In July of 2008, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight hit American theaters, only two months after Marvel's Iron Man. Both received rave reviews. Iron Man remains the best rated Marvel movie on Rotten Tomatoes and multiple lists mark The Dark Night as the greatest superhero movie ever made. Iron Man spawned an empire, opening the door to sequels, the Avenger movies, and solo movies for the biggest hitters among the Avengers, and eventually, it seems, anyone else for whom Marvel still holds the rights. Now, eight years later, Marvel has a baker's dozen of its shared-universe movies under its belt, but what of Warner/DC? This is the year that gives birth to the extended DC universe, a long wait, thanks to the curse of the Dark Knight.
Fans have been waiting for Batman vs. Superman for a long time. The 2002 version of the film was scrapped, paving the way for Batman Begins in 2005. Plot summaries of the film, and even the script itself, are available online, and I would argue we were well served by the wait. The use of this long-awaited project as the post Man of Steel launch for the universe is a brilliant maneuver, as is using the controversial aspects of Man of Steel to explain the conflict between our two heroes. There is talk about DC's “failure” to follow Marvel's example with multiple solo films first, but these characters are well-known to movie audiences. Another introduction is not needed. It is time to begin.
Talk of a Batman vs. Superman movie increased after the success of Batman Begins. In the lead-up to the 2006 release of Superman Returns, actor Brandon Routh commented on Superman's domination in any such match up (thereby missing the point, entirely). Superman Returns proved to be a disappointment, however, and two years later, The Dark Knight surpassed expectations in every way possible. That success put a choke hold on any DC shared universe for years to come.
For the next four years, Warner would do nothing but wait for the next installment from Nolan, and fans were willing enough to follow along. What more could one ask than a follow-up to the greatest superhero movie ever made? The one exception relevant to a possible shared universe was the 2011 Green Lantern, a failure of a movie that fans were only too happy to mock as the arrival approached of Nolan's The Dark Night Rises.
The close to Nolan's trilogy came and now, four years later, the world still seems unsure what to make of it. It felt like a failure of a film, but it still ranks among the best. At least one major list places it as the newly-crowned best superhero movie, but, in general, it seemed a mediocre film compared to that which had come before. For this, fans had willingly put everything else on hold?
Yet, if the success of The Dark Knight postponed the extended universe, it also helped kick it off. Man of Steel was released the following year, green-lit from the success of the Dark Knight movies and birthed from the imagination of their screenwriter, David S. Goyer. Goyer took some time away from Nolan to wrestle with Dark Knight story problems. When they came back together, Goyer had not found a solution, but he had came up with a new approach to Superman.
Financially, Man of Steel did what was required to support the building of a shared universe. It gave us a known Superman against whom to introduce everyone else, and it gave the universe a series of problems to deal with and answer in the sequel: how should the world respond to the destruction wrought in the climatic battle? What kind of man, Steel or otherwise, are we to make of the one who snapped General Zod's neck? It provides the universe little else, though. In this era of nonstop superhero movies, Man of Steel gave us little reason to be excited or to desire more.
None of that need matter, however. The new Superman is powerful and weighty enough to deserve a place in the title fight we have anticipated for so long. He is a character welcome in the delayed extended universe, and now with Batman vs. Superman, DC and Warner have their opportunity to deliver excitement, to give us a reason to desire more. The curse of The Dark Knight may now be lifted, at last.
-- W. Ogletree