Titans Clash with 'Dawn of Justice'

"[touches the S shield] This means something. It's all some people have, it's all that gives them hope." — Lois Lane, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"

On March 25 two titans are clashing. Yes, Batman and Superman will fight, but the real clash is between Marvel and DC Comics, the two preeminent purveyors of superhero stories. Of course, DC is striking back a little late, and it remains to be seen if they can even land a body blow.

Let me go back to the beginning. In 2008, Marvel released its first movie. I don't mean the first movie to feature Marvel characters — because by then we'd had three "X-Men" films and three "Spiderman" films in this current wave of superhero madness. No, I mean the first movie they made themselves. It was "Iron Man," a superhero movie directed by the guy from "Swingers" and starring Robert Downey, Jr. No one knew if it would succeed, but Marvel had a lot riding on it.

They didn't just want to birth an "Iron Man" movie franchise — though that was part of the plan — they wanted to launch an empire. At the time, DC Comics was two years removed from the failure to re-boot Superman, but it had a strong Batman franchise thanks to Christopher Nolan. In 2008 "The Dark Knight" shattered records and changed expectations for superhero films, even serving as a catalyst for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to change their Best Picture process.

"Iron Man" didn't do all that. It made nearly $99 million opening weekend and took in over $318 million during its theatrical run. But, more importantly, it succeeded in kick-starting a bigger idea.

More Marvel studios movies followed — a re-boot of Hulk, origin stories for Thor and Captain America and a second helping of Iron Man. Then, in 2012 Marvel completed phase one of it's plan with "The Avengers." The movie took in more than $200 million on its opening weekend and more than $620 million during its theatrical run. The plan, which began with one movie in 2008, was blossoming into an empire.

Meanwhile for DC, Nolan's Batman franchise ended in 2012, going out with good numbers but falling far short of "The Avengers." And DC was a year away from its next attempt to re-boot Superman with "Man of Steel," and had really no plan for empire building.

In the four years since "The Avengers" debuted and "The Dark Knight Rises" retired Nolan's Batman, the fortunes of the two rival comic companies have gone in different directions. Marvel has an inter-connected empire that stretches from the big screen to networks to streaming services. Whether you're watching "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Marvel's Agent Carter," or Netflix's "Daredevil," you're watching a piece of the same universe. You have to keep up with it all, or you could miss a piece when your next favorite comes around.

Marvel has completed phase two of its movie plan and will begin phase three on May 6 with "Captain America: Civil War." They have a series of inter-connected movies and shows, including expansion with a myriad of different characters, set to go with established release dates through 2019, and plans for more beyond that.

But that's not the case for DC Comics. "Man of Steel" was somewhat successful at the Box Office but drew mixed reviews. DC has its characters succeeding on the CW and CBS, but never made them a part of that larger world. But with "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" they're hoping to change that when it comes to a cinematic universe. The film is meant not only to build on "Man of Steel" but launch a larger series of inter-connected films.

In addition to adding Ben Affleck as an older, different Batman than the one in the Christopher Nolan films, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is the start of the DC slate of connected films, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). DC already plans to roll out a stand alone Wonder Woman film in June 2017 and the first official Justice League movie in November 2017. That combined with The Suicide Squad movie later this summer and a host of other stand alone hero films gives them a schedule to match Marvel for the next few years going forward.

But will it succeed? Early reviews for "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" have been largely negative. The film is overly long and suffers from the same kind of lack of restraint that hurt "Man of Steel." Those aren't great signs for a movie with so much riding on it.

Additionally, audiences are already starting to show some superhero fatigue. In addition to the DC and Marvel world building, there are still other superhero films, including the recently released "Deadpool" and upcoming "X-Men: Apocalypse" that are part of their own cinematic storytelling arcs.

But I still have faith. Superman first appeared in comics in 1938 — something referenced tongue-in-cheek in "Batman v Superman" — and Batman appeared in 1939. They are two of the oldest, most popular superheroes in our culture. And I think people want to see them succeed and will keep going to the movies in the hopes that it happens.

But which of these titans will come out on top? Marvel has built a big lead, and an impressive empire. But I wouldn't count out Batman and Superman just yet.


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