The comparisons between the Marvel slate of films and the upcoming DC slate of films has raged in earnest since the release of the first Batman v. Superman trailer with DC fanboys believing that their beloved DC heroes will finally overtake the Marvel movie machine that has been dominating cinemas since about 2008.
One problem exists in the Marvel Cinema v. DC Cinema debate though: DC movies are no fun and viewers don’t give a shit about DC’s characters!
I do not mean that they do not want to see them on-screen or care about them personally. Sure, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are icons in the public eye, people are familiar with the properties and the movies will make a ton of money – great. Does this mean that the movies will be well regarded after the checks have cleared? The characters as translated to the big screen do not connect or resonate with the viewers. That is the biggest hurdle that will have to be overcome and that is where DC’s approach becomes problematic, in my opinion.
The biggest gripe with Man of Steel (MoS) was, “That’s not Superman!” People did not see a character that they could relate to or even root for, clearly indicating that viewers would be satisfied if DC created movies with characters that they cared about. While I personally thoroughly enjoyed director, Christopher Nolan‘s Batman films, it was because of the stories and the renditions of the villains more so than an actual affinity for his version of Batman, and I did like Bale’s turn as Batman and the ground process of him becoming Bats.
The problem MoS never solved is that it is difficult to ever give a shit about Superman because he’s SUPERMAN – so viewers are even less concerned than normal about him they never have to worry about the threats he is encountering beating him. This means you have to make him relatable for viewers to care, and in MoS they failed to do that. The Superman they presented was a blank slate. Not memorable or charismatic or someone whom you could feel an affinity for in order to root for him. He was just … there.
Outside of the spectacle of seeing at Bats vs Supes fight, viewers do not care about this rendition of the characters and thus far nothing they have shown has provided any reason whatsoever to start caring.
Marvel took a different approach. Beginning with Iron Man, Marvel created stories driven by characters that were flawed, charismatic, funny, self-deprecating and relatable. The films might have stumbled when it came to spectacle or action in some regards, but viewers cared enough about the characters to want to return to see their continuing adventures again and again. Viewers were taken through the highs and lows of Tony Stark so that by the time he dons his armor you are invested in his journey. The same can be said for the recently released Ant-Man.
A virtually unknown character to mainstream audiences, Ant-Man has connected with viewers in a manner that has led to that film being number one at the box office for two weeks in a row. While DC has decided to have their iconic characters wallow in darkness, all scowls and furrowed brows, Marvel has embraced the fun of globe-trotting super heroic adventurers in colorful costumes facing down threats while handling individual crises of consciousness or simply in the case of Ant-Man’s Scott Lang, trying not to get fired from Baskin Robbins. Trying not to get fired from one’s job is something that is easily relatable, with the motivation of a man wanting to make life better for his daughter being completely understandable.
The other thing that Marvel gets right, their movies are fun! Even when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are facing a world conquering alien invasion, there is an underlying sense of fun and whimsy at play despite the threats they may be facing. The DC films never ending gloominess and bleakness never captures the same sense of fun and wonder. The other beauty of the MCU is that Marvel can not only take a “fun approach” they can also pivot and go “dark and gritty” as Daredevil on Netflix proves. They can co-opt other genres, such as the political thriller overtones contained within Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They can do space opera adventure (Guardians of the Galaxy), or they can do a heist film (Ant-Man). All while playing in the same sandbox, with results that are distinct yet familiar.
Batman v. Superman looks to continue DC’s grim foray into films based on their comic book properties, while Marvel looks to continue to provide entertaining new entries into their interconnected cinematic universe. When the dust finally settles who knows which corporation will have come out on top, the better question is: when all is said and done, have the fans won? I’m not sure when or if the law of diminishing returns will kick in for DC films given that the fan interest is there if for nothing else just to see whether they will churn out films that are good or hot turds, however, that interest has started to show a pattern of turning to disdain soon after the film’s release. I think that fans of the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU) will keep the money trains rolling for as long as Marvel delivers fun films featuring characters that are easy to relate and whose adventures you want to follow from film to film.
DC is coming but right now Marvel’s strategy has them firmly in the driver’s seat.