Batman v Superman proves Hollywood doesn’t understand comic books

It’s not all about capes and explosions

Batman v Superman is bad. That much is clear.

The film has its UK premiere last night, and first reviews have been scathing. The Times called it “an electric soup of CGI”, while the Telegraph deemed it “a Men’s Rights loon’s dream of meathead orthodoxy”. Forbes called it a “beautiful disaster” that “will hurt your brain and break your heart”.

And we nerds have expected this for a long time.

As the rest of the world applauded superhero films, we muttered in the shadows. Whether we were whining about Tom Hardy’s Bane (no Venom-induced powers) or crying over Man of Steel’s neck-breaking finale, we’ve known it for a long time. Hollywood just doesn’t care about comic books.

warner bros

A still from the film, courtesy of Warner Bros

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most important comics of all time, so when director Zack Snyder used a passage from it to announce Batman v Superman at Comic-Con in 2013, most of us were thrilled. Finally, we thought, we would get the superhero film we deserved. After all, Snyder had already done a pretty stellar job of Miller’s other masterwork, 300, and done an epic adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. He was a safe pair of hands: what could go wrong?

Plenty. Fast-forward three years and the DC universe is populated by a manic teenage Lex Luthor, a Doomsday who looks like a cheap Ninja Turtles rip-off and a Joker who literally has “damaged” tattooed on his forehead. Once again, real fans were left asking the same old question: why can’t they just stick to the comics?

I mean, it can’t be that hard to not fuck it up. Ben Affleck’s Batman is so faithful to Frank Miller’s version that surely it wouldn’t be too hard to chuck in a faithful Lex Luthor. Come on: was Bryan Cranston busy? Couldn’t Mark Strong get to the phone that day? Warner Bros has essentially pissed all over the source material, and yet they can’t understand why their films keep turning out badly.

Was this too much to ask for?

Was this too much to ask for?

We have been wronged by other films. Fox’s X-Men wear way too much leather, Sony twice cast Spider-Man as a 30-year-old and the less said about Iron Man 3’s Mandarin, the better. But other studios are getting a lot right too – Marvel’s Avengers and Fox’s Deadpool have proven you can be pretty faithful to the comics and still have a hit at the box office.

I’m not saying sticking to the comics will fix a bad film, or that every comic storyline is worth adapting: neither Man-Bat nor Ego the Living Planet should be adapted, and the movie-going public probably isn’t ready for a foray into Bizzaro World.

But that’s the thing: comic lore is weird in its nature. It’s complex, it’s nuanced, it spans tens of years, hundreds of characters, and thousands of storylines.

Rather than mashing together a script that panders to the masses, can’t we loot the back catalogue? Let’s have a movie of Red Son, or a proper adaptation of the Dark Phoenix saga. Screw re-casting the Riddler or Two-Face because everyone knows them – give us the Red Hood or Hush and watch the star ratings soar.

Comic books aren’t just brainless slugfests where recognisable characters in latex batter each other to a pulp. They’ve got so much more to offer. It’s time for Hollywood to recognise that.