His is a classic story. An orphan sees a world in need of a savior. He finds guidance in the form of father figures, both good and evil. He sets out to be an incorruptible symbol for a world that is lost, frightened, and jaded. But this mission, this quest, means perhaps pushing the boundaries of right and wrong. Sometimes it means not being a hero at all.
This is the story of Batman, and it is the story that made Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy so recognizable. It was a critical and commercial event. But, in far too many uncomfortable ways, it is also the story of Superman in Snyder’s Man of Steel film.
I’ve been worrying about these similarities ever since DC announced the sequel to Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman. I’m not opposed to the film. In fact, I think a Batman/Superman team up would be a great film, especially if they use it to expand the hermetic DC cinematic universe. The problem is that Nolan’s Batman and Snyder’s Superman are way too similar to be in the same movie. To be effective, Batman and Superman need to be different in important ways, and similar in equally important ways. This is what makes their relationship work: interesting and important differences.
I’ve always found Batman to be most effective when he wasn’t trying to be an inspiration; when he was just a lone whack-job on a single-minded, quixotic quest to destroy crime. He isn’t designed to inspire; he is designed to intimidate—to frighten. Everything about him—his costume, his nocturnal habits, his isolation—is meant to scare the shit out of people.
Superman is the opposite of all that. Where Batman is brooding, angry, and frightening, Superman is bright, friendly, and inspiring. He is designed to be seen, and being seen makes what he is about all the more important. He’s at his most effective when other people see him and learn from his example. He works by trust, compassion, and seeing the best in people. His abilities mean that he is free to be an example, without all the weight that we carry. But, like Batman he carries this weight.
The similarities are important, of course. The fact that they are orphans, that they carry the scars of childhood traumas and historical burdens, and that they believe in a morally uncomplicated world, makes these two men able to work together.
But Batman is no boy scout. No. Batman is here to mess you up and make you name names before handing you over to the cops and going mess someone else up. Superman is no scourge of evil. His target isn’t the criminals, his target is humanity.
It seems like, in order to make Batman more palatable, Nolan and company decided to add a touch more nobility to Batman’s persona. Gone was the angry loner who gave exactly no fucks what people thought of his mission. Instead, he wanted to be a symbol to people. This is fine, as far as it goes, and honestly, it worked in the films.
One problem is that all of that stuff about inspiration is more properly suited to Superman. Of course, the other problem is that Nolan and Snyder decided to add a touch of grit to Superman by toning down the good-natured farmboy and replacing him with a fraught orphan who needs to come to terms with his past and his future and who, like Batman, doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.
For the upcoming “We’re Definitely Not Calling It World’s Finest” film, Batman and Superman need to be more than the same guy in different costumes and with different abilities. They need to be different characters with different worldviews, agendas, priorities, and methods. They need to be able to disagree in ways that make sense for the characters.
I hope that Snyder and Nolan take the opportunity to make these two characters different. That, some inspired casting, and a solid script will give this film every chance of success. I really hope, though, that they don’t simply continue the characters that they’ve already developed which, sadly, are basically the same dude.