So…both ’Man of Steel’ and ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’ have hit cinemas since 2013 and they have officially established the beginnings of the DC Extended Universe…for better or worse, but certainly richer than poorer. As I just eluded to, these movies have been a massive hit in grabbing the attention and wallets of moviegoers but have somewhat failed when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of fans and critics. I totally agree with this and feel the movies could have been better given the characters and budgets they were working with, but I still liked them…just not as much as I wanted to. Some of the main criticisms of these movies have surrounded the very premise of which they have been written, directed and acted by. These movies have been developed in such a way as to explore how the world would react to a superhero, trying to make these superheroes grounded in reality because comics can be fairly idyllic in how they portray their characters and the options open to them. This has led to a darker feel and even a distinct change in the very nature of the characters we love. There are also obvious comparisons to be drawn with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Avengers franchise that has been immensely successful, both strategically and cinematically, and has wonderfully developed and brilliantly explored some of my favourite characters into great movies. However, there are a couple of assumptions, or expectations, you have to dispense with before you view any of the movies in the DC Extended Universe.
Firstly, they are being distributed by Warner Bros. not Disney (and previously; Paramount). This seems obvious but with the relentless success of the Avengers movies it would be hard not to expect all superhero movies to be written to the same formula. Warner Bros. want to make this franchise distinct from that of Disney and Marvel Entertainment. Disney have a more historical affinity with younger audiences but Marvel have always seemed to stay true to the roots of the comics and remain close to the younger audiences that adore their characters. Warner Bros. does not want to do that, especially given the success of the Dark Knight trilogy that proved that if it is done correctly…ahem correctly…the genre of superheroes can be appealing to a wider range of audiences, therefore making the material more mature not only defined itself separately from it main competitor but also opens the movies to a wider, and wealthier, fan base.
Now you could argue that, given the success of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and bringing in the Russo Brothers to direct the sequel ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and the two-part finale to phase three of the Marvel Cinematic project; ‘Avengers: Infinity War – Parts 1 & 2’, that Marvel and Disney are favouring a more stern and heavy feel to their movies as ‘The Winter Soldier’ was certainly different in its approach to the genre than any of it’s predecessors in the franchise had been; and possibly was why it was very successful. However, it is still miles behind the level that Warner Bros. are seeking to operate on. I mean, in Man of Steel alone there are many examples of more mature themes that would not be found in an Avengers movie. General Zod shown to stab Jor-El, as an expression of the ruthlessness of his character; he would kill one of his best friends, a man he respects immensely, in such an intimate way (stabbing and looking into his eyes whilst in front of Jor-El’s loved ones) in order to achieve his goal. Intense imagery of Superman sinking into a mountain of skulls in order to convey how serious and sinister General Zod is with his plan for the future of the human race, and how they mean nothing to him so that it really “sinks in” that he intends to destroy the world, a creative attempt to seriously get across to the audience this rather clichéd concept often thrown about by super villains. Finally, the breaking of General Zod’s neck as the climax to a long fight scene, to show the lines that Superman must cross in order to keep people safe. This is far different to the comics as Superman always finds a way to suppress the need to use deadly force and is, in fact, a great fear of his. The fight scene, up until that point, had been everything we would expect from a Superman fight, but the end was shocking and takes the audience immediately out of the realms of the comics in quite a painful way.
Put simply, do not expect the same restraint. Yes, there are a lot of explosions but the Superman character relies on tremendous amounts of strength and power, not intricate fighting styles, and in the real world that leads to serious damage, something that may not come through so obviously on comic book pages. Yes, the characters change but they are operating in a world that may react a different way to how the comic book world would react. In a world of mistrust over power, superheroes would have to behave differently than how we have known them to and this is something we have to accept going in to the movie theatre.
The second expectation that audiences have to remove is how they can relate to the heroes in their respective teams, because this is DC not Marvel. If you take the original members of the Avengers and the original members of the Justice League, you can make a clear distinction between the two as each member of the Avengers has a firm foot grounded in ‘humanity’, with the exception of Thor. When compared to the Justice League you have a Kryptonian, a Martian, an Amazon and an Atlantean; all of which are either aliens or from super-human isolationist cultures. You could argue that Batman is the only ‘human’ on the team, as Green Lantern is a space-cop who deals with other-worldly threats rather than simple human problems making him somewhat of similar nature in his duties to Thor than an earth-based hero, whilst the Flash is a conduit of a force that holds the multi-verse together. In this sense I would define their societal roles as closer to the Marvel X-Men than the Avengers, as they are isolated and definably separated from society but take it upon themselves to help humanity as they have the ability to do so. All of this means that, by their very nature, the Justice League characters are exceptionally hard to relate to and even difficult to really define as ‘heroes’ which could easily be construed as a very ‘human’ construct and difficult to apply to those who have the ability to do more than a human meaning that to go above and beyond human is perceivably quite easy for them. This is where Marvel’s Avengers and DC’s Justice League differ quite starkly. As many of Marvel’s characters are actually very relatable and this gives them that heroic quality, whereas DC give their characters a Godlike feel to them, and formulate them as being idols to aspire to and great protectors rather than people you can share a beer with.
So in summary the expectations for the movies in the DC Extended Universe have to be adjusted not only in that they are being developed in a different tone to those of their Marvel counterparts but also because of the nature of their characters and how they are written in their respective comic books. Audiences should do away with expectations of a brighter atmosphere and be ready to see these characters as gods rather than your friendly neighbourhood…hero. Once this expectation is met then I think the whole franchise would benefit and be appreciated as being something separate from comparisons with the Marvel project, despite how saturated the movie market is with super heroes right now. So that is my two cents on the differences between Marvel and DC, both in comics and in their movie franchises, I hope it is of value to you, but what do you think? Is it difficult to see the DC extended universe in this light whilst looking through the veil of the successful MCU? Does this distinction ease some of the dissatisfaction with the DC/Warner Bros. movies? What do you think DC need to do to be more competitive in the future? Thanks for the read and let me know your thoughts.