There are some fights that will never be settled. Ford vs Chevy. Beans or no beans in chili. The orientation of toilet paper: over or under. (Over, you freaks…) And of course, the fight that has raged on in nerd culture for decades: DC or Marvel. Man oh man is that a fight starter in comic book shops. I should know, I worked in one. But now this timeless fight over which publisher has the better characters, the better titles, the better whatever, has spilled out of the comic shop and into the movie theaters as characters from both companies continue to spill on to the big screen with no end in sight. Subjectively, this fight will never be won, there will always be fanboys and fangirls on both sides (that’s right everyone, boys can be nerds too). But objectively, it is very clear that Marvel has been winning the fight and doing so very handily. Now, I won’t take a particular side in this fight as I think both cinematic universes have their own pros and cons, but what I would like to talk about today is why I think Marvel got off to the start that it did and why DC has faltered right out of the gate. It all boils down to one simple thing: Creativity in a vacuum.
Before we move on, there will possibly be spoilers for all MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and DCEU (DC Extended Universe) films up to this point.
To get into this article, we first need to get into some of the history of Marvel Comics as a company. To make a really long story short, due to the speculation bubble on comic books and their resale values bursting and some business dealings that had some domino effects, Marvel Comics had to file for bankruptcy protection in 1995. As a way of keeping themselves afloat, Marvel also sold off the movie rights to many of their most popular characters such as the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and other second tier characters. Fast forward a little over a decade and Marvel Studios decides to make an Iron Man movie and kick off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But to kick off one of the most ambitious film projects ever, they had a lot of planning and story work to do and had to put in a ton of extra time to figure every thing out because the movie rights to a lot of their most popular comic book characters were owned by other studios. I think that single fact is what has driven a lot of the creativity behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I’ve discussed this idea with a few people and this is the analogy I use to help illustrate my point:
- DC is like that kid in high school with the rich as hell parents that gives them everything on a silver platter but then that kid gets punched in the teeth by the real world and has no idea how to deal with it until they finally figure out that they have to actually work at things.
- Marvel is that kid who grew up disadvantaged and poor, had to work a part time job in high school, became an entrepreneur, built a business in his garage, and then got massively successful but at heart was always that same kid working his ass off in his garage.
Since Marvel Studios only had access to what were probably third tier (second tier at best) characters and characters that were largely unknown to the general population, I feel that Marvel Studios had to put in the extra effort to develop origin story movies so that they could properly introduce their cast of characters. To contrast that, DC started their Extended Universe with Superman and followed it up with reintroducing Batman, two of the most recognizable and iconic super heroes ever and two characters whose origin stories are burned into ether. Everyone knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne and Superman is Clark Kent, but I would defy you to find more than 1 in 50 people on the street who knew that Iron Man is Tony Stark pre-summer of 2008.
The best example I can give of this is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Instead of taking their time and building up characters individually, DC let Batman overtake what should have been a Man of Steel sequel, mashed up elements from two or three classic, iconic stories, made character and story choices that felt completely unearned, and tossed in Wonder Woman just to complete the DC holy Trinity and then proceed to misuse her character for what screen time she got. When I walked out of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I felt like the writers just took all the cool, good bits from the most iconic stories they could, with their most iconic characters, smashed everything together and then hoped that the movie would be better than the sum of it’s parts and because they had access to all of those iconic stories and iconic characters, they didn’t have to think through how to make everything add up to a great story on its own.
Now, I by no means think that the writers just said “fuck it” and wrote a script in five minutes, but I do think that the careful planning and execution of the DCEU was severely lacking and that is made even more clear by the mad scramble at Warner Bros. HQ after the critical failure of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and the middle of the road reviews that Man of Steel got. I have zero insider knowledge of any of this but even to the casual observer, it was obvious that the panic button had not only been slammed but the panic knob had been cranked to eleven and busted off. The only solace here is that Patty Jenkins was able to bring us, not only the best DCEU film to date, but one of the best super hero films ever in Wonder Woman (you can read my reviews for it here and here). Hopefully the powers that be at Warner Bros. and DC have learned what it takes to make a great superhero movie and are taking steps to ensure the the DCEU is on track for the future because, petty rivalries aside, every one want’s to see DC’s cast of characters have the run that Marvel’s characters have had at the movie theater.
To wrap all this up, I think that DC had full access to all their characters and all of their landmark stories but didn’t put in the time and effort needed and had a severely under-cooked plan on how to execute their cinematic universe, while Marvel only had access to their, at the time, lower tier characters and had to make damn sure that the stories and movies they developed would coalesce into the Marvel Cinematic Universe we know and love today.
Until next time, Thank You for reading and…
SEE YOU AT THE CINEMA!