DC and Marvel have been longtime rivals in the comic book world and have just recently started competing on a much grander scale, to the delight of every nerd ever, on the big screen. Unfortunately all comic book creations turned to movies are not created equal and the last installment for each company couldn’t be a better example of this. By now you’ve seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War, which is the epitome of DCEU vs MCU, and if you are anything like the critics these films invoked polar opposite feelings. We’re talking 27% and 90% on the Tomatometer, respectively, with audience scores of 66% and 91%. Mind you, BvS has netted almost $875 million dollars, so to call it a flat out flop as a whole would be unfair, but it definitely fell exceptionally short of its potential. To compare, Civil War is sitting comfortably at a cool $1.1 billion dollars thus far. So what gives? Why is BvS so bad, or at least why do we feel like it was so bad?
Marvel obviously has the upper hand here since they actually HAVE a character named Vision, tough luck DC (#sorrynotsorry). That’s not really the vision I’m talking about though (but Vision IS awesome). Envision (I can’t help myself) a building that is under construction. Obviously the foundation is the first part that needs to go down so the rest of the structure can be built. Both the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) are similar in that manner. Marvel’s foundation for their franchise started way back in 2008 with a movie you might have heard of called Iron Man. In and of itself, not the biggest and best movie ever, but a rock solid action/superhero flick that started what we now know today as Phase 1. The rest of the MCU building blocks came in the way of The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Again, these movies are good stand-alone films, but together they are far greater than the individual brick they represent and combined form the foundation of what is currently the best comic book movie franchise ever known to man. The Avengers (2012) was the capstone to that phase and each subsequent phase has continued that architectural plan with the solo movies building up to each capstone movie that brings all of those individuals together for some truly epic films.
Therein lies the wonderful and grand vision that Marvel studios has had for their movies. The stories in each film are masterfully crafted in a way that ties into all the other films, complementing each other and doing so without requiring the other solo films to be viewed. They’re the walls (or pillars depending on what kind of building you’re imagining) of the structure, working together to make the building whole. As we progress through the phases each set of films builds off the last, advancing storylines and showing character development that simply can’t be captured in a two and a half hour sitting. Audiences connect with the movies and characters on a whole new level after investing several movies’ worth of time into them. That vision is also wonderfully, and usually hilariously, accented by cross-film cameos and fun post-credit scenes.
This brilliant strategy has netted Marvel over $10 billion dollars worldwide just for the MCU films at the box office. That’s not even including merchandise sales and DVD sales. You would think after watching Marvel’s success, DC would be able to waltz right in, capitalize on a successful formula, make it their own, and put Marvel to task at the box office. Ya’d think.
The DCEU started way back in 2013 with Man of Steel. That was the only building block before they decided to shoot their load of characters all into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice this year. There are several issues with the vision of the DCEU compared to where the MCU was at in their phase 1.
First off, Batman is in the middle of a character crisis. He’s the superhero equivalent of James Bond where so many actors have played him and so many directors have had their take on him, audiences don’t know who the current Batman is. I don’t mean that we don’t have Batman’s origin story ingrained in our brains forever and if we have to see it one more time we’re going to collectively destroy anything related to bats and Batman. I mean the style of Batman and how the director and actor are going to portray him. The last time we saw Batman it was in a dark and gritty Christopher Nolan run world and Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne had the serious voice and look with none of the George Clooney charm and swagger. In BvS, we eventually find out we’re dealing with an older Bruce Wayne, beyond the telltale salt and pepper sideburns, as it is mentioned Bruce is older than his father was when he died. That makes this an older and wiser Bruce Wayne? It’s hard to tell as the 151 minutes of movie time had to be shared with Superman, Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor while also introducing the rest of the founding members of the Justice League.
Which leads to my second issue with the DCEU’s vision — there was far too much story packed into a small amount of time in BvS. With only one pillar of story to stand on in Man of Steel, the portrayal of DC’s two most popular characters together didn’t do justice (still not sorry) to an unfamiliar Batman even though he probably had the most screen time and storytelling elements. We also can’t let the billionth rendition of Batman’s origin story off the hook either. It was a complete waste of precious screen time and the reason why it was shown will end up being literally the worst turning point in a movie ever, of all time. But we’ll give that the lashings it deserves in a later point.
Then we have Bruce Wayne’s visions. This wasn’t the right vision either. Not that this was the worst thing in the movie but it was done in a poor manner that left audiences confused and ready for the whole movie to end up as a dream sequence. The dream sequences lasted far too long and did a poor job of emphasizing Batman’s unbridled hatred for Superman.
Superhero movies are based off of content from their comic book predecessors. So much material and storyline and character development has happened in the comic books you can’t just take Tony Stark and pretend he’s actually poor. Or not good looking. The source material needs to be honored. Kevin Feige knows this. That doesn’t mean there can’t be different artistic takes on a character and their portrayal. But there are fundamental things that cannot be ignored, removed, or replaced.
You don’t need to read a Batman comic to know that Bruce Wayne is against killing people, even bad guys. He beats them up and stops them from doing their crime but they go through the criminal system. He doesn’t enact his own version of justice on them. Along with not killing people, Batman doesn’t torture people. Batman doesn’t brand people. Batman. Does. NOT. Brand. People. I’m not sure what kind of sadistic brainstorming session took place in order for this gem to come out of it, but it’s bad and it should feel bad. Everything about that feels wrong. Batman wants justice and good to prevail, he doesn’t passive-aggressively promote evil and badness by branding someone so they will eventually get beaten up or killed.
Black Widow, on the other hand, surprised a few people by siding with Iron Man in Civil War. If you are still surprised after watching the movie then you weren’t paying attention. All along Widow has been out for numero uno and THEN other people when it is convenient. She has always and will always play all of the sides to do and get what is best for her. The best way to go about that in Civil War was to side with Tony because she could still help Cap as needed. She’s on Tony’s side but she’s also infiltrated Tony’s side. It’s complicated but at the base of it, her decisions are still true to her mantra.
Everyone else in Civil War had to make tough choices and we followed them through their decision making. Batman just showed up on screen and started whipping around his branding iron like some bad ninja film. At least if it was a ninja film we’d have that going for us. Instead it’s actually a Batman film that we’ll have to live with for the rest of our lives.
Here’s the one and only category where BvS didn’t completely bite the shark. In fact it’s actually what highlights the major problem(s) of BvS – the acting was on point, the writing much less so. The casting of the actors and their performances were fantastic for what they had to work with. After the whole Internet Outrage at new information when Batfleck was announced, it turns out Ben Affleck is a pretty great Batman. He’s got the older, mature Batman thing going for him. The silver fox hair style worked, I didn’t hate the workout montage, and he balanced the serious and suave thing well.
Alfred was a bit different. Not bad, just different. Younger than previous Alfreds but more gritty and rugged. He was also much more involved in Batman’s hijinks than in previous movies. So lots of different aspects but I think that helped differentiate rather than hinder the story and dynamic between Alfred and Bruce. Henry Cavill has already proven himself as a worthy Superman but he continued his good performance in BvS nonetheless. Gal Gadot knocked Wonder Woman out of the park.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was the odd man out in casting and performance. As much as the departure from the normally calm, cool, and collected Luthor could be called just an artistic difference, Eisenberg took the unstable, crazed lunatic route that felt too much like Heath Ledger’s Joker. He did act the lunatic part well but it just didn’t fit the movie, the character (see: SOURCE MATERIAL), and was too much of a copycat on a stellar performance from another Batman villain.
Marvel has been exceedingly lucky (or just really great at casting and hiring choices) with their personnel. They hit the jackpot with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. RDJ is Tony Stark, Tony Stark is RDJ. He owns that role like he wrote it with his own life. That’s something special to start their franchise with and they’ve been able to capture Golden Boy Steve Rogers with Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth as a great meathead god, Mark Ruffalo as the quiet, unassuming scientist with a bad attitude, and every supporting character throughout the MCU has been done very well by their respective actors and actresses.
There have been a few questionable calls – Paul Rudd seemed like an odd choice for a super hero. Of course after viewing Ant-Man, it was fitting and he did well. Corey Stoll as Yellowjacket was probably the most difficult casting to accept in the MCU (he’ll always be Peter Russo from House of Cards in my mind, RIP congressman). But he didn’t do poorly in the film either.
The writing of each film encompasses all three of the previous points. Thus far Marvel has aced all three points and their writing shows it. They’ve been able to do successful sequels and trilogies of all their original franchises (except Hulk due to silly license issues). Their collective franchise is getting at least four movies, they’re successfully rolling out new franchises to intertwine in the MCU, even Ant-Man is getting a sequel! Talks of secondary characters getting their own solo titles are happening (C’mon Feige, give Black Widow the solo story she deserves!). The sky is the limit in the MCU because they have a great vision of where they want to go with their stories. They understand their duty to honor the source material of the stories they’ve taken on. Marvel has a phenomenal cast of actors and a great group of people to pick new actors, directors, and writers to keep all three of those things aligned. All the stories are compelling and successful, they have great character development, and fans are invested wholly into the MCU.
Specifically, Civil War was an offbeat film in the MCU. It’s the serious side that we haven’t seen yet. The Empire Strikes back of Marvel. The team is broken, there was no happy ending, everything is in chaos. Of course there were light moments smattered throughout the story but it wasn’t the traditional action and comedy Marvel film we’re used to seeing. That’s what made it all the more special and amazing. It crafted a believable rift between people who had already been through so much together it would be nearly impossible to break them apart. The tension was palpable, the emotions were strong, and the cataclysm was very real. The turning point in the movie had everyone in the theaters gasp. How could it be?! Bucky, no! Why!? Just writing about it brings me back to that heart stopping realization of betrayal. The angst and guilt and conflicting emotions were all too real to the viewers. The power behind all that is thanks to amazing writers that elaborately crafted a symphony of the Avenger’s demise.
On the other hand, we have BvS which tanked in two of the three categories. The writing was poor at best, and at a few points was just plain atrocious. We spent the entire first half of BvS beating into our heads that one man with too much power is bad, even if he means to be good. Then we spend the second half of the movie completely ignoring this as Batman goes on a crusade to save his city. Batman’s emotional set up was grueling. For the love of Odin, PLEASE DON’T SHOW US ANOTHER BATMAN ORIGIN STORY. Please. It’s a waste of screen time, we already know that’s why he turned into Batman. Find a better way to craft his emotional state. Add a healthy amount of terrible visions, a dash of irrational stubbornness, and suddenly we have a totally believable vendetta that is going to lead Batman to do the one thing he’s always been morally against: killing.
Martha! Martha, Martha, Martha. We emotionally set up Batman to be on some irrational crusade to end Superman. He goes to the trouble of researching and building a super device to kill Superman. Superman’s pleas go unheard until he uses the safe word: Martha. Save Superman’s mother from Lex Luthor, save Martha. Batman suddenly slips out of his crusade because his mother’s name was Martha as well. Everything that Batman has seen and thought of Superman is held in suspension because their mom’s have the same first name. I don’t know who thought this was emotionally gripping enough to break someone out of the angriest and deadliest mental state they’ve ever been in, but it’s not. It’s just not. The barely believable emotional build up was unraveled by a single word. Disappointing is too kind a word to describe that whole scene.
Despite the bitterly disappointing catalysts in BvS, on a whole the movie wasn’t awful. It had potential to be amazing and that definitely plays a part in why it doesn’t feel like it was terribly good. BUT. It was still a relatively entertaining super hero film. It’s also set up a very interesting DCEU that will hopefully only get better as time and films go on. The actors are definitely in place to accomplish that and who knows, maybe Affleck is both the Batman we need and the Batman we deserve. Justice League is filming and set to be released in 2017 with solo films Wonder Woman (2017), Aquaman (2018), The Flash (2018), Shazam (2019), and Batfleck’s solo films all feeding into the franchise. Suicide Squad (2016) enters the DCEU arena along with a Justice League sequel (2019). DC seems to want to keep their television franchises separate from their movie franchises (shows like Super Girl, Arrow, and The Flash) as well.
Marvel is mid-stride in their franchise and on what seems to be the beginning of the end for our original Avenger heroes. An aging cast along with a host of new faces being added (Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, maybe even SPIDER-MAN?!) means we are likely to see a shift in personnel on-screen. That’s not a bad thing, though. Marvel obviously has had the long term in mind from the beginning and that’s been a big part of their success. Ideally their formula is planned enough to give the franchise structure but loose enough to allow for a solo Black Widow film or something of the like when the interest is there and the time is right.
Thankfully both franchises are going to be front and center on our movie screens for quite a few years to come. Even if they end up not being the best movies of all time, it’s never a bad thing to have more superheroes in our lives (we won’t talk about the Fantastic Four franchise).
What did you think of Batman v Superman and Civil War? What superhero movies are you looking forward to most? Do you think DC can catch up to Marvel’s successes? Hit us up in the comments!