By Sehen Gamhewa, Comic Hub Co-Editor and Contributing Writer
But years ago, comic book movies were a rarity. The critically slammed 1997 “Batman & Robin” put the genre on thin ice for some time. If a movie was based on a comic book, studios were less than forthcoming with that information. The next high-profile comic franchise was 2000’s “X-Men,” which reinvigorated this style of movie; Sony’s “Spider-Man” solidified that superheroes could be viable in film again.
Nowadays however, Marvel Comics in particular is driving this trend. Though popular Marvel heroes like Spider-Man and the Hulk have starred in films and TV shows since the 1960s, the publisher has dug into its portfolio over the past few years to make stars out of lesser-known characters like Iron Man and Daredevil. And as more characters become box-office draws, they’ve continued to exist in the same interconnected movie and TV universe.
Marvel’s biggest rival, DC Comics, has tried diving into the cinematic-universe-building business, too, but with a less cohesive strategy where its TV and movie worlds don’t intersect — ever. And it’s been a disaster, well mostly. Reviews for Suicide Squad and Batman V. Superman have been rough — proving it’s even harder than it looks to launch a cinematic universe.
Everyone wants one (like everyone!), and as of now, only Marvel Studios has managed to get one off the ground that is both embraced by fans and critics alike, and Kudos to them for that achievement.
BUT folks, even Marvel struggled in its early days — with some of its first films decidedly less acclaimed than the movies they are pumping out now on a biannual basis, well mostly.
However, 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 a kind of identity crisis: an intangible mess of sloppily-written characters who look and make you feel like they’ve been kicked out through the glass windows of Macy’s, and confusingly dragged together in the hopes that somebody, well 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?
A recurring issue in Batman v Superman is its incoherent structure. Marvel Studios has had eight years and 13 movies to explore its universe, while DC here, 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.
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 are the right things 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.
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.
Shifting over to the Arkham Trilogy, 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.
But, with time, and experience, they have grown, and become, bigger, and much better.
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.