There was a time when the superhero origins story stood as the quintessential example of the mode.
Richard Donner’s Superman, Tim Burton’s Batman and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man all altered the comic book movie zeitgeist and arguably created audiences for their protagonists which many had not thought existed. Then along came Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a movie so infinitely more expansive and ambitious than its predecessor (Batman Begins) that it begged the question whether we really need to see year-zero scenarios on the big screen at all. After all, the comic books only tend to revisit origins stories every decade or so, yet readers remain entranced.
If anything, the recent success of Marvel Studios has turned back the clock a little, not least because the Disney-owned production house had no choice but to usher in a slew of superheroes who had never before been seen on the big screen. There’s also the fact that, prior to 2008, movie audiences not given to regularly visiting comic book stores were relatively ignorant of the back stories of Iron Man, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy et al.
It therefore seemed like something of a breath of fresh air when reports began to emerge several years back that Warner Bros’ plans for a movie universe based on the back catalogue of Marvel rival DC would eschew the origins story format in favour of something new. We were told that characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman would first be introduced in Superman or Justice League films before being spun off into their own adventures.
Yet something appears to have changed. For new reports suggest that Zack Snyder’s upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will feature the iconic scene in which Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed, one that has formed the basis of Burton and Nolan’s Batman origin stories. Holy smokes, what a caped crusader cop-out. Or at least, it appears to be at first sight.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Snyder’s film has always been the sense of confidence surrounding the decision not to show us Wayne’s development into Batman, a story that has been told so many times in cinemas (and recently on the small screen in the excellent Gotham) that fans would probably be happy if they never had to witness it again. So why is Snyder doing so? Dawn of Justice is going to be crowded enough already thanks to the introduction of Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Cyborg without delving too deeply into the early years of Gotham’s dark knight.
But critics starting to get the heebie-jeebies are forgetting that we have been told time and time again that Batman v Superman riffs off Frank Miller’s iconic 1986 comic book series The Dark Knight Returns, which presents a dangerously jaded, older Batman who comes out of retirement and ends up grappling with the man of steel. Miller also included the Wayne sequence as a brief flashback, though he left the full origins tale for the following year’s equally excellent Batman: Year One.
Even so, Snyder must be careful not to bore audiences with overfamiliarity, a phenomenon currently being blamed for the box office travails of Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man series. If you’re going to do something different with Batman, please do just that. It’s only two years since fans walked out of the final movie in the finest big screen caped crusader saga of all time. If Batman v Superman has any hope of capturing the public’s imagination, it desperately needs to tread new ground. Canonical as the Wayne death sequence may be, if the Dark Knight Returns is the key reference point for Batman v Superman, the scene should be saved for the DVD extras.
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