Can DC Topple Marvel’s Movie Monopoly?
July 26th, 2015 | by Kyle King
DC Comics launched its new DC Extended Universe at Comic-Con.
Will it be enough to allow DC to overcome the lead Marvel has with its movie franchises?
Marvel Studios has built up its brand by creating an interconnected cinematic universe in which every film contributes to a larger whole. From similar looks to recurring stylistic signatures to post-credit sequences to tease the next installment in the series, Marvel has established itself as the superhero box office juggernaut.
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However, despite the familiar elements common to each of the Marvel Studios films (right down to the Alfred Hitchcock-style Stan Lee cameos), each movie stands on its own as an independent tale that is true to its central character. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man trilogy, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean take on Thor, and Joe Johnston’s World War II-era Captain America: The First Avenger all present their respective title heroes in distinct ways that are faithful to their comic book origins, yet were able to be blended together effectively by Joss Whedon in The Avengers.
Far from being a weakness, the uniqueness of each of the Marvel characters and their various film franchises has become a strength. This will only be magnified and emphasized in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, which pits leading Avengers Captain America and Iron Man against one another (and sets up the ensuing Thor: Ragnarok in the process).
Thus far, DC has failed to match Marvel’s aptitude for seamlessly interweaving the divergent strands from its signature superheroes. While Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was critically praised and thematically true to the brooding Batman mythos, Man of Steel was given a negative reception for painting the more uplifting Superman with a similarly bleak color palette.
The literal and metaphorical darkness of Man of Steel highlights the need for DC to be more like Marvel on the big screen, in much the same way that DC aspires to be more like Marvel on the printed page. Marvel realizes, and capitalizes on, the fundamental differences between Captain America and Iron Man. By recognizing and emphasizing those distinctions, Marvel not only creates engaging plot conflict within its films, it creates meaningful tonal variations between its films.
DC, by contrast, has fewer contrasts. Batman’s creators deliberately designed him to be distinct from Superman, prompting Grant Morrison to note in Supergods that, when the Man of Tomorrow was followed by the Dark Knight, “The first light had cast the first shadow.” Unfortunately, that shadow extended from the Nolan Batman films into Zack Snyder’s downbeat take on Superman, for which the bold primary colors that define the Last Son of Krypton were muted.
This simply is something that would never happen in a Marvel movie. No one at Marvel Studios would ever suggest that, because Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner was grim, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark could not be glib.
The literary critic and college professor Edmond Volpe once observed that William Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy “has a basic story unity, but it lacks thematic unity.” What was a failing for Faulkner is a feature for Marvel, whose superhero films vary as their lead characters dictate yet trace an ongoing arc across multiple movies.
DC Comics, unfortunately, has carried over a mood well suited to Gotham City and imposed it artificially on Metropolis, which is not similarly well served by that tone. The latest trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice makes it clear that DC knows what notes to strike for Batman, but it remains to be seen whether DC can find the proper key for the rest of the Justice League.
Can Marvel Studios’ lead be overcome by the DC Extended Universe?
Does the latest Batman v. Superman trailer give you hope for all of DC Comics’ superheroes?
Join in the ComiConversation by letting us know in the comments below.
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.