For years DC comics has held some of the biggest characters in pop culture, including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and countless others. After the success of Marvel comics’ film universe, DC sought to kick off a movie universe of its own with 2012’s “Man of Steel”. Fans flocked to theaters with high hopes that DC could finally duplicate Marvel’s success, but reviews were far from positive, scoring just a fifty five percent on rotten tomatoes. Many disagreed with the excessively dark tone set by director Zack Snyder, arguing that a Superman movie should be more light-hearted. This trend has continued with DC movies, with their next two installments finding some success at the box office, but harsh reviews from both fans and critics.
In March, “Batman V. Superman” was being made out to be the best movie of the year. With the two biggest icons in comics squaring off fans thought it was a sure thing, but once again they were wrong. The film was ripped for its odd pacing, overstuffed and confusing plot, and strange character moments that didn’t ring true with the source material. In the comics Batman lives by a strict moral code that does not allow him to kill, but this movie showed him kill several times with no justification. Another odd character choice was the portrayal of the villain Lex Luthor, who in the comics is a serious businessman who manipulates the heroes from the shadows. In the movie Lex is portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg as a deranged and erratic psychopath with a hatred for Superman. The overly dark tone of the movie and strange decisions have angered critics and even loyal DC fans, scoring only a twenty seven percent on rotten tomatoes.
In August DC was set to follow up with “Suicide Squad”, a team up of some of DC’s biggest villains like Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and Joker. The film showed promise with impressive trailers that conveyed a lighter and fun tone, which is something fans wanted after the last two DC movies were so gritty. Once again the movie failed to deliver, scoring even worse than “Batman V. Superman” with a twenty six percent on rotten tomatoes. The film didn’t work on so many levels; the editing was poor, the plot was confusing, and the villain was generic and forced. Loyal DC fans were upset once again with the studio’s decision to cut the majority of the Joker’s scenes in the movie, making his performance seem like a missed opportunity that was only placed in the film to sell tickets. Once again DC had failed, leaving the future of its cinematic universe in question.
With so much rich source material to work with, why can’t DC seem to make a successful movie? The answer to DC’s failure lies in Marvel’s success. Since 2008’s “Iron Man”, Marvel has dominated the movie industry with a shared universe that has been crafted through years of character developments across many movies. Wanting to share the spotlight, DC rushed into a cinematic universe of its own wanting to do too much for its own good. They quickly jumped to the ensemble movie formula with “Batman V Superman” and “Suicide Squad”, but these movies cannot work without knowing the characters first. “The Avengers” was so successful because it was a follow up to other solo movies that let us get to know who characters like Iron Man and Captain America are. DC did not set up its universe with solo movies and is now forced to spend half of their movies introducing its characters with exposition. This leaves the second and third acts of their movies feeling rushed and unfocused, and makes it very difficult for fans to connect with characters and understand why they do the things that they do. For a character like Iron Man, marvel gave him two solo movies before the Avengers. These movies show us how he became who he is and why he is motivated to be a hero. In Suicide Squad, dozens of new characters had to be introduced, and important origins for characters like Harley Quinn and Deadshot are reduced to five minutes of flashbacks.
DC now approaches its next projects with 2017’s “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League”, but the success of these projects are now weighed down by the burden the other films have placed on it. If “Wonder Woman” is a failure it could crush DC’s hopes at a successful film universe. Fans have already expressed their doubts about the movie, and it is becoming a trend to hate on DC. “Justice League” is yet another ensemble movie that has the task of introducing several major characters such as the Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. It will again have to juggle character introductions while still providing an interesting story that will no doubt have lasting consequences for more movies in the future.
My advice to DC would be to focus less on catching up to Marvel and try to slow down and do something unique. DC has a huge arsenal of great characters and stories that they could adapt to the big screen, and if they take their time to develop their characters and build up to these story arcs, they could finally do something special. They have finally hired experienced comic writer Geoff Johns to help organize these movies. He has written many acclaimed comics for DC so he knows how these characters work, so this is a step in the right direction. Although Marvel has found their winning formula, DC copying that would just create fatigue for comic book movie fans, so putting a new twist on the genre would do great thing for DC and the comic industry as a whole. They could create some complex and grasping movies that would show critics that superhero movies can be more than what the stereotype suggests.