nolan and Bale were thought to not be very interested in coming back for the third film but Nolan had the following to say upon confirming his involvement in the series ender:
“The key thing that makes the third film a great possibility for us is that we want to finish our story […] rather than infinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story […] Unlike the comics, these things don’t go on forever in film and viewing it as a story with an end is useful. Viewing it as an ending, that sets you very much on the right track about the appropriate conclusion.”
Like “The Dark Knight” before it, the film was a commercial success with good critical response as well. After the film had been released, conversation again shifted to whether or not Nolan and Bale would return to continue the series or not. Meanwhile, David Goyer (who had written the story concept for the previous films) left early in production on “Rises” to begin work on “Man of Steel.”
“Man of Steel,” of course, was met with harsh critical and fan reaction in response to its presentation of a darker, tortured Superman. Given the shared writing connection, and the tone that Nolan had set with his Batman universe, it should have come as no surprise that the Zack Snyder film gave us a Superman that struggled with his place as a man in the world and didn’t quite understand his power. It’s here that we really get away from my love letter to Christopher Nolan’s bat universe and back to the topic at hand: was “Man of Steel” meant to launch the DC Cinematic Universe?
Based on what can be inferred from what I’ve presented here, there’s no real way we can answer that with anything but a resounding “no.” While “Man of Steel” did end up launching DC’s shared screen team-ups, it certainly was not plotted that way originally. Warner Brothers announced “Man of Steel” in 2010 after a series of years that saw WB take pitches from comic writers and directors about what their take on a new Superman film might be. WB turned down every pitch, however, until Christopher Nolan and David Goyer brought up the idea for their film, which would become “Man of Steel.” Christopher Nolan on his and Goyer’s approach to the film:
“He basically told me, ‘I have this thought about how you would approach Superman’, I immediately got it, loved it and thought: That is a way of approaching the story I’ve never seen before that makes it incredibly exciting. I wanted to get Emma Thomas and I involved in shepherding the project right away and getting it to the studio and getting it going in an exciting way.”
Further, Nolan added that “A lot of people have approached Superman in a lot of different ways. I only know the way that has worked for us that’s what I know how to do,” and on the concept of Batman and Superman coexisting “Each serves to the internal logic of the story. They have nothing to do with each other.” Nolan went on to hire Zack Snyder to direct the film and served as a producer. On the topic of Batman and other DC characters inhabiting the universe, though, Snyder had other thoughts, including references to several other characters in the film and a direct reference to Batman with Wayne Enterprises technology being shown during the film.
So, while Nolan might not have seen them sharing the universe, Snyder certainly did, and neither at the time saw themselves as starting something new with “Man of Steel,” as Snyder was working within the confines of Nolan’s concept of the universe and Nolan himself had not yet begun work on “The Dark Knight Rises” when “Man of Steel” was announced. Given all of that, we can certainly gather then that, while Nolan and Snyder may have differently viewed what was happening with the DC Universe at the time, they both certainly never dreamed of “Batman v. Superman” as it exists now at the time. I would venture to say that Snyder himself at the time pictured a world where Christian Bale’s Batman would inhabit the world created by Christopher Nolan and venture to Metropolis to tangle with Henry Cavill’s Superman. Later the tone changed and Snyder himself mentioned that he wanted to hire Bale to play a different role in “Batman v. Superman” just to further establish the different universes idea (here). While we may disagree on whether “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman” are good movies or bad we can likely all agree that this was an idea best left unexplored.
All in all, I am still very excited for where the DC Universe is going but what about you? Would you have more interest in the film if Nolan’s universe continued with Christian Bale still donning the cape and cowl? Would you be more accepting of a darker Superman if the screen was shared with Nolan’s dark Batman? Leave comments below or on any of our social media platforms.
Also, stay tuned later this week for the potential new writer I mentioned last week, as well as a recap of why I have been so busy over the past week and a half.