One can clearly draw a defining line before and after the MCU changed the superhero movie landscape starting with the first Iron Man film. They showed that comic book movies weren’t always about flashing lights and the goofy looking costumes. Iron Man 1 was as good an example up until that point that comic book movies didn’t just have to indulge the whims of basement dwelling nerds. Starting there and coming all the way through the current hit with Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel showed that its films were just as much about the big action set pieces as they were the characters that inhabited this unheard of shared cinematic universe. Kevin Feige(President of Marvel Studios) has had a very detailed and carefully planned timeline in motion from the first moment we see Tony Stark don the Iron Man armor all the way up until Peter Quill takes off with his merry band of space pirates at the end of Guardians.
This kind of interconnected universe of characters in a cinematic sense has never been done before. It’s like watching a comic unfold on a panel to panel basis in a large movie theater. Anyone, who has ever picked up a comic book in their life, has dreamed of seeing these kinds of adventures big and small on the silver screen, but to also have it done right. This is exactly the kind of position that Marvel has put themselves in. By taking the time to build their characters in solo separate films and then bringing them together in The Avengers(and its eventual sequels), each person is given the proper amount of time to breath and exist in their own universe before being brought together in the massive team up movie. The stories are real and heartfelt without being dour. The characters are just the right amount of grounded realism and perfectly encapsulated escapism. This is absolutely a “lightning in a bottle” situation we find ourselves especially since every subsequent Marvel film gets better and better with no signs of slowing down.
There have been a few misfires, but a misfire for Marvel is still a better film than most studios these days can hope to make. For example, Iron Man 2 was a huge financial success but as an artistic endeavor was a very middling experience. It serves mostly as connective tissue to the rest of the Marvel films that have come before it and would come after it and has very little story of its own. However, it’s still massively entertaining and hits all the best kind of story beats you would expect. The first Thor film is largely a 2 hour commercial filmed on a very shitty looking soundstage masked as a small New Mexico town. There isn’t much action, and it focuses more on the peripheral characters than the hero for whom the movie is named, but the good still outweighs the bad. Chris Hemsworth is a revelation as the god of the thunder, and we’re also introduced to everyone’s new favorite British pretty boy Tom Hiddleston. So even when they’re slumming it, Marvel is firing on all cylinders and has since come around in a big bad way. Everything, that has come after The Avengers has been escalated in every way possible that its magic we were alive to see something like this, unfold. Marvel is the gold standard in big blockbuster filmmaking, and it would appear that things will stay that way for the foreseeable future.
Now, on the other hand, DC seems to have no idea the real reason behind Marvel’s success. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, DC and Warner Brothers haven’t had a runaway hit with any of their superhero franchises. The Green Lantern film with Ryan Reynolds was just the biggest turd that has been unleashed at the movies since Batman and Robin. Man of Steel was a moderate success but only enough to justify current plans to their own shared universe. I find this to be strange because even though Marvel currently holds the crown in terms of cinematic success, Batman and Superman are two of the most well-known superheroes. Both have become household names in a lot of respects. Before the MCU came along characters like Iron Man and Thor while known amongst comic nerds, weren’t widely known by general audiences. Many people would even consider them to be Marvels B and C string of players. Marvel still managed to take these relatively unknown heroes and put them on a somewhat level playing field with Bats and Supes. Throw a stone, and you could hit ten people who are now familiar with Iron Man. This is ultimately going to be DC’s downfall when it comes to the battle between the shared cinematic universes. Marvel understands that there are human beings and interesting personalities under the capes and masks. There’s a real pathos to these super beings that is just as important to the films as the spectacle itself.
DC is taking the absolute opposite approach that Marvel has and still hoping to land the same massive success the MCU has celebrated. Man of Steel, which is a decent film, places the style and action above the actual character beats. It’s almost as if Zack Snyder was too embarrassed to tell a story with the traditional do-gooder personality of Superman from the comics. He decided to turn him into an angsty teenage type, underlining DC’s ultimate flaw when it comes to their superhero films. It would seem they try to coast more on the name and brand of their stable of heroes and have no real understanding of the source material they’re cribbing from. This is made more evident by the fact that instead of a Man of Steel sequel and several individual films before the eventual Justice League team up, we’re getting a Batman versus Superman flick followed by the Justice League film. Then after the big team up, we’ll probably see the spin-off solo adventures.
This is the absolute wrong way to go about building a concrete shared cinematic universe. By not even giving Superman another sequel of his own and giving us the audience more time to grow with the character, it shows that Warner Brothers and DC is more interested in the product than the actual story. Batman v Superman looks like it’s shaping up to be quite the flick (one I’ve been personally excited to see since my single digit days) but by throwing in Wonder Woman and Aquaman and the rest of the J.L. team. DC gives us no breathing time to actually catch up. It shows a surprising lack of faith in the people who go to see these films. DC doesn’t understand that the reason, Marvel is on the top of the pile, is because they took the time to build the characters and the stories and give them a concrete foundation on which to stand upon. Another huge mistake, DC is making with their films, is that they’re introducing a whole new Batman without even giving him his own film to do so. Ben Affleck’s version of Batman is being thrown into the mix of a film that I feel will suffer from massive Iron Man 2 syndrome. I’m sure the film will be huge and will play well, but this definitely feels like a placeholder. Truthfully I kind of hate that. I want to see Ben Affleck live and breathe and be given the space to exist in his own Bat flick before being thrown together with everyone else.
By rushing the timeline and trying to catch up to Marvel’s success, it feels like DC is willing to sacrifice a bit of credibility and good filmmaking in order to get the product out there. This worries me on a very deep level because Batman and Superman are two of my favorite superheroes. I grew up a total DC comics guy, so this whole article isn’t predicated on my slanted fanboy allegiances. I do want DC to come out with their film plans and just completely knock it out of the park because those are the stories and characters I grew up with. In reality, based on all the articles and news leaking forth about the state of their future film plans, I just don’t have the faith. I can’t judge a film until I’ve actually seen it, but I’m going into all future DC films with low expectations. They’ve done nothing to assuage at least my fears, which is the complete opposite of my viewpoints on the MCU. One studio took a 5th string set of characters (Guardians of the Galaxy) and made it the most successful film of 2014 so far. The other is taking two of the most well-known fictional characters in the comic medium and running them right into the ground. You do the math.. It can’t be much worse than Arnold Schwarzenegger in a glorified power rangers costume shouting bad puns even for him, right?
Maybe it can….fuck…..