With the recent release of Suicide Squad being panned by critics, it’s worth revisiting the old "Marvel vs. DC" question by asking what DC is doing wrong. Reviews for the film, which at the time of writing currently holds a shocking 27% aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes, all mention the same problems.
Suicide Squad seems to suffer from an identity crisis: an intangible mess of sloppily-written characters who look like they’ve been kicked through the glass windows of an alternative clothing store; confusingly dragged together in the hopes that somebody - anybody - out there will find them relatable.
And let’s not forget the travesty that was Batman v Superman. DC was counting on a win for Suicide Squad, but it seems destined to share the same fate as the former.
Critics can have a detrimental impact on films - look no further than the opening two weeks for Batman vs. Superman. Despite the film setting an Easter-weekend box office record for taking in over $400 million worldwide, the film set a new record for the biggest weekly drop for a big-budget, comic-inspired film: an 81% drop in takings, undoubtedly influenced by the negative reviews surrounding the film. Still, there are other reasons DC is failing to impress in the same way Marvel is, and here are some of them:
Where Did DC Go Wrong with 'Batman v Superman?'
A recurring issue in Batman v Superman is its incoherent structure. Marvel studios has had eight years and 13 movies to explore its universe; DC tried to do that in just one film. Marvel has a coherent and calculated approach to the release of their films. With nine planned film releases yet to come from Marvel, and undoubtedly more in the future, it feels like DC has really felt the pressure to keep up. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have the slightest clue as to what they’re doing.
Speak to fans from either side of the Marvel vs. DC debate and they will all have their own reasons as to why some films work and others don’t. When Christopher Nolan was brought in to write Batman Begins, he had humanity and realism at the center of his script. The films did well - really well - and the trilogy is a testament to having the right people behind the IP. Nolan made Batman relatable; he knew what he wanted to achieve with the trilogy and stuck with it. It worked.
The Crucial Importance of Relatable Characters
Relatable characters are extremely important, as are their circumstances. Superheroes from both sides of Marvel vs. DC divide have their counterparts: Batman and Iron Man; Deadpool and Deathstroke; Thor and Superman; the list goes on. How we relate to these characters can play a very important part in dictating a film’s success. Why would we care about these films if we don’t care about, or relate to, the characters in them?
In an interview with MTV in 2015, Samuel L. Jackson stated his own reasons on why people may prefer the Marvel films to DC. “I think Marvel has figured out a way to make those movies accessible to the public that DC hasn’t. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know why you can’t get Batman and Superman or people to get as juiced up to be a part of that.”
Marvel films also deal with contemporary issues in a way that DC’s don’t. Marvel’s characters and its themes are more grounded in reality, such as the teenage Spiderman struggling with guilt and responsibility or Hulk’s moral compass as he struggles to come to terms with his anger. Hulk’s problem cannot be solved, it can only be controlled, and that’s relatable.
Marvel’s characters represent human flaws with their protagonists (and antagonists) striving to accomplish what they believe is the right thing to do. DC’s approach isn’t as well-executed. Ultimately, DC’s protagonists are gods first and humans second. Marvel films have very real issues at their core, and Marvel nailed this with The Amazing Spiderman films over the original trilogy.
Why Money Matters
Of course, finances play a huge part, too. Life-long comic book and film enthusiast, Andy, explained some of the other differences between Marvel and DC films:
“DC/Warner Bros have had a huge shift in creative heads and studio heads wanting this and that, and not having a set place and direction to go. When Marvel was laying down paths and a world building a franchise and a shared universe, DC/WB were leaving it all to Nolan and Batman, which was only meant to be a trilogy. When that ended, they wanted more of the same from a single director's vision. Nolan declined.”
After Marvel was acquired by Disney, their money and distribution allowed them to get to a point where they could focus on the material. Disney’s acquisition has also allowed them to have a clear and coherent vision for the future of Marvel material. Marvel Studios president Kevin Fiege now reports to Disney studio chief Alan Horn. Previously, Fiege had to report to Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac Perlmutter. The relationship between the pair was rocky at best, and they have never really seen eye to eye.
Marvel’s approach to filmmaking has a direction, and with their increased output allowing them to explore different mediums and genres, it’s a strong business model that’s unlikely to fail. Marvel now has an entire team dedicated to making the films exploring the universe; DC and Warner Bros simply don’t have the time now to keep up, and their attempt at rushing into this shared universe has proved disastrous. Most recently, their attempt at a more light-hearted approach with Suicide Squad seems to have completely missed the mark.
Marvel's Strategic Use of Humor
Marvel is well-known now for injecting humor into their films, which works to expand on the realism we see in their characters. Through the use of humor in their films, and with Marvel being able to explore potentially new genres, their target audience is expanded. Marvel films come across as more family-friendly than DC films: they are accessible and acceptable for younger audiences, whereas the content of DC films is aesthetically much darker.
There are obvious exceptions, like Deadpool, for example, but surely this is proof that Marvel is managing to adapt its characters by catering to specific audiences. It’s worth nothing, too, that Marvel’s Netflix series, such as Daredevil and the soon-to-be-released Luke Cage, will focus on more adult themes.
Marvel’s head start on their explored universe also allows them to bridge material more effectively, and fans are still eagerly anticipating the post-credits scenes at the end of most Marvel releases.
Fans want to see the connections the films are making with the comics. Those subtle little nods in the films, as well as the cross-referencing, make fans feel more at home with their favorite franchises.
DC Needs Some Fresh Ideas, Fast
DC is, unfortunately, consistently missing the mark. Many DC fans simply feel that the films aren’t treating the source material with the respect it deserves. An avid DC fan explained why he finds many of the DC films dull, but found the Batman: Arkham trilogy of video games far more appealing than anything he had watched on screen - predominantly due to the writers.
Paul Dini is a man who has been working on the Batman series for over 25 years, and, as such, he knew what he wanted to achieve with the characters. The video games paid particular attention to the lore and motivation of its characters, which is something the films have struggled to achieve.
Let’s not forget, though, that Marvel films have missed the mark in the past: the original Captain America and 2003’s Daredevil film weren't strong releases. Marvel struggled with the same issues then that DC is struggling with now: namely, not knowing what to do with their characters.
At the moment, though, in the Marvel vs. DC stakes, Marvel is the clear front-runner. DC is running out of ideas and it needs the right team behind them - people with a clear vision - to help push their characters forward, before there's no longer a competition at all.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
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