Yes, I’m doing this a week before Infinity War comes out. Because why not? In all honesty, I think this is a good time to look at the other massive comic book company (I won’t say “rival”, as Marvel and DC love the existence of each other, frequently sharing writers, artists and ideas). DC is the older, prestigious and more interesting neighbour to Marvel, yet for some reason their films have fallen behind the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why? Warner Bros have all the characters, over 70 years of backstory and some of the most iconic characters in pop culture. How have they messed this up to the point Black Panther outgrossed the Justice League?
Funnily enough, this wasn’t always the case. The early superhero films, such as Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman, were massive hits, whilst Marvel struggled with bankruptcy and terrible failures such as Howard the Duck and the original Captain America film from 1990. Both companies suffered in the 90’s though and Marvel sold their properties to other companies, resulting in the triple whammy of Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man. DC were demolished due to Batman and Robin and only survived through the comics and the animated TV shows, before Christopher Nolan relaunched Batman in 2005 to mass acclaim.
So where are we now? 2008 sees both The Dark Knight and Iron Man, and four years later Nolan’s trilogy comes to a close and The Avengers hit the big screen. In the meanwhile, DC try to make a cinematic universe with Green Lantern (whoops) and after the success of The Avengers, DC try again with the mascot of American heroism- Superman. Man of Steel is released to mixed reviews, a hugely divisive reactions by fans and Marvel keep going and going. DC then tries throwing Batman and Wonder Woman into the mix to even worse reactions and here we are know, with the highly acclaimed MCU and the inconsistent, poorly organised and mismanaged DCEU.
Now, with the backstory out of the way, how can DC rise from the fallout of Justice League, where some of pop culture’s greatest mascots came together and were outgrossed by a Thor film?
First of all, I feel like I need to stress that I don’t hate any of the five DCEU films. Man of Steel was alright, if a bit overlong, and as someone who’s not a huge Superman fan I found it pretty entertaining. Batman V Superman was… not good, but the ideas were there and I admire it for trying something. Suicide Squad was fun but flawed (wrong villain for starters, and where’s King Shark?) and Justice League was pretty fun for a film that had so many issues behind the scenes, although I think it would have been better had Joss Whedon been hired from the beginning. The one film I don’t need to defend is Wonder Woman, which was amazing and deserves every bit of praise and more.
I also need to stress that I prefer DC to Marvel overall. The characters and world is just more interesting. Marvel prefer big events and crossovers, whilst DC focuses on complex character relations, darker stories and mysticism. The Marvel films are great but I never liked the comics as much, especially when they do stuff like this-
DC meanwhile, make mistakes but fix them in their comics. They don’t need shock value or controversial changes, they have the goodwill of readers. Their characters are appealing and interesting and just really cool, especially the darker supernatural characters. Batman is the greatest comic book character ever, Wonder Woman is an amazing character, the Green Lantern mythos is compelling and interesting and the mysterious powers of the magical characters such as Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman and Swamp Thing are fascinating. In short, DC is awesome, and a cinematic universe done right has potential to completely catch up Marvel. I don’t want the MCU to be defeated by DC, I want them both existing as equal film franchises, like they are in the comics. Having said that, DC are basically better at everything other than films, and since that’s how many people are aware of the franchise, it gives off the impression they are worse, which they really, really aren’t. These characters mean more to me than Marvel characters and it will be deeply frustrating if the potential is never met on film.
So what should happen? Outside of Wonder Woman the DCEU is limp and dying a slow and painful death. It’s easy to fix though. Firstly, Warner Bros need a Kevin Feige, and by that I mean someone who is consistently present and knowledgeable in the characters. Marvel’s “in-house” style has been criticised (although I’d argue filmmakers like Kenneth Branagh, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, James Gunn, Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler still have their auteur vision present) but Feige’s control of the franchise has resulted in a meticulously laid out, detailed and collaborative world unlike anything else in Hollywood. DC need someone to steer their films in the same way. Geoff Johns is involved with the films but as far as I can tell he doesn’t have full control. Why? He knows the comics, put him in charge.
Secondly, don’t rush things. Man of Steel was obviously a result of a studio trying to cash in on the popularity of both the Dark Knight trilogy and the Marvel films. Except the fun adventure of The Avengers and the introspection of Nolan don’t match, especially not with Superman. The result is a very confused film. Batman V Superman is a structural disaster, trying to set up Batman and Wonder Woman whilst trying to establish a conflict we know nothing about. Why is Civil War so good? Because the conflict is genuine and had been set up for years. BVS is just rushed and once again the product of a studio trying to do something different to Marvel but also trying to do the same. Suicide Squad was pitched as a darker Guardians of the Galaxy and was then changed to try and make it more like Deadpool and once again the two tones clash. Justice League was an absolute mess from beginning to end and needed much more planning and thought put into it (this once again coming from someone who enjoyed it). Wonder Woman once again is the exception, put together as a film and with a clear vision in place. And even though Justice League ended up as an abject failure, Warner Bros are still pushing ahead with a cinematic universe. No- slow down and rethink this. Did Marvel do Iron Man, then Civil War, then Guardians of the Galaxy, then Thor and then The Avengers? Because that’s basically what DC did.
Thankfully, DC have one thing that Marvel doesn’t have- a rebooted universe in the comics. I understand the New 52 was controversial amongst DC fans, but the new titles helped me get into the characters easier than going through decades of backstory. The New 52 came about because the comics were becoming what the movies are now- overstuffed, convoluted and mismanaged. An event called Flashpoint was written to reboot the universe.
Incidentally, Marvel really need to do this with their comics. I stopped caring about the comic book versions of Marvel characters a long time ago.
So, the set up is simple. Have the Justice League Flash discover a threat to the multiverse that stems from an alternate universe. He teams up with Wonder Woman, an alternate Batman (who could be played by Michael Keaton or Christian Bale) and some of the Arrowverse characters to fight Reverse Flash. This ends up with a new universe where everything is different barring Wonder Woman, as she’s the only character that people like in the DCEU. This new universe also has the popular Arrowverse characters and new characters like Swamp Thing, with whichever Flash fans prefer. New start, new opportunity. Start off with a new Wonder Woman film where the first one is still canon and then do solo films leading up to a crossover. By this point Marvel will have probably finished their storylines so Warner Bros won’t have any problems with competition. Problem solved.
It’s incredibly easy to handle a cinematic universe, as Marvel has shown, and DC really need to sit down and think. Marvel will probably be willing to help them (remember, the two companies love the competition they give to each other and do not dislike each other) and if it means literally borrowing Kevin Feige then go ahead. Every time a DC film fails, the comic book movie industry suffers as many people do not know the difference between Marvel and DC and snobby critics who hate blockbusters seize the opportunity to dismiss all comic book films no matter how many good films Marvel makes. I seriously want DC to do well, as the prospect of seeing Green Lantern, Justice League Dark, Martian Manhunter and more Batman makes me seriously happy and optimistic for the future of the DCEU. I just hope Warner Bros are taking note.