Why ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ Represents the Trouble With Comic Book Movies Today

By  · Published on May 21st, 2014

Warner Bros. Pictures

Bad titles aren’t a big deal. You can have a bad title and still be a great movie. Just look at Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Or The Shawshank Redemption, which appears on as many lists of the worst titles of all time as lists of the greatest movies of all time. Typically, though, a bad title is assigned to a bad movie. It’s not really a coincidence, either, as a bad title is a good sign of a bad production overall. It’s a first impression of a total failure on all creative levels.

So, when we see a title like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there’s good reason to think there’s trouble brewing with that movie. It’s not just worthy of snark and parody (although I am proud of my “Dawn of Buford T. Justice” gag). Titles of franchise installments have been getting out of hand for years, and it’s always fun to ridicule something that’s basically a double colon title (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) or a name that doesn’t really make a lot of sense (Quantum of Solace and Star Trek Into Darkness). But this latest offender isn’t just bad. It’s a representation of all that’s wrong with comic book movies right now.

Let’s dissect the title to see what it’s made of: first we’ve got “Batman v Superman,” which is a variation of what Warner Bros. has had in place since last summer. It tells us that the movie, which is technically a Man of Steel sequel, involves Batman (Ben Affleck) fighting Superman (Henry Cavill). But now the vs. has been made a v., making it sound more like a legal case. Do they go to court? Also, the question that’s been asked since the initial announcement: Why does Superman have second billing in his own sequel?

Next we have the subtitle indicating that this movie is the beginning of the Justice League franchise. What does that make Man of Steel? And why are we already being teased about the next blockbuster within the name of this one? It’s like a post-credits stinger in the title, two years before the actual movie even comes out. It’d be like calling The Avengers something like “The Avengers v Hulk: Sneak Peek at Thanos.”

Remember this old thing?

It’s not enough that Warner Bros. has already moved on from Man of Steel with a totally new direction, but it’s clearly already moved on from “Batman vs. Superman.” By its release date of May 6, 2016, it could keep extending. It’ll be Man of Steel 2: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice: Rise and Fall of the League: Revenge of the Dark Knight: Superman Lives: A Wonder Woman Movie Will Happen Eventually We Swear.

BVS:DOJ, as we can now refer to it, has a title that promises a lot, and not in a good way. It’s a plot synopsis and more. Sure, “Man of Steel 2” doesn’t cut it. And maybe “Batman vs. Superman” isn’t broad enough to be the title of the whole movie. So why not figure out something else? They can’t just do “Dawn of Justice,” I guess, because it isn’t recognizable enough. But they probably can’t do “Dawn of the Justice League,” because that would make us believe that this is officially a Justice League movie. And it probably isn’t. Not quite.

The issue with the title is proof that there’s really an issue with the movie. They want it to be too many things and that means there’s not a concise title that can sell us on what all those things are. (It’s like writing a blog post you can’t slap a short, sweet, enticing headline on.) You can have a work that is everything and put a simple title on it – just look at “The Bible” – but the better thing to do with a movie is keep it simpler. Give us another Superman movie. Or even give us a movie pairing Superman with Batman, versus and/or teamed up.

Then stop right there. Be patient. Let things happen more gradually and organically. I know, Marvel has already done The Avengers and you’re behind. But they did take five years and went through five solo movies ahead of the the big shebang. And we’re seeing some problems with that franchise already as far as everything needing to tie together and move things forward to the next thing. But at least they hooked us with the first few very good movies before it started showing its cracks. The DC movies are showing cracks immediately.

Ironically, BVS:DOJ represents a lot of the same problems that the Spider-Man franchise does, and that’s a property with really simple titles like The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We know Sony has all kind of plans for expanding the Spidey movie franchise because they’ve announced it, but we also see it in ASM2 and its focus on setting up numerous villains and introducing characters that we assume will have bigger roles in the future.

That kind of thing weakens the present story at hand by making it seem like a stepping stone rather than a solid rock, and now that ASM2 has been a disappointment at the box office, some are wondering if the studio will rethink their plans, especially for the villain-focused Sinister Six. There’s also speculation that they’ll jump forward and get to the presumably bankable Venom-focused movie that’s been planned for some point down the line. But that’s possibly worse, similar to the rush that BVS:DOJ appears to be in.

Zack Snyder/Warner Bros.

Cliffhangers are fine. The X-Men franchise might tease its next storyline, Age of Apocalypse, in the post-credits teaser of X-Men: Days of Future Past, but at least they let Days of Future Past be sort of an isolated adventure (even if it doesn’t actually work as an individual entity). And the Avengers movies are usually fine on their own, too, even if they come with annoying stingers.

Heavy planning is good, too. Marvel has a good strategy for the most part. And way back in the day, Warner Bros. had a bright idea in filming the first two Superman movies together, no matter that it didn’t turn out precisely as they intended. They changed a lot, including the director, and were much delayed with Superman II. Many of us were happy with how it turned out anyway.

BVS:DOJ has already been delayed. Rewrites have already commenced. There was talk of it filming simultaneously with Justice League, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I foresee something that’s actually a lot of movie ideas crammed into a single feature, especially if there’s any remnants of the premise that the destruction of Metropolis in MOS would be blamed on Superman. That’s all I wanted.

The best thing to do is to be patient ourselves and wait and see, not judge something two years ahead of its existence. Warner Bros. doesn’t need to prove anything to us, not even after a first shot of a sad Batman and the reveal of an even sadder title. But with that being the case, they also should step back and stop putting stuff out there for us to criticize. Imagine if they just concentrated on making a good movie and then it comes out with whatever title and maybe we like it when we see it?

Unfortunately, we are an everlasting cycle of hype and reaction that keeps feeding itself and this is what we get and what they get.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.