We are getting awfully close to finally seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on the big screen, and I can’t help but walk in with tempered enthusiasm. The first reviews should be telling, so we’ll have a general idea soon about whether or not my hesitation is warranted (and as a fan of the characters, I genuinely hope it isn’t). In the lead up to the film that could make or break the Warner Bros. DC long term slate, the DC world on television has flourished-as it always has.
While Marvel Studios has streamlined their television shows and feature films, DC has made the decision to stay separate, which works in theory except for really when you’re a fan of both. Agents of SHIELD has suffered from having too much plot waiting time in between films, but otherwise Agent Carter, Daredevil and Jessica Jones existing in the same universe has only made the world richer. It’s one of the few aspects of Marvel TV that I value over DC.
DC separating the two makes sense ultimately when you look at how many different versions there has been over the years. Marvel on the other hand, since 2008’s Iron Man, has made a pointed decision to track every film and series in a way that it all ties into a greater universe, marking the brand as something larger than almost anything attempted in cinematic history – in terms of pure scope. DC hasn’t had the same narrative foresight, with multiple different Batman’s being cast since the late 80’s, all appearing in vastly different worlds with vastly different tones. It’s hard to imagine Christian Bale’s Batman showing up in Tim Burton’s films.
Despite this, when the casting for the Flash arrived for the film version, I couldn’t help but feel some disappointment that Grant Gustin wouldn’t be able to play the role of the scarlet speedster on the big screen. Not that his optimistic version of the character would mesh well with DC’s current need to be persistently brooding and gritty – seemingly wanting to actively play the shadow to Marvel’s vibrancy.
This works in films such as The Dark Knight where more fantastical elements are introduced with Heath Ledger’s no-explanations-needed Joker. If current promotion is any clue, David Ayer’s upcoming Suicide Squad looks to be refreshingly playful with the genre – both not afraid to play with its darker and deeper roots by doing it with a sense of humor; humor is the biggest divide between the films and series, something that comes as a detriment to the former.
Do I think the upcoming Wonder Woman film needs to be a comedy? Of course not, but I also don’t think it needs to adopt the same self-serious tone of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.
If I sound mildly dismissive of the films, it’s only because they have routinely disappointed me The Dark Knight Rises onward. Man of Steel wasn’t terrible and I’ve softened on it over time but it was a great disservice to the Superman character (I don’t care what Snyder said-to read a better analysis on this, go here). On the upside, ever since of Man of Steel, DC television has continued to develop and impress. Arrow got off to a rocky, old school CW model start, where it was heavy on the soap opera relationship drama, but gained footing through its well choreographed action set pieces. The Flash is arguably the bar all superhero shows should hold themselves to, while Supergirl gave us our first leading lady superhero show (if we are discounting Peggy Carter). And, Legends of Tomorrow, while imperfect, has mastered managing an ensemble cast, something that both The Flash and Arrow has struggled with.
I should note here, briefly, that when I talk about the TV universe, I am very consciously omitting Gotham, like you all should do from your television viewing schedule.
Arrow aside, there’s a levity in the TV shows that is often missed in the newer DC films. Tim Burton’s Batman had quite a bit of campy humor and playful energy but it was largely sucked away in Christopher Nolan’s iterations, for better and worse, and then stampeded on by Snyder’s Man of Steel. With The Flash crossing over to Supergirl in little under a week now, one of the greatest draws has been the idea of seeing these two optimistic sunshine-y personalities interact together onscreen. Add to that their superpowers and it’s superhero fans getting an event that up until a few years ago didn’t seem plausible in any other medium than animation. These two characters have both dealt with their fair share of emotional and physical trauma and yet that never deters them from being heroes – and never reluctant ones at that. They cherish the fact that they have abilities to save lives, even if it leaves them looking from the outside in on certain occasions.
It’s Gustin’s Flash and Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl that make the greatest case in combining the two mediums even if it makes logistically little sense, due to both their schedules. Both possess immeasurable charm and dexterity for playing the drama, comedy and physicality of their characters. Benoist, despite dealing with shakier foundation at Supergirl because of a less than confident start, is captivating as both Kara and her hero alter ego, while Gustin has imbued Barry Allen with a scene-stealing quality ever since his first appearance on Arrow.
While it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to see the two of them in a big screen Justice League team up, the ground work has been laid out on the TV network. Already we’ve had episodes where the Flash, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Speedy, Hawkgirl and Hawkman have teamed up to stop Vandal Savage – Supergirl and the Flash teaming up is only furthering the TV universe – building its own version of the Justice League.
DC in my mind has always worked better in a televised format (oddly enough in the same vein that I believe Star Trek does). Having serialized versions of these characters in animated series worked wonders for the great storytelling in shows such as Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans and Young Justice. It gave the stories and characters room to breathe and be fleshed out, exactly what the CW/CBS models are doing now but in live action form. They certainly aren’t without their faults, but The CW has mastered the tone and they have made us care. I will not deny that there isn’t something larger than life in the DC films, but with all the action, there is sacrifice in the character-defining moments. The characters are therefore lost in the suits under the capes and behind the cowls. DC TV wins for me because for every corny line of dialogue and unfortunate CGI moment, they more than make up for it in how greatly I care about the characters and their stories, something that I can’t say for the films themselves.
Maybe Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will change this, and I will feel ridiculous and welcome it (because please don’t forget this, I’ve loved these characters since I was a kid). But until that happens, I can be happy that The Flash is back tonight, that Supergirl has been getting steadily better and that I have four shows week to week to watch and escape the real world with.
Batman v Superman comes out this Friday, March 21. Let us know in the comments which version of the characters you enjoy the most!