We're two months away from the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The nerd in me should be foaming at the mouth to see my favorite superhero (Batman) fight someone who is more than a match for him (Superman), but all I can muster is a resounding "Meh".
Perhaps my doubts began after seeing 2013's Man of Steel, DC's attempt to make Superman more "realistic". This film deals less with Superman's ability to hit things really hard and more with an alien coming to terms with being different and accepting responsibility to protect those who need his help. Although, for fans of gratuitous violence, the film ends with a needlessly destructive fight scene and Superman doing something very out-of-character.
Why so dark? Superman is a guy in red and blue tights who flies around the world saving people who need him. He's often been called the "Boy Scout" of superheroes because he's so virtuous. He is an example for ordinary people and superheroes alike to follow. There is no reason to make such a paragon of truth, justice, and the American way into a brooding, often depressing figure. Yet DC did it.
We can thank the success of The Dark Knight for that. Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is often considered three of the best superhero movies put to film, and they're far darker than many superhero movies. The problem is, DC decided that this meant that the public wanted grittier superhero movies, and so they gave Superman the Dark Knight treatment.
Dark and realistic works for Batman because it fits his character. He's seen the worst side of people firsthand; he's not likely to crack jokes after watching his parents murdered. Furthermore, it's conceivable for Batman to exist in reality. He's a guy with money and a lot of training. There's nothing in Batman's character that's unobtainable in our world. He can exist and his brooding is justified; this is way dark works for Batman, but that doesn't mean that every superhero should be given the same treatment.
This isn't to say that Superman is completely grounded in fantasy. In the comics, he deals with many of the same issues that Man of Steel brought to the fore. The difference is that these issues don't consume him in the comics like they did in the film. Superman has real problems, but he is not a dark character. He and Batman are quite different in their temperament, and that's why a more "real" Superman was not as successful as DC had hoped.
In contrast, DC's competitor, Marvel, has embraced the lighter side of superheroes. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers feature far more witty banter than debates about existential crises. Marvel seems to understand that its audience wants an escape, not a grim reminder of the world outside the movie theater.
Marvel movies, for the most part, are fun. That's the big difference between DC and Marvel. Marvel is more than happy to make a movie about a crude anti-hero who makes jokes and speaks to the audience (Deadpool, which I'm really excited for). DC is stuck trying to recreate The Dark Knight, which will never happen.
Personally, I think The Dark Knight is one of the best films ever made, superhero or otherwise. It has tension throughout, twists and turns, not to mention Heath Ledger giving one of the greatest acting performances in recent memory.
But I have to say, when I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, it was the most fun I had had in a movie theater in a very long time. Was it Dark Knight quality? No. But I enjoyed myself, and that's the true judge of a film's quality.
So DC keeps going for a deep, philosophical, real superhero movie. It works for Batman, but not so much its other major hero. Maybe Batman v. Superman will surpass my expectations, but for now I approach it with trepidation; it doesn't seem as though they've learned the lesson they should have from Man of Steel. But as long as Marvel values entertainment over realism, I will gladly go see every film they put out.