Let’s get this out of the way: I like both DC and Marvel, but I can’t help but feel that DC has been lacking in the movie department compared to Marvel. Don’t get me wrong – both comic book giants have been producing action-packed and thrilling movies. However, DC has been seriously lacking in the plot and character development scene ever since The Dark Knight Trilogy (TDKT) completed.
Why? What went wrong?
(Image credits: Bronco Press)
In my opinion, the creation of a great superhero lies in the filmmakers’ ability to embrace the character’s flaws and to showcase them in a relatable, realistic manner. This entails having the characters reflect struggles that we mere mortals deal with, and how they eventually overcome that adversity. In light of the doom and gloom already perpetuating our world, delving into light-hearted comic book realms where superheroes take on their fears and enemies empowers us to believe that we can do the same.
For example, Captain America was created during World War II as a means of boosting morale (his first cover depicted him punching Hitler). Not to start a civil war here, but I personally connected with Tony Stark a lot more. I watched as he grew from a conceited alcoholic with a strong sense of denial to a responsible, self-aware individual; and his ability to pick himself up after having fallen inspires me to do the same. After all, being a true superhero is innate and does not require superpowers.
DC’s superheroes are relatable as well, but their attempts at portraying their heroes’ struggles has been rather inconsistent. TDKT perfectly captured Batman’s troubles: he’s a force of good born out of an act of evil; a man of justice who understands that sometimes what the public needs is not always what they want. Unfortunately, such sensitivity to character development and portrayal was absent from DC’s Man of Steel. While Batman Vs Superman (BvS) could have been the next stepping stone in building a clearer understanding of Supey’s motivations, the guy was only given 42 lines of dialogue and barely enough time for personal growth. Looks like the scriptwriters were the real kryptonite this time around.
(Image credits: Blastr)
Someone once told me that every movie is made up of deliberate choices – if the director chose to use a certain type of lighting, setting, etc., there has to be a reason behind it. Similarly, I believe that each comic book character was made to represent a certain set of themes, ideals or struggles, and that it is the duty of the cinematic universe to flesh those ideas out.
Take a look at Superman - a living god, an alien among humans who is struggling to find his place in the world. He represents hope (that’s literally what the S stands for in Kryptonian) and his journey revolves around the notion that doing good does not always involve doing the right thing, but that someone has to shoulder that burden anyway. Man of Steel tried portraying all of those things, which is why I gave it the benefit of the doubt and saw it as an attempt at re-capturing TDKT’s depth. But what truly destroyed the movie was General Zod’s and Superman’s fight scene, in which the latter completely disregards any attempt at salvaging human life, which is… what Superman is supposed to stand for. Turning to Batman for a bit, I can’t believe he murdered people in BvS (see the neck snapping below). Isn’t it Batman’s number one rule not to kill anyone?
(Image credits: Comicbook.com)
I mean, come on. I can only suspend my disbelief for a limited amount of time, but these issues took the cake. Even Marvel’s superheroes attempt to clear people out of harm’s way and consider escape routes for civilians while planning their attacks. Why shouldn’t DC’s heroes do the same?
Movie-wise, Marvel has already established its signature style as “fun, light-hearted, family entertainment”, while DC seems to believe that it has to be the complete opposite. While plunging into the deep, edgy end seems to work for Batman, I doubt a formulaic approach can produce constant results. In fact, Marvel’s cinematography reel isn’t completely made up of fun stories; their takes on each character/ squad is reflective of their individual vibe. Captain America is rather depressing, the Guardians of the Galaxy are hilariously refreshing (as a rag-tag, anti-heroic gang should be) and Thor has a sense of grandeur befitting of a god.
Surprisingly, DC’s TV shows are of great variety – ranging from dark themes (Arrow) to carefree fun (Supergirl). Given that the tone of each show reflects its titular hero’s personality and growth, it’s no wonder that they’re doing so well. DC movie screenwriters, please take some notes.
On a side note, I think introducing characters one at a time really helps the audience connect with each one, as well as remember who they are when the entire gang comes together. Casual movie-goers may have found it confusing when BvS threw the Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Cyborg at them all at once. It seems like the movie was a mere excuse for DC to set up the rest of its movie franchise.
Marvel isn’t flawless – Fantastic Four is a constant flop and some sequels have been less than stellar (Thor: The Dark World, I’m looking at you), but they have arguably been more entertaining and enjoyable than their DC counterparts. Hopefully Suicide Squad will not joke around and salvage what’s left of DC’s movie credibility, so here’s to better scripts and directing. In the meantime, here’s hoping the other comic book movies lined up for the summer pack an awesome punch.
(This article is mainly about their cinematic universes and is a reflection of the author’s personal opinions. Your mileage may vary.)