DC v Marvel : Dawn of Superhero Movies

16 Apr

There has been a lot of comic book movie talk as of late. Being the geek that I am, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject of comic book movies. I also happen to have a blog where I can rant all I want, and there is nobody to stop me. (insert maniacal laugh here)

You should probably expect more of these rants in the future. Just sayin’.

This rant is about the question that has been asked a million times over: “Is there any way for DC/Warner Bros to catch up with Marvel/Disney?”

The question is being raised because Marvel has made a lot of movies over the past decade, creating a Marvel Cinematic Universe that is all tied together. They’ve been pretty successful with these movies and they’ve made a ton of money. So naturally, people wonder if there is any way for DC to duplicate this success with their own movies.

The flaw in this question is in the assumption that DC is trying to achieve the same goal.

Let’s go back a little bit. The first of the Marvel movies to be released in this series was Iron Man. It was a huge success, which introduced the world to a character that had been known and beloved to comic book readers for many years. That movie spawned two direct sequels, and spun off into the whole universe of Marvel movies. The strategy of the franchise was to release movies based on individual characters, introducing the audience to those characters, and then work them into big team-up movies like The Avengers, or the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.

The characters have been introduced to the audience in ways that have been mostly in keeping with their comic book stories. It’s been a pretty basic adaptation from page to screen, and it has shown the world of non-comic book readers a whole universe of characters that they never knew existed before.

Before Robert Downey Jr, most people didn’t know much about Iron Man. Before Scarlett Johansson, most people didn’t know that Black Widow existed. Most of the characters that we see in these movies hadn’t been adapted to screen like this before, and certainly not in ways that had become ionic interpretations on their own.

This is where the question of whether or not DC will ever catch up with Marvel begins to fall apart. DC isn’t catching up to Marvel. Marvel is still catching up with DC. Marvel is able to do paint-by-numbers adaptations, because these characters haven’t already been done a dozen different ways before. Yet, how man times have we seen Batman’s origin story, or Superman’s? We’ve seen the basic version of those stories so many times that we roll our eyes when they show up on screen again. DC doesn’t have the option of doing what Marvel is doing, because we already have those versions of the characters, in movies going back to the 1940’s.

The idea that DC is trying to catch up to Marvel doesn’t hold water, because DC must do something new and different. People who say that it’s a mistake to do Justice League before each character’s origin story, because it’s not the way Marvel would do it, are basing that opinion on the belief that they’re playing the same game. Clearly, they are not.

A lot of people will say that Batman v Superman was not true to the characters for this reason or that reason. However, all good comic book fans know that there are countless interpretations of the characters in the comic books. Fans have their own opinions about which writer or artist does it best, just as we are now seeing with the DC film franchise.

DC isn’t catching up to Marvel. DC is “phases” ahead of where Marvel is. They are where the comic books are, using these characters to tell stories in ways that they couldn’t if they had to introduce those characters to the world for the first time. If you want “classic” Superman, those films already exist. If you want “classic” Batman, those films already exist. We’re not going to stop watching them, so trying to replace them with the same type of movies won’t work.

I’m not saying that Marvel’s movies are bad. I’m saying that this is a false competition. Marvel’s movies are what they need to be, but their rules can’t be applied to the DC movies.

As for the box office numbers, I don’t think that we should be comparing those either. The Marvel movies are produced by Disney. They’re made to be fun, not-too-serious movies that the whole family can go see a hundred times while it’s in theaters. Man of Steel or Batman v Superman aren’t like that. These aren’t movies that very young kids will enjoy as much as adults. They’re not movies that those kids will want to see a hundred times in a row. The target audience is different, and I think that the expectations should be a little bit different as well. Suicide Squad will not be Guardians of the Galaxy. I doubt that you will want your very little kid seeing it, and that cuts out a chunk of ticket sales. It only makes sense.

The idea that comic book movies should be like cartoons, produced for kids, comes from people who must not be familiar with the comic books themselves. Batman and Superman can both get involved in some pretty dark stories in the comic books. The villains can do some pretty twisted things. At one point, the Joker cut off his own face and wore the decomposing flesh as a mask! Yet if Zack Snyder put that on film, people would scream about Snyder being too dark and not being true to the characters.

At this point in the life of DC movies, it’s time for them to begin exploring the characters the way the comic books do. Sometimes, that will be dark. Sometimes it will be light. But if we want to bring the comic books to the big screen, this is what has to happen. It can’t always be bright primary colors and inspirational speeches, because that isn’t what those characters are. Leaving out the depth that we get from various interpretations of those characters won’t do them justice on screen.

And by “various interpretations”, I don’t mean different actors wearing slightly different costumes, playing “Christopher Reeve playing Superman”.

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5 Responses to “DC v Marvel : Dawn of Superhero Movies”

  1. swanpride April 17, 2016 at 1:46 am #

    1. Naturally Warner tries to get what Marvel has. Without the MCU, the Justice League would still be in the same development hell it had been for the ten years beforehand. They try to approach the goal different (which I don’t mind in itself btw), but it is still the same goal.

    2. Sure, we know Batman and Superman. But what is about Wonder Woman, the Flash, Cyborg aso? The majority of the audience (if you look at it world wide) doesn’t know those characters.

    3. The Box office numbers of BvS don’t have to get compared to anything to know that Warner Bros left a lot of money on the table. They had a movie on their hand which was poised to hit the billion on the name alone and could have done easily Avenger numbers if it had been any good (and it’s not just the critics who didn’t like it, WoM wasn’t good either).

    Look, I want DC movies to be as good as Marvel movies. That doesn’t mean that they have to have the same tone or the same approach or whatever, I just want them to be good. So, can we please stop apologizing for the studio and instead start protesting against Warner treating those beloved characters with no love whatsoever?

    • authorkyleandrews April 17, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

      1. I’m sure that DC could pick up a few tips from Marvel’s success, just as Marvel undoubtedly learned from the various DC movies over the years. But that does not mean that they are attempting to achieve the same thing with their movies. Their target audiences are different and their content is very different.
      The idea of an expanded universe is something that they have been trying to figure out for a long time. Part of the reason for it never working on the big screen before was just an inability to produce the types of movies that they do now. Getting one right was a miracle in the past. But Marvel didn’t invent the idea. It’s been this way in the comic books forever, so it is just part of a proper adaptation. Animated series have had expanded universes for a long time now. Batman, Superman, The Justice League (and JL Unlimited), Batman Beyond, and Static Shock were all part of the same expanded universe. But again, this is just part of adapting comic books. Marvel has done a good job turning their universe into a success, but I wouldn’t say that DC is attempting to follow their template. Their approach to that goal is not remotely similar, and their goal is not the same (aside from “I want this to succeed.”) I don’t think it’s proper to compare one’s success against the other.

      2. We do have to meet those other characters who have not been adapted before (though The Flash would require an origin story far less urgently than the others). And I’m sure that we will get proper origin stories for them all. It’s impossible to judge their adaptation to screen at this point in the game.

      3. Batman v Superman was never going to reach Avengers-level box office numbers. By making a more grown up story, younger kids can’t go to those movies. Not only does that cut out a large number of ticket sales right there, it cuts out the largest number of audience members who love watching the same movie over and over again, and it limits the ability for families to go see the movie together. Suicide Squad will also not break a billion. However, DC/Warner has something working for them that Marvel/Disney does not. See, while all of those people can’t go to this movie or don’t want to go to this movie, there are countless versions of Superman and Batman out there, still making money. They have George Reeves, Christopher Reeves, Kirk Alyn, Tom Welling, Dean Cain and Tim Daly bringing in Superman money. Christian Bale, George Clooney, Val Kilmer, Michael Keaton, Adam West, Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery, and Kevin Conroy still making Batman money.
      DC isn’t just establishing an expanded universe, it’s establishing an expanded marketing base. In this case, Batman v Superman appeals to an audience that hasn’t always been well served by mainstream comic book movies. The people who take them seriously and who have been following the comics for decades. Had DC released another basic version of these characters, they probably would have made less money. Their job wasn’t to tell us who Batman or Superman are at this point. They just needed to add wood to the fire, to keep it burning.

      Not to sound down on Marvel, but they’re still introducing us to their lineup. To the general audience, Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man, and that’s it. It’s a whole different ballgame that they’re playing.

      • swanpride April 17, 2016 at 4:26 pm #

        BvS should have easily reached the billion, and it mainly didn’t because WoM was so negative. Regarding the audience they address: Deadpool is an r-rated movie and it made more domestically than BvS on a smaller budget.
        And I am sorry to be blunt: If Warner keeps addressing the audience which has following the comics for decades, they need to slash down their budget to next to nothing, because that is a really, really small group (not to mention that I doubt that everyone in said group was pleased with BvS, there were enough who voiced their displeasure with the movie and with the notion that it is “for the fans”). The hard reality is that those Blockbuster movies are supposed to please the general audience, and Warner has so far failed to do so.

      • swanpride April 17, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

        And that has nothing to do with their approach being different to a certain degree and everything with them messing it up again and again. If you count Green Lantern, BvS is now the third movie which failed to connect with the general audience. Let’s pray that Suicide Squad or Wonder Woman will.

      • authorkyleandrews April 17, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

        I’m not going to get into the business of discussing how Warner Bros. should spend their money. Yeah, there are ways they could get the job done for a lot cheaper, but none of that has anything to do with what the movie itself has brought in or how well it has connected to an audience.
        Deadpool made a lot of money domestically, largely based on word of mouth.
        Batman v Superman had a lot of bad press in the months leading up to its release. Did this damage the movie? Probably. Again, there are a ton of Batman and Superman movies out there already, so selling the audience a new one is going to be difficult no matter how you cut it, and the negative press didn’t help. Why they got negative press would be a whole other blog post, so I won’t go there.
        Either way, Batman v Superman is not a failure of a movie. It made a respectable amount of money at the box office. It will make a good amount of money in home video sales. And it made a good amount of money in merchandising. It may not have been the highest grossing movie of all time, but it didn’t flop by a long shot.

        Your statement that Batman v Superman failed to connect with the audience is not true. You’re confusing the audience with the critics, and there has been a huge disparity between the two for this movie.
        Rotten Tomatoes has an audience rating of 3.7 our of 5 for the movie. Not the best rating it could get. Far from the worst.
        IMDB has it at 7.2 out of 10. Not a bad.
        Comicbook.com has it at 4.25 out of 5… currently their #3 movie ranked by users.

        So you have a comic book movie that comic book fans seem to love (though not universally by any means, but about as much as most reasonably good comic book arcs at least) and a general audience reaction ranging from “not bad” to “pretty good”. That is not really failing to connect with an audience, especially when you consider how many times these characters have been on screen before.

        Batman v Superman did fine. It made a solid amount of money and will make more. Whether or not the studio should rethink how much they spend in the future is their call. Someone deciding to gamble away all of their money in Vegas doesn’t make them a failure at their actual job.

        I stand by my belief that it’s a mistake to constantly compare the Marvel franchise to the DC franchise, or even Deadpool. “Comic book movies” is a category that the press uses because they think they’re all the same. The truth is that within the world of comic books, there are a ton of different types of characters and lot of different ways to tell a story. Coming from comic books doesn’t make them all the same.

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