The internet hordes that fill the comment sections and message boards across the web tend to come across as a somewhat bipolar. You see the extremes of people's opinions everywhere. You either love something or hate something, it’s either the best or the worst, right or wrong. You get the idea. And lately the internet commenters have turned their divisive gaze towards Marvel and DC. Which, of course, is nothing new for the two comic publishing giants but in this case it specifically relates to their feature films. With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) creeping ever closer to its release, the gap between those who love the approach WB is taking with their new DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU) and those who hate it, seems to be widening. The common refrain being that DC is making things too dark, too serious and not treating its material like that of Marvel Studios. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a proven success; bringing us critical and box-office hits like: Avengers, Iron Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m here to ask those same people to put down their pitchforks and consider the following: there’s room out there for different takes on superhero filmmaking.
I challenge the idea that Marvel has, up until now, been successful with their superhero movies; they somehow have “cracked the code” and now have the only formula (Super Soldier Serum?) to make quality comic book movies. Their success is noteworthy and heralded a new age in quality comic book movies, but it would be difficult to say that their movies have really pushed the boundaries and tried new things over the years. All of their movies follow a pretty strict “Marvel Movie Formula” that, somewhat due to necessity, allows them to exist in the greater MCU, but it also means they all have a very similar tone and plot structure. Again, that’s not to say it’s a bad thing. I happen to enjoy almost every Marvel movie I see. What I am saying, however, is that it’s ok for DC to try something new.
We got a pretty good idea of what DC’s new cinematic take on superheroes would look like with the release of Man of Steel in 2013. Coming off the immensely successful Dark Knight Trilogy, Jonathan Nolan, who built his career playing off the seriousness of Batman, and Zach Snyder, the man made famous by putting comic books on the big screen, helped usher in the first film in what will become the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU). They did it with a movie focusing on none other than the Big Blue Boy Scout himself: Superman. Man of Steel took a character known for embodying “truth, justice and the American way” and put a darker spin on it. Clark Kent/Superman, all of a sudden, had inner demons; he had an edge. They muted the blues and reds on his suit and the giant 'S' on his chest, no longer stood for Superman. The film, though relatively financially successful, was met with a pretty polarized critical response. Those who hated it threw a lot of blame at the script and the lack of compassion Superman seemed to show towards innocent people in the climax. Apparently, people don’t want to see their heroes destroying entire city blocks with little regard for the people living in them. Fair. Fortunately for those people DC either had an ingenious master plan or were listening to their fans, either way it's good news because they intend to address that exact issue in BvS.
Regardless, people seem to be taking DC to task over their approach to their barely nascent DCCU. All I ask is that you give it time to develop before you pick up the pitchforks again. A movie called Batman v. Superman will inherently be darker than your typical superhero affair. What matters here is whether or not the filmmakers will develop a compelling story with interesting characters. But even if they fail with this they will have tried something different than what we’ve seen from Marvel - We should commend this. We saw how things worked for DC when they tried to copy the Marvel approach and Green Lantern was a flop.
This whole thesis came to me after reading a quote from Greg Silverman, one of the WB executives in charge of the new DC film slate: “There is intensity and a seriousness of purpose to some of these characters," said Silverman "The filmmakers who are tackling these properties are making great movies about superheroes; they aren't making superhero movies. And when you are trying to make a good movie, you tackle interesting philosophies and character development.”
DC and WB aren’t content with taking a comic book and transplanting it to the screen. They understand that they are different mediums and want to make a great film first, with depth and nuance that has something to say, while also featuring your favorite comic book heroes. That’s not to say they are ignoring what made these characters popular, but from a filmmaking perspective, they want to explore them in ways that are compelling for the medium being used. Whether they will be successful in their goal is yet to be seen but when I hear lines like this coming from studio executives, “The filmmakers who are tackling these properties are making great movies about superheroes; they aren't making superhero movies.” It gives me confidence that they are on the right track.
To get a better understanding of what Mr. Silverman means, you don’t have to look any further than the latest Fantastic Four movie. Fox tried to take the Fantastic Four, a typically light-hearted affair, and apply a darker edge to it, which inherently isn’t a problem in and of itself, it’s that in doing so, they forgot to make a good movie and were punished for it. The film was almost universally panned and in turn opened with one of the worst superhero movie openings in recent memory. As long as DC is committed to making a quality product and not trying just to sell us dark for the sake of dark we will be just fine.
Of course, it’s important to speak to the other side of the coin (comic page?) when trying to ease internet divisiveness. So, remember that Marvel’s movies, its formula, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If that’s what you like from a superhero film, starting next summer, there will be three of those kinds of films for you every year. And that’s not even counting the non-Marvel Studios movies like The X-Men from Fox, which seems to be getting closer to their yellow spandexy comic source material with every sequel. The inclusion of DC’s new DCCU doesn’t take away from your enjoyment of those other films, or vice versa. If nothing else the competition between the two will only force them to work harder to grab our attention, and in turn, bring us better quality films.
When it comes down to it, isn’t that what matters? Great movies. Regardless of who’s making them or how they are being made.