Who wins in a fight – Batman or Superman?
That’s the ultimate question for DC Comics fans. It’s not: Who’s stronger? That’s easy – Superman. And it’s not: Who’s faster? Superman takes that one, too. The Man of Steel can also fly, blast heat rays from his eyes, see through walls, and has bulletproof skin. You name it, and Superman bests Batman in almost every capacity. He’s even nicer.
But those things aren’t the question. It’s who wins in a fight? And this is where the mortal man in a big black bat suit evens the score, because Batman thinks ahead. Batman isn’t necessarily smarter than Superman, he’s just more cunning, more manipulative. He doesn’t simply throw down and rely on his might. Batman shifts the odds in his favor by waiting, studying. He lays groundwork. He anticipates. He devises a plan.
Then he fights.
You don’t need X-ray vision to see the same Dark Knight-style strategizing throughout Batman v Superman, not just on screen as Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader and Henry Cavill’s Son of Krypton go mano a mano in a clash orchestrated by Jesse Eisenberg’s Machiavellian Lex Luthor, but in the behind the scenes maneuvering as well. Warner Bros and DC Comics have crafted the March 25 movie as the foundation for a larger, interconnected cinematic universe: It’s not just one $250 million superhero epic, it’s also the set-up for 10 other DC movies – and, if all goes according to plan, many more after that.
Some are already finished or in the works: director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, a bad-guys-go-good adventure with Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, and Jared Leto as the Joker, comes out Aug. 5; Wonder Woman’s first stand-alone live-action film in her 75-year history is currently shooting with Gal Gadot as the Amazonian warrior princess; and Justice League – Part One, which unites all of DC’s top heroes – begins filming April 11. That means the box-office stakes for Batman v Superman are cosmic: If it doesn’t keep this world safe, it’ll be the apocalypse.
Zack Snyder, who also directed the BvS predecessor, 2013’s Man of Steel, has a bizarre attitude about it all. He appears to be having, like … fun. The 300 and Watchmen director is a key figure in this forthcoming slate of DC movies (referred to by many on the team as “the Snyderverse”). The ones he isn’t directing, he’s producing, along with his wife and production partner Deborah Snyder. It’s the family business, and just days after putting the finishing touches on BvS, he’s about to board a London-bound plane to prep Justice League. Still, the lean, tattooed 50-year-old filmmaker seems as buoyant as a birthday boy who has just ripped open a box full of his favorite action figures – and still has lots more to unwrap.
The director becomes animated as he reenacts their big knock-down, drag-out battle. “Superman doesn’t have to be as much of a chess player as Batman,” says Snyder. Superman has might on his side, but before the fists start flying, we see an armored Batman placing various traps in an abandoned stockyard, then walking along and driving a Kryptonite spear into the ground. “He paces it off,” Snyder says. “Then when he throws Superman, the spear is right there. So you’re like, wait a minute, did he [plan] every bit? He know every move?”
Knowing every move was also Synder’s job as he plotted the five year’s worth of DC movies that would expand from BvS. “I pitched it to the studio like, ‘Listen, the idea is that Batman exists within the universe of Superman.’ And I go, ‘Guys, here’s the headline: Not just if Batman exists, guess what? Wonder Woman, the whole group,” Snyder says. The Flash. Cyborg. Aquaman. He says the studio’s reaction was: “About time.”
One reason the interlocked universe hasn’t happened already is – it’s hard as hell to pull off. “Once you you know what the next movie’s going to be, then it becomes about, ‘Okay, where are we going to go from there?’” says Greg Silverman, the president of creative development and worldwide production at Warner Bros. “What do [moviegoers] really want to see Wonder Woman and Superman talking about in movie four, and how do we get there?”
As one of the chief architects of the DC film universe, he said they started by building little pieces in Man of Steel. For instances, in the climax of that movie, there are pieces of a downed Wayne Enterprises satellite that crash down on Metropolis over a skyscraper with a LexCorp logo. As the movie slate moves forward, the audience has to be nudged along, too.
Now that Batman and Superman are meeting face to face, it’s no longer about teases and allusions. “You now have a world in which Metropolis and Gotham are geographically close by, and all these little details start becoming real,” Silverman says. “There’s a satellite falling from the sky in Man of Steel, and you realize that each of these movies is going to be a huge part of the movie that follows.”
DC exists in what is called “the multiverse” – its hit TV shows, such as Supergirl, Gotham, Arrow, and The Flash, are entirely separate from the movies, though some allow for crossover with one another. Until now, DC’s movies have never shared a single cinematic universe, like the one that longtime rival Marvel launched with 2008’s Iron Man, but there have been previous efforts to bring together certain characters on the big screen.
A Justice League movie, starring Armie Hammer as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, and D.J. Cotrona as Superman, got as far as the casting stage with Mad Max: Fury Road filmmaker George Miller before falling apart amid the 2007-08 writers guild strike. Even further back, In the Line of Fire filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen was set to direct a Batman/Superman movie in 2003, but studio execs at the time decided it was safer to not mingle their heroes. Meanwhile, the most successful recent DC movies, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, are considered sacrosanct – separate narrative dimensions that other superheroes and storylines can’t cross into.
Now the conventional wisdom flows the opposite direction. Everything from Star Wars to Ghostbusters is establishing a universe of spin-offs and stand-alones. The DC movie braintrust says they still had to be careful. They had to wait, they had to plan. They had to do some Batman-level strategizing.
“You have to get each individual movie right, and that’s been our focus. We pushed the release date of Batman v Superman to March. It was supposed to be out last year,” says Silverman. “The gift of time that [we gave it] allowed it to live up to its full potential, and for anybody else thinking of doing it, that’s the thing to do. Every movie has to be treated as if it’s the only movie — while you’re falling in love with how they’re all going to connect.”
How did BvS make use of that extra year? If they were going to introduce other “metahumans” for the future Justice League film, they’d need to cast them: Gadot as Wonder Woman, Ray Fisher as Cyborg, Ezra Miller as the Flash, Jason Momoa as Aquaman. But to cast these roles, they also wanted input from the directors of those individual spin-offs (Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman, Seth Grahame-Smith for Flash, James Wan for Aquaman), which meant they’d need stories to recruit those filmmakers. Even Affleck is considering co-writing and directing a future stand-alone Batman film.
Not every piece had to be in position to start, but they had to begin setting up those other movies to make sure BvS could properly introduce as many of new characters from the DC universe as it could while still telling a story that stood on its own.
“I’ve made a lot of films, but I’ve never had to be part of trying to craft together where this many films are related,” says producer Charles Roven, who also produced Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and is part of the braintrust overseeing the DC slate. “[Filmmakers] have to decide as part of their decision to join the team, are they happy with what’s come before? From the time they join, they’re involved in any major decisions.”
That’s how one movie quickly becomes like making 10 others.
Right now, here’s the list. (Dates and concepts get more fungible the further off we get):
• Suicide Squad – Aug. 5, 2016
• Wonder Woman – June 23, 2017
• Justice League – Part One – Nov. 17, 2017
• The Flash – March 16, 2018
• Aquaman – July 27, 2018
• Shazam! – April 5, 2019
• Justice League – Part Two – June 14, 2019
• Cyborg – April 3, 2020
• Green Lantern Corps – June 19, 2020
• Ben Affleck-directed Batman – Undated
But one major character is still stuck behind a red light….
NEXT PAGE: How (and when) Green Lantern will fit in.