Note: For the purpose of simplicity, I will be considering any movie based on a character by Marvel or DC to be made by them respectively and not by its original studio (if any). For example, Spiderman will be considered to be made by Marvel and not Sony because he’s Marvel’s intellectual property.
I’ve been reading comic books quite casually since I was a child and though I’m not very well-versed with the intricate details of every character’s background, I have a decent overview of each of them. Now when it comes to Marvel vs. DC, I’ve always been on DC’s side because I just like their characters better, simple as that. But the problem is that while DC has really good characters in the comic books, they haven’t been able to reproduce that comic book magic on the big screen like Marvel has. Tim Burton’s and Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are exceptions to that rule and maybe even the old Superman movies, but they’ve aged terribly. Iron Man and Captain America aren’t nearly as interesting as Batman and Superman, but Marvel hired the perfect actors to portray the two characters and made some really good movies about them. Consequently, I went from thinking of those two as discount superheroes to considering them worthy of being in the big leagues. The funny thing is that DC had the leg up on Marvel in terms of movie success with Christopher Reeves’ Superman movies, but how the tables have turned.
Marvel was already making hit movies such as Blade and X-Men when DC was turning out duds like Steel and Catwoman. (Side note: I have never met anyone who has heard of the movie Steel.) Marvel’s movies were hit and miss for a long time; when they worked, they excelled and when they didn’t, they were almost unwatchable. Spiderman was the first major Marvel character to get a proper franchise and I personally loved every one of Raimi’s three movies, with the first one being my favourite. Marvel must have taken notice of how well-received good superhero movies are, so they started making a wide array of movies about lots of different characters. DC meanwhile was in limbo and it took 2005’s Batman Begins to revitalize Batman after Joel Schumacher turned my favourite superhero into a blithering idiot. However, outside of Batman, DC was still struggling to find its footing.
When Iron Man was released in 2008, Marvel had struck gold. Everything in the movie worked – it had dark moments, but was still able to retain its light tone and humour, the pacing was brilliant, the casting of Robert Downey Jr. was a masterstroke and the rest is history. I remember when I was a kid, I would skip reading the Iron Man comic books because I just didn’t find him interesting as a character. But the movie totally changed that and I found myself digging through my collection to read his adventures. When a movie can do that, it’s really something special. After that Marvel had this really great idea of creating one universe where all their characters exist, creating the possibility of many possible crossovers and team-up movies. The way they went about setting up The Avengers was impeccable – giving every character some prior screen-time, some (a lot) more than others. The end-product was Joss Whedon’s mega hit which set a new bar for superhero movies. Marvel had found its winning formula and people were just lapping its movies up. Its movies had the perfect combination of action, humour and dark moments. Unlike DC’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin which tried to mix the same ingredients together only to end up being really tacky and really crappy, Marvel’s movies were just right. Additionally, even though they were subject to what I like to call “movie logic”, they still seemed like masterpieces when compared to those two Batman movies.
DC was evidently falling behind but it didn’t really seem to care as it released just a few movies such as Constantine and Watchmen during that same period. The Dark Knight Trilogy was the only thing keeping my interest in DC alive and I was dreading the day that the series would inevitably come to an end. When it did, DC didn’t have any other movie franchise to bank on and its future looked bleak. In that period, they must have taken notice that all their recent movies were quite dark and serious compared to Marvel’s and they just made that their formula. So, when Man of Steel came to theatres, I was a bit annoyed. Superman stands for hope, peace and good. When that same guy scowls and screams throughout the movie, it feels really off. And the ending was also polarizing – I get why he had to kill Zod (spoiler alert!), but it still doesn’t justify it and make it right. I think DC just got lazy and decided, “Oh our last few movies were really dark and they were pretty successful. Let’s just make every movie like that.” No! It doesn’t work that way. You can’t make Superman a discount Batman any more than you can make Batman a discount Superman. You can’t just copy-paste stuff and expect people to lie down and take it. In its movies, Marvel made each of its characters unique and it invested a lot of time in character development so that we know where each guy stands. When I look at DC now, all I see is guys who are angry or sad (or both!) and have the same emotional range as Taz from Looney Tunes. This is laziness at its peak.
DC then made plans to create a shared universe like Marvel’s but the rate at which it wanted to do so was, in the least, worrying. It wanted to compete head to head with Marvel and in order to do so, it would have to make a lot of movies in the time it took Marvel to release maybe two or three. Either that, or they’d just shoehorn random characters into a few movies and say, “Yeah, I think that’s enough character development.” Just look at what they’re doing with Batman v Superman – they’re introducing the new Batman…. in a Superman movie. At least give us a solo movie to get accustomed to him first! Worst part is that it apparently has a bazillion cameos by other superheroes to set up the Justice League movie. What I fear will happen is that there’ll be a lot of new characters and I’ll end up not giving a crap about them because, frankly, I’ll barely know them. I mean, Marvel took their own sweet time with the same thing and they did so with consummate tact because they didn’t have a set date to get it all done by or anyone to compete with. All this rush and hectic filmmaking is of DC’s own doing – they decided to try to compete with Marvel when Marvel was clearly way ahead. It’s all self-imposed and utterly stupid.
Then comes DC’s obsession with making every movie so dark as if it’s been written by someone who has serious issues. It definitely works for Batman and a few other guys, but Superman? Really?! It literally makes no sense. Man of Steel really doesn’t show Superman as we know him; he’s more of a rage-aholic, constantly fighting and breaking things. After watching the trailers for Batman v Superman, my first thought was, “This looks cool, but it also looks depressing and bleak as hell.” I get that DC tried something a little different with Green Lantern by adding some humour, but the movie still retained that (now) typical DC darkness and also suffered from awful CGI. I just don’t get how DC keeps messing up with these characters. There’s so many directions they can go in and still produce a brilliant movies, but they keep making the same wrong turn and they refuse to learn from their mistakes. Marvel, on the other hand, has a much more difficult task with making their characters interesting, but they’re succeeding. Look at Guardians of the Galaxy – I came to really like five characters who I’ve never heard of before much more than Green Lantern and Superman as they were portrayed in the movies.
Transitioning to the small screen, DC had the upper hand here with Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Smallville. Thankfully, they’ve not slacked here and have been making some really good shows recently such as Arrow, The Flash and iZombie. Even though, Marvel has its own shows such as Agents of Shield, Agent Carter and Daredevil, DC’s final package is better than Marvel’s. The Flash was a real surprise for me because I was expecting them to butcher his character, but they kept him intact and the show’s excellent. I got more of a Marvel vibe from it than DC and that’s a good thing because it means that maybe, just maybe, DC is on its way to the right track. However, all those hopes were dashed to the ground when DC announced that unlike Marvel’s shows, all their shows will be non-canon. This means that while Marvel’s shows tie in very nicely with the movies and offer fun little extra tidbits, DC’s shows won’t be in the same cinematic universe as the movies. So, we’ll eventually have two Flashes and two Arrows. This news made me facepalm so hard because the shows are really good and the people playing the lead characters are really good fits. Since, the shows are doing so well, movies for them need not be made and the characters could just transition seamlessly to the big screen. But, DC has other plans (only God knows what) and I hope, for their sake and all these characters that I love’s sake, they work.
I know that it seems like I’ve ranted about DC a bit too much, but it’s only because DC is squandering these mighty characters’ potentials. DC still hasn’t matured enough to find that right tone, that factor that makes everything mesh together so beautifully. I really feel that DC should have just conceded the battle and said, “Let’s not deliberately put ourselves in a position that may eventually screw us.” They should have just stepped back and taken some more time to develop their characters as well as, if not better, than Marvel. If DC doesn’t revise its ways, its future looks as grim as its movies.