The Super-Stuffed Superhero Movie

Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman, oh my! Like The Avengers, the Man of Steel sequel has a lot going on. Can the comic book flick genre survive this bloat?

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

With superhero movies following The Avengers and stuffing two hour flicks with tons of characters—Iron Man, the Hulk, Hawkeye, Thor, Captain America, S.H.I.E.L.D., and countless villains—the question looms: Is a bigger movie always better?

The Man of Steel franchise already has Henry Cavill as an emo-Superman, Ben Affleck as geriatric Batman, and super villain Lex Luthor. Now Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. It really is packed. But can the franchise survive this bloat? Let’s take a look.

At this point, very little is known about the Man of Steel sequel. An official movie title hasn’t even been announced. Yet, back in July when it was announced that Batman would be featured in the film, IGN quoted Man of Steel screenwriter David Goyer saying, “We aren’t sure if the title will be Batman Vs Superman or Superman Vs. Batman.” Warner Bros. registered both domain names just in case.

Comics Alliance says the producers have actually registered several more domains that won’t ditch the first movie’s name (apparently they really enjoy colons, too): Man of Steel: Battle The Knight, Man of Steel: Black of Knight, Man of Steel: Darkness Falls, Man of Steel: Knight Falls, Man of Steel: The Darkness Within, Man of Steel: Black of Knight, and Man of Steel: The Blackest Hour. The film’s plot is even more mysterious. All we really know so far is that there will be a football match between Gotham City University and Metropolis State University.

When the sequel was first announced at Comic Con, Harry Lennix, who played General Swanwick in Man of Steel, read a quote to the audience: “I want you to remember, Clark, in all the years to come, in all your most private moments, I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you.”

These words are from Frank Miller’s legendary Batman tale The Dark Knight Returns. The futuristic story finds a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne retired from crime fighting. When Wayne returns, the U.S. government sends its lackey Superman to pound some sense into Batman. So is the film an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns? In an interview with DC All Access, director Zack Snyder said this won’t happen. “If you were going to do that, you would need a different Superman,” he said. “We’re bringing Batman into the universe that now this Superman lives in.”

Signs show that the movie will at least borrow from the graphic novel. In a press release, Zach Snyder said that Ben Affleck would play “a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter.”

Meanwhile, Daniel Alter, a producer on the film, tweeted, “Can't wait for #BatmanvsSuperman.. #batfleck semi-retired/not speaking to Robin anymore.. Controlling drones from the batcave.” As SciFi Now explained, this scenario sounds similar to the plot of Alex Ross’s graphic novel Kingdom Come. Kingdom Come, also set in the future, is about old-school superheroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman coming into conflict with a new generation of heroes who don’t have as strong a moral code. Batman resents Superman for disbanding the Justice League and retreating into isolating. Lex Luthor is one of the main villains, as well.

The possibility that the Man of Steel sequel will take cues from Kingdom Come may clarify Wonder Woman’s role in the film. In this story, it is Wonder Woman who convinces Superman to reform the Justice League and return to being a hero. (There’s also a fight between Wonder Woman and an armored Batman, so get excited.)

Unfortunately, the inclusion of Batman, Lex Luthor, and Wonder Woman mean that the sequel will have to spend significant time introducing these three characters. DC Comics’ attempts to build its own superhero film empire, while admirable, feels quite rushed.

For The Avengers, arguably one of the few films to successfully feature a ton of superheroes, most of its cast of relatively lesser-known superheroes were introduced in their own films first. Furthermore, The Avengers revolved around Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, a character developed over the course of two films and who served as the film’s foundation. In the case of Man of Steel, there is still a lot more work left to be done on Cavill’s Superman. While looking great, he isn’t exactly a scene-stealer.

The warnings signs are right there. The Dark Knight Rises was a great movie, yet there were moments when the action slowed down because there was just too much going on: Bane, Catwoman, Talia Al’Ghul, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s cop character. Remember Two-Face and the rushed third act of The Dark Knight? (Batman Begins actually delivers four major villains—fake Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, mobster Carmine Falcone, and Ra’s al Ghul—without a hitch.)

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And of course we all learned from Spider-Man 3, a failed attempt at the classic symbiote saga with way too much going on (The Sandman, the black costume, Jame’s Franco’s New Goblin, Gwen Stacy, and Venom). Then again, next summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is introducing Jamie Foxx as Electro, Paul Giamatti as The Rhino, and Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn. Shailene Woodley, cast as Mary Jane, was reportedly bumped to the third film.

Wonder Woman is indeed crowding an already bloated DC franchise. I grew up reading Grant Morrison’s great run on Justice League of America and watching Justice League on television. Those are awesome. One day, the film might be too. If this all ends with a Justice League blockbuster, then all is forgiven.