Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this post, I just want to make clear that I’m not trying to pit Marvel against DC. Nor am I trying to bad-mouth DC. I like Marvel and I like DC. I have wanted to enjoy the worlds of both on the big screen and the small for the last few years, yet for some reason I can’t. And that reason is DC.
I dealt with the pre-Marvel Avengers/Dark Knight Rises era in my previous post, and somewhat to my surprise it was quite well received for the most part. But there seems to be a view that the current work by DC in building their Cinematic Universe shows that things have taken a turn for the better in recent years with the growth of DC TV and Movies.
I will therefore now turn my attention to the most recent era of films with DC looking to Zack Snyder of all people to be the brains behind it’s cinematic world. While Marvel have had Joss Whedon, John Favreau, the Russo Brothers, and Kenneth Branagh helming their films, DC have gone from Nolan to Snyder.
But that’s not the biggest problem with the current DC offerings. No, the biggest problem is that DC don’t seem to know what they actually want.
The multi-platform era
DC, like Marvel, have tried to expand their reaches into both TV and Film, but unlike the latter, DC doesn’t seem to understand how to do it. Marvel have Agents of Shield and Agent Carter – both exploring people and events that run parallel to the movie universe. There is the occasional crossovers, cameos etc to unite them while keeping them distinct and separate.
DC on the other hand have spent time developing the Arrow which first hit our screens in 2012 (a whole year before Agents of Shield). It was quite good (at least for the first season after which it has somewhat lost its way) and allowed DC to set a good platform from which to introduce other lesser known characters from the DC universe. It also created the perfect foundation from which to develop some more well-known characters, most notably The Flash, which, after a couple of cameos, launched as a standalone show in 2014.
The Flash is probably DCs best televisual success to date in terms of viewing figures and critical acclaim. It holds together on its own merits, and while there are some crossovers with the Arrow, these only emphasise the superiority of the Flash over the latter seasons of Arrow. But both represent a success in terms of generating a DC character presence in or everyday world, and more importantly, in the same character universe.
Somewhat less successful was the ill-fated Constantine which lasted for just a single season from 2014 to 2015 despite getting more viewers than the Arrow over the same period! It wasn’t actually a bad show, it just wasn’t great, and at a time when there is more competition than ever for TV viewers, that simply isn’t good enough.
And so we come to the ill-conceived, misguided, confused mess that is Gotham. Like Agent Carter, it takes us back to the past, when the characters of the current are growing up and still being moulded. I know some people who absolutely love this show…a view which has irreparably damaged their judgement in my eyes. It isn’t terrible…for the most part, but it just doesn’t make much sense, and, by setting it in a young Bruce Wayne setting, it removes the key figure in the Batman universe…Batman! It is basically the opening scenes in an origin movie, but extended for an entire series, and unbelievably, it looks like it’ll go on for a second season. But for all the messy confusion of a plot and the poor dialogue, that isn’t the worst thing about the series. The worst thing about it is that it doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere with the rest of the DC TV universe. It doesn’t know when it is set, and because of that it has no relation to Arrow or Flash…or to any of the Batman films. It’s a standalone series in the DC universe where it just floats in the ether not knowing whether to be buddy cop show or comic-book show. And in so being it represents a much bigger problem for DC.
While Marvel have constructed everything to work symbiotically with each other, DC seem to have kept everything in their own silos with almost no cross platform cross-pollination. Marvel has cinematic avengers who relate to Shield and Carter and Daredevil. They are one story spread across three platforms. DC has Superman/Batman which doesn’t relate to Arrow/Flash or even Gotham! To make matters even worse, where DC have actually setup the potential for some interesting and important cross-pollination, they are completely ignored it!
The Batman/Superman crossover could still prove to be a sensible move, but while Marvel took a more softly, softly approach of each main character getting their own origins in the build-up to the Avengers, DC are just throwing things together and using that film as the springboard for other significant characters like Wonder Woman. Now that may be because they don’t think a female character can lead a film (sadly neither Marvel nor DC seem to be open to that idea yet!!!) but it seems like a strange decision to simply throw in major characters, who should have a standalone future as just another also ran in the film.
But even if we excuse that as simply a way to help bring in new characters, the biggest problem DC has is the lack of cohesion between the big screen and small screen universes.
While Marvel interweave all the various elements of their universe to bring them together, DC have instead taken the bizarre decision to keep them separate, as if their TV audience is completely separate from their movie audience.
Take The Flash for example. Despite some initial reservations, Grant Gustin makes a truly excellent Flash, with just enough vulnerability, wit, charm and strength to bring the character to life in a likeable way. And then I heard that DC were planning on making a Flash film. Excellent! I thought, more of that on a big screen has some real potential, and yet, rather than carry on the excellent foundation of the TV series, DC have instead cast Ezra Miller for its Flash film due out in 2018.
Now I have nothing against Miller, he’s a fine actor and will probably do well as the character, but I don’t understand why you bother developing a TV show with a pretty good cast and a quality leading man, only to then isolate it completely from a film with the exact same character! It makes no sense and isolates the DC universes of the two media.
Sadly, the Flash isn’t the only one. The same is true in the Suicide Squad. While I understand the need for studios to use big names at times to bring in the punters, they have now spent the better part of four years of TV (3 Arrow and 1 Flash) to develop characters like Deadshot, Katana, Captain Boomerang and Amanda Waller. It has not always been perfect, but those 4 years were all about building up those characters, developing the whole story arc and the creation of the Squad in the DC TV world. And yet in the DC Movie world, none of that exists, because every single Suicide Squad member who has appeared in the TV series has been recast.
Sure Will Smith is a bigger name than Michael Rowe but does he have to be Deadshot when you had a perfectly decent Deadshot from the TV series and plenty of other characters that haven’t been portrayed yet? If they were going for bigger names, why replace the veteran Rila Fukushima with a debutant Karen Fukuhara? None of it makes sense. Once again DC has spent time developing characters and perhaps more importantly, asking the audience to invest time in those characters through TV shows, only to start from scratch when they go to see the movies.
DC has it all back to front, upside down and inside out, while Marvel has it all planned out and thought through. They have gone from working with Fox for X-Men to creating their own studio, producing at least a couple of films a year, leading with major characters before branching out to lesser known elements like the excellent Guardians of the Galaxy.
They have gone from having a handful of films to having one world that is inextricably linked to one with its content linked through all of its films, tv and streaming shows. A single glorious story being told through every major medium, all working in partnership with each other. It makes sense for Marvel because it encourages fans of the movies to watch the TV and streaming shows – they have already invested time in knowing at least some of the characters, and vice versa.
Having witnessed all that from their arch-rival, and having seen just how well Marvel have been able to create a unified Marvel experience over the last 15 years, the revival of the cinematic comic-book genre, and the massive blockbuster films that it can create, I’m afraid DC have shown us that they have learned absolutely nothing.
They ask viewers to invest time in the characters in DC TV shows, only to ask them to forget all that and reinvest all that time again for the movies. There is no DC universe, there is just a collection of little DC solar systems each floating around in separate galaxies. The DC Cinematic Universe is literally just that, a purely cinema based experience. Everything else is isolated from it, including their offerings on the small screen. They are trying to use their two bigger name characters to force a Justice League film instead of building up to it. They are scheduling origin/introduction films like Wonder Woman, the Flash and Aquaman either after they have already appeared in other films or after you have created some quality TV around them…it just doesn’t make sense.
I’m not angry, I’m just DCppointed
Once again, DC have got it all backwards. You need to bring the audience along with you, not force them to into something they don’t want. You need to build upon characters and ideas you have already created and bring them together, not pile them together and then try to untangle the mess. You need to earn the big pay-offs of the Justice League and the Avengers, not merely assume everyone will accept it because you want them to.
Marvel have already covered a lot of their flagship characters, and they have done it well. Now they have enough goodwill from their fans to developed some lesser known characters like Ant-man and Guardians, and they have made them good films – not all froth, but not all doom and gloom either. A nice healthy balance of fun, action and emotion.
DC are going for a darker more serious tone…which might work for Batman, but it certainly didn’t do Man of Steel any favours, and may just look downright silly if attempted for Aquaman or the Flash. But even if they can pull it off, they still have the same underlying problem – too many characters thrown in without any audience connection and too many versions of that character at the same time – film and TV are simply two versions of the same medium, and should be treated as such. Sadly DC doesn’t seem to agree, and that could very well be their undoing.
I really want DC to succeed. We are living in what could be the most golden of golden ages of comic book cinema. I’ve been a comic book fan since childhood, and while I’ve grown older, in this regard, I certainly haven’t grown up. I still love comic books and I want them all to succeed. I don’t want to have to choose between Batman and Wolverine, the Flash and the Silver Surfer. I want to enjoy both, as I am sure many of you do to. In order for that to happen, I need DC to sort themselves out and deliver in the same way Marvel have. I hope they can, I really do and only time will tell.
But from everything I’ve seen from them over the last 70 years, sadly, I just don’t think they can.
Source: DC Comics, Marvel