Two months ago I published part one of this insider look at the final pre-publication stages of the writing process. Since then, I have been a busy little bee. So busy, I wasn’t going to publish anything new for at least another week as I wrap up my final round of proof reading before my manuscript is submitted for distribution. However, the recent mistakes made by the DC Comics film franchise almost demand a response if for no other reason than the lessons they can provide for the aspiring novelist. As encapsulated by perhaps the most awkwardly long blog post title I have ever written.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad are our key reference points in this discussion. Though the latter’s foibles are all over the internet, let’s start with Batman v Superman. First off, I’m a huge fan of the Christoper Nolan Batman films and am one of the few people who thought Man of Steel was a good Superman movie. Minus the fact Superman kills Zod and lays waste to Metropolis in the process – two huge no-no’s that played a key role in the film’s lukewarm reception.
Nevertheless, and though I like it dark, Batman v Superman manages the dubious task of attempting to be so grim it sucks the entertainment value right out of the equation. If this weren’t bad enough Batman v Superman also tries to do way too much. This is done via introducing a slew of iconic DC characters to the big screen in a rushed and botched manner that fails to build the anticipation that otherwise accompany, say, Wonder Woman getting her own first-time feature length film.
This isn’t an essay on all that is wrong with the DC film universe. That said, stuffing Wonder Woman into a Superman movie that already has Batman levered into it was a huge mistake, and this is notwithstanding Wonder Woman being one of film’s highlights. And don’t get me started on this being a co-Batman/Superman movie. Little about Batman v Superman even remotely feels like the Christoper Nolan batman films that include what is arguably the greatest comic book movie of all time – The Dark Knight. No, Batman v Superman is a Zach Snyder Superman movie all the way. However, let’s get back to the trying to do to much mistake. Because that’s also a key problem with Suicide Squad, another movie of enormous promise squandered.
Suicide Squad is problematic on a number of levels. Even so, it’s biggest issues are related to the basic fact that that film does not know what it is and in the manner in which it tries, once again, to do to much. Both of these are related. The issues surrounding the characters, some of whom just magically appear while others vanish from the film without explanation are part and parcel of the film’s larger identity problems.
For instance, Suicide Squad‘s tone is all over the map. At one time it was being marketed as an almost comedic light hearted action film, yet there are many scenes that are undoubtedly dark. This is a product of the studio’s decision to take David Ayer’s grim looking original cut and meld it with the studio’s own contemporaneously produced cut that test audiences seemed to approve of – all of which led to extensive last minute re-shooting which when coupled with the rush of characters introduced and in some cases forgotten results in the film’s disjointed feel. This is a process only exacerbated by Suicide Squad’s awkward treatment of one of the greatest comic book villains of all time: The Joker.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to go back and completely revamp my manuscript over the past two months following its return from my editor. My delays are more over my obsession with getting the words right as well as last minute struggles nailing down the logistics of publication. Which as a writer is where you want to be in the weeks before the release of your work. This is where Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad offer their greatest lessons.
Creating a product that is grim is a perfectly acceptable form of entertainment. One need look no further than the superb Showtime series Penny Dreadful for a prime example of this simple truth. The key however, is to remember the entertainment component. The other key is in knowing how important it is to have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish with your work and how much the story will drive everything else. Both of the DC films discussed here missed those important points.
In failing to find and establish an identity Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad not only didn’t entertain, but ended up compensating by stuffing into their respective running lengths all sorts of characters that they couldn’t possibly do justice. Trying to do too much is almost laudable if done for the right reasons. That wasn’t the case here. Knowing what we know about big Hollywood studios the right reasons, like actually trying to make a film the audience will love without rushing to duplicate what the Marvel franchise spent nearly a decade doing, was not part of the equation in the case of these films. This offers another key point, too many studios or writers are in a hurry to set up a franchise of bankable movies or books when they need to slow down and get it right the first time. The life of a writer is a journey. Done right, everything else will follow.