Over the past ten years or so, superhero films have become a major trend in the film industry. The two major studios that have been putting out these films are Marvel Studios and DC Comics. Both companies have produced superhero films for a very long time, but up until recently this genre hasn’t received the acclaim at the box office that they were hoping for. That being said, making a good superhero film isn’t as easy as it may seem, even if the studios are pumping them out constantly. This is something that can be exemplified by these two competing sources. The quality of Marvel films is drastically different from that of DC films.
In 2008, Marvel released Iron Man, the first film of many in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This launched Marvel Studios into a new era of success that has continued until today. They currently have fourteen films that have been released, with three more coming out this year. DC eventually got on board and decided that they should follow in Marvel’s footsteps, creating the DCEU, or the DC Extended Universe. They only have three movies in the DCEU and are slated for two more this year.
The first thing that Marvel did right in all of this was that they had a well thought out plan. Even if it didn’t include every detail, they knew where they were going from the start, and they had a base to work from. The knew that they were working towards an Avengers movie, so they made the movies connect in a way that would allow for that. On the other hand, when DC started the DCEU, they didn’t have it all planned out, but rather they just figured it out as they went along. After the release of their first film, Man of Steel, they followed it up with two movies that didn’t work because they didn’t have their releases planned out. This caused them to release films that shouldn’t have been the foundation of their universe. DC chose to release Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War were very similar movies in terms of the base idea of the film. This was a mistake because everyone automatically chose to compare it to Marvel’s “version” of the film. It took away DC’s ability to stand out, and make a name for themselves apart from Marvel. If you are coming out with a new product, you want consumers to be refreshed and interested. If audiences get it in their head that they came to see a poorly made knockoff of what they enjoy, they aren’t going to want more.
Another reason DC movies have flopped are for character development. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice suffered from many issues in the plot, but many of them were caused by poor character development. When you cram too many new characters into one film, there is not enough time in the movie to properly develop all of them, unless they have been in previous films, which leaves you with characters no one truly cares about. You want audiences to feel like they know the characters on a personal level. That way when something happens to them, the audience is emotionally engaged with that character. This is important because audiences want to feel like they are watching real people.
The main characters need to start in one place, but be changed in the end. This could mean that they learn to overcome something that's internal, change their life from average to something extraordinary, or doom themselves to fail. It could also mean that the audience sees something affects a character but the character refuses to change. This still shows development in the character.
Marvel incorporates this idea well by giving most of their characters a chance to go through these arcs. By releasing individual character movies before putting all of them in one film, each character has a chance to grow. That way the audience already knows what's going on with the majority of the main characters, and it allows the minor characters or the few new characters to have room for development without it feeling forced or crammed. In Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice they threw in characters left and right throughout the entire film, without giving them nearly enough time for the audience to understand what was going on with each person. The main villain, Lex Luthor had confusing motives, a confusing end goal, and not nearly enough meaningful screen time to understand him as a person or villain. Another example is Batman. Even though everyone knows Batman, we don’t know what he is like in the DCEU. For example, this Batman killed people, which is against what he stands for in every other incarnation that we’ve seen. That's why the studio can’t just throw him in and rely on development from other unrelated films. The film doesn’t run smoothly when two of the main characters aren’t developed.
Some characters, such as Doomsday were thrown in for no logical reason whatsoever and they were never explained anywhere in the film. Half of the people reading this, even if they saw the movie, may not even know who Doomsday is. This is a problem especially if that character is one of the two main antagonists in the third act.
These same problems go for Suicide Squad as well, except we see it on a much larger scale. In Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice there were a few characters such as Superman, and Lois lane who had shown up in Man of Steel, which helped them avoid having a movie that was one hundred percent irredeemable. The same can’t be said for Suicide Squad however. Almost no character was developed even close to what would be considered sufficient in this movie. The movie relied on a cast of villains/heroes that had not showed up in either of the two previous films. None of them recieved the screen time they deserved because it had to be divided between ten plus brand new characters that all have extensive, and complicated background stories. If they were all to have had the proper introduction and development, it would have taken over half the movie, and that leaves you with no time to create any valuable plot.
This movie was also a huge risk as it had almost no well known characters, and if you can’t develop them, then it is a train wreck waiting to happen. Marvel threw out a couple of movies that would fit into this category, but they approached it very differently. First of all, they didn’t release their first real risk, Guardians of the Galaxy, until their tenth film, not their third, and it was following a wave of successful movies. Secondly, they had a very well structured plot that made sense, was fun, and was interesting. Thirdly, they had proper character development and lastly, the tone of the movie made sense, and fit the genre well.
This leads into the next point, which is the tone of the movie, and the traits of the characters. Marvel movies have got both of these aspects down. They know when to be serious, when to be funny, or change the mood in ways that makes sense to the story they are trying to tell. DC does the opposite however, as the tone of their film, and the way the characters act, don’t fit the story. Man of Steel was a very dark and serious film, but it shouldn’t have been, as is did not fit the character of Superman in any way. They tried to make the movie fit the tone, rather than make the tone fit the movie. In other words, by trying to mold characters to fit into something that goes against what makes them the person they are, the movie doesn’t work. Superman is known to be the happy, hopeful character, but in this movie, he isn’t, and it makes the character feel like someone other than Superman. Sure, on the outside he still looks the same and can do the same things, but on the inside, he’s not the character people know. The same goes for Batman. They made Batman go against his one most important rule, which is that he doesn’t kill people. They threw it out the window completely as he racked up around twenty or more kills by the end of the movie. Making characters something they’re not, causes the audience to be less connected to those characters.
Another way they can change these characters is cosmetically. There is nothing wrong with changing what a character looks like, as long as it makes sense to do so. Marvel is great at this. They make the characters fit into the world that they’ve created, by adapting their costumes in practical ways. For example, Falcon has a jetpack, and a more military-like outfit. Hawkeye doesn’t wear a purple jumpsuit, but rather a black and red tactical outfit because he’s a spy. Captain America wears his normal comic book get-up, but it is explained why he does in Captain America: The First Avenger. All of these make sense, because they are practical to what is going on in that universe.
DC doesn’t do so well in this category. They completely change the look of iconic characters, without giving any logical reason or explanation. Lex Luthor has always been bald, but they decided to give him a head full of long, shoulder length hair. Doomsday didn’t look even remotely close to what he does in the comics. Killer Croc, who was supposed to be the “tank” in Suicide Squad, was just an average man with some weird skin. The Flash has clunky metal armor, which in the comics would destroy his powers, because the only reason he is able to run that fast in his skin tight outfit is because it is made of completely frictionless material, and that is definitely not the case for a metal suit.
Lastly, the outfits of the women in suicide squad are ridiculous. None of them are practical, and they degrade the women playing those characters. Enchantress wears a metal bikini, whereas she would normally wear pants, a crop top, and a cape. Katana would normally wear full body metal armor, but in this movie she wore a tiny shirt, and some ripped pants. Lastly, Harley Quinn is almost always seen in a black and red full body outfit, but instead she is shown to be wearing what is basically her underwear. These sort of changes are not okay, and truly take away from the characters rather than benefiting them.
On the television side of things, both companies have been successful through shows like DC’s The Flash, and Marvel’s Daredevil. There’s only one problem, and that is that the characters in Marvel's shows connect with the big screen, and DC’s don’t. This means that currently there are two Flashes, two Supermans, two Deadshot's, and on and on. Marvel connects their shows and movies however, and this creates a much more successful outcome, because the company isn’t competing against itself. When you start making two actors or actresses play the same character, audiences choose who they like better, and tend to not want to watch the other one. This hinders the company’s ability to succeed and move forward.
Lastly, one of the most important parts of any film is the plot, and it can make or break that film. DC’s plot lines have been a mess throughout each film. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is so overwhelmed with confusing, and irrelevant plot lines, that the film doesn’t work at all. The first three quarters of the film move nowhere, because they constantly switch from point to point, with no real plot direction. The last section of the film however, moves ridiculously fast, as it tries to tie all of the points together in the last minutes, but to no avail. Suicide Squad had too many characters so they had to go with a plot that was too generic for its own good. The villains were never explained as to what they were trying to do, and so the plot was basically that the villains had a huge laser in the sky that would destroy the world if it wasn’t stopped. It was never explained how the laser worked, and the powers of the villains were not explained either. You have the two ends of the spectrum, with Man of Steel right in the middle. This isn’t a good way to build a universe.
Overall, DC has had a rough start, and has a lot of catching up to do if they want to be as successful as Marvel. Maybe they can turn it around in the next few years after learning from their mistakes. DC is releasing Wonder Woman, and Justice League (Part 1) this year, and The Flash, and Aquaman in 2018.
By Tobin Johnson