Recent changes and major shakeups at the studios behind the DC movie universe seems to indicate that they are finally seeing the light when it comes to making superhero movies. It’s hard to deny that Marvel has been soundly trouncing DC at the box office with only counting Marvel’s 13 official MCU films raking in $300 Million (unadjusted domestic) more than the 26 attributed to DC under the Warner Brothers umbrella. It takes the inflation adjustment for DC’s 26 films (twice as many as Marvel) to beat just the MCU. Worldwide the gap is even wider in Marvel’s favor. That doesn’t even count the Spider-Man films, X-Men, or Deadpool which still pulled in more than Batman vs. Superman domestically and sits just behind BvS worldwide.
What is it that gets butts in the seats for Marvel movies that’s missing from the DC films? Of course the big defenders of DC films say things like, ‘the DC films are just too smart for the Marvel crowd,’ or ‘people just don’t get the world that they’re trying to build around Superman,’ and several other excuses. Quite frankly they just don’t seem to have the talent and vision in the right place, and there’s just no passion for the source material with the DC film teams. Even with BvS success at the box office, the reviews were lackluster at best, while Captain America: Civil War is getting eaten up by just about everyone that’s gone to see it.
The biggest problem I see is fun, or lack thereof. The DC movies just aren’t fun. I left BvS feeling like I saw a war movie, not a superhero film. You should not go to a Batman or Superman film and come away feeling like you just watched Blackhawk Down, and you certainly shouldn’t have to warn parents to keep young children away from a Superman movie. Superheroes, especially those like Superman, were created and exist as a model of hope, as a modern mythological figure that people look up to. Something to get away from the dark parts of the world, the boring grind of life, and see a shining hope for the future. Instead we got a grim view of the world we already live in with no hope, no shining lights, and no fun. Hell, when Batman is the moral compass in the dynamic with Superman, you know there’s a problem.
Just take a look at how the two are doing on TV, where I think they are competing fairly well head to head. The DC shows, especially Flash, have had some great success, while Marvel is hit or miss honestly. I watch Agent’s of Shield, but it’s no Daredevil, and while I didn’t care for Supergirl at all I can’t deny that DC’s TV fans are devout and enjoy the shows. What do they all have in common though? They’re fraking fun. The cross-overs, seeing characters moving between shows and doing cameos across the franchise gets people excited. Recently it was rumored that Vincent Do’nofrio may reprise his Kingpin role in the upcoming Spider-Man film, which has people buzzing. Fans like that sort of thing, especially comic book fans. They want to see their favorite heroes team up to fight the bad guys. Cross-overs, while sometimes the bane of collectors, are often sought after to see Wolverine fight along side Ghost Rider, or Superman team up with Batman. At the end of the day people like things to be fun and for it to feel like a broader universe instead of each hero sitting in his or her own little bubble. DC is trying that with the run-up to a Justice League film, but they’re failing at key elements to make each movie fun too. No one that I know wants a dark, depressing, and overly serious Justice League movie.
Unfortunately the DC movies haven’t taken advantage of the clear examples of what makes comic book movies a success lately, and that’s unfortunate. They almost had it right back in ’89 when Batman came out and even before with Superman in ’78. These are considered iconic representations of both characters, but unfortunately studios dropped the ball with the sequels, and succeeded in throwing both franchises in the trash, all the while Marvel was struggling to get a decent movie out that didn’t go straight to video. It was the perfect opportunity for DC to take hold of the movie market but they just didn’t get a grip. We started to get more passable movies over the years here and there, but it was in ’98 and 2000 when we truly got some worthy movies from one of the big two, Blade and X-Men, both from Marvel. From then on DC was playing catch-up and they didn’t do it very well until 2005 with Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins.
Batman Begins set the stage for future DC movies and unfortunately that stage wasn’t always appealing to the fans. Some people like the dark, brooding, and realistic Batman, but the drive to create a more realistic and serious world seemed to go too far. Despite the criticisms Batman Begins was a success and gave DC fans hope for more and better movies in the future. Both of the big two put out some highs and lows over the next couple of years, mostly lows from Marvel but DC also had Superman Returns which was just awful on so many levels.
Then in 2008 we got Iron Man, and the end credits scene to end all end credits scenes. Marvel hit the gas and left DC in the dust. The figures don’t lie, and neither do fan reactions. While there are fans of Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman, and the hype over Justice League and Wonder Woman are still big, there’s a lot of trepidation and hopeful suspicion. Warner Brothers and DC certainly aren’t going to get a pass just because people like the characters, because unfortunately other than the last iteration of Batman, the characters we’ve seen so far aren’t much like the characters we’ve come to know and love since their creation. Take it from me, it’s a big deal for me to say that because Affleck’s Batman was probably my biggest worry and I didn’t expect his performance to be all that great. I was wrong.
Now with the shakeups around the DC movies, Affleck taking a lead role along with Geoff Johns of DC and Jon Berg of WB stepping into head up the DC Extended Universe, they seem to be finally taking a page from Marvel on centralizing decision-making. Will it be too late? Marvel already has a substantial head start with no signs of stopping, and huge hype over every single MCU movie on the horizon. With the recent deal to add Spider-Man to the MCU it’s looking like the race has a sure winner. Even though I’m not a DC guy, I hope that this new leadership will give fans better movies down the road. There’s a lot of changes to make, and a lot of work to do to repair the foundation that has already been laid but my fingers are crossed.