Anything DC Can Do, Marvel Can Do Better
Article by Paul Preston
DC and Marvel cinematic universe spoilers abound.
Sing it! “…Marvel can do anything better than DC”
This title reflects an old Irving Berlin song, but, although catchy as hell, doesn’t really frame the Marvel/DC dichotomy correctly because it lists Marvel as following DC, which has never, ever happened.
To DC’s credit, they’ve wanted a Justice League movie since the early 2000s, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began. Directors like Wolfgang Petersen and George Miller were batted around to make it, but it could never get off the ground. By 2007, production on Iron Man had begun and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was off and running. It launched during what could be considered the last great series of DC movies, the Christopher Nolan-directed Dark Knight trilogy, which planted two films in the top twenty highest grossing movies of all time. What a great year 2008 was, when Iron Man and The Dark Knight came out the same summer, something for everyone from the two great comics empires. But rather than jump off their successful trilogy for Batman with successful trilogies for other characters that maybe come together to form the Justice League after a number of years, DC played catch-up all too quickly, with shoddy results.
Right out of the gate, DC was behind. The concept of shared universe for Marvel characters was such a risky one, it ended up being one of the reasons Marvel head Avi Arad quit before filming began on Iron Man. Enter Kevin Feige, who has seen the Cinematic Universe through to where it is today. DC even copied this by getting their own Feige, Geoff Johns, but rather than hiring him to create a great film series, he was brought aboard for damage control and to right the ship after critical and fan reception for Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice were tepid. Too little, too late.
And that’s the DC mantra. It’s been proven that their film quality simply must be excellent, because whether you follow or precede a Marvel juggernaut, you’re going to play in its shadow otherwise. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, with Captain America: Civil War coming out a month later, had to be fantastic. Unfortunately, it’s pedestrian debate about how to police the world, its nonsensical plot with a villain that had no defined vision and its character’s hell-bent fanaticism with putting people in harm’s way was counter to everything Civil War achieved with style. Justice League couldn’t get out ahead of Thor: Ragnarock, so it had every opportunity to one-up its predecessor by following it. This was another massive fail. Here’s why.
– DC could stand to learn a thing or two over time. Justice League is DC’s third go-round with director Zack Snyder after fan outcry that he’s morose, favors style over substance and lacks the humanity in his filmmaking to expertly capture the likes of Bruce Wayne and Superman. Sadly, Justice League continues his penchant for all the above characteristics, as we have Batman doing slo-mo backflips and characters acting nonsensically (that isn’t everything wrong with Justice League, there will be more details ahead). Marvel, instead, learned a thing or two over time, like the fact that the Thor franchise was its least popular at the box office and with critics, so they changed it up. Ragnarock ditches the Shakespearean formality of previous Thor films and dishes out straight-up entertainment. You’re either on board or not for the tonal shift, but you can’t deny they did it well and the result of changing up the third film is Marvel third-highest critically received film and Iron Man-like ticket sales. DC’s reward for tripling down on the same old/same old – the weakest opening weekend yet for the DCEU, for the movie with the most stars in it.
– Justice League is a movie with absolutely NO surprises. Everything unfolds exactly as you’d expect it to and the result is exceedingly dull. Steppenwolf is a threat, the team figures they have to beat him up. They try beating him up and they need Superman’s help, so he comes in and together they beat him up. There are zero twists or challenges in this story thread. The MCU gets criticized for their lack of meaningful deaths in their films, so where do they hit us with a surprise death? Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, the fun-and-good-times franchise and the result of Yondu’s passing is effective (I’m not counting Quicksilver’s death because Joss Whedon loves killing characters. If he had the writing reins since the beginning of Justice League’s production, someone would’ve been offed!). Not that someone needs to die, but SOME sort of surprise would’ve been nice. The characters never had to act outside of what they normally do. Another example, the end of The Avengers, Tony Stark fights as long as he can with Iron Man’s suit powers, but it’s a selfless act of sacrifice that wins for the heroes, as he hurls a nuke through a wormhole. Speaking of Stark, in Iron Man 3, when he fights bad guys with his wits half the movie without his suit – that’s interesting! This might be the result of not having all the individual movies for Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg. We don’t really know how they act, so they act generically so we can get to know them. Again, dull.
– The Flash has nothing to do in this movie. Outside of resurrecting Superman, his skills are used solely to move a family out of harm’s way in Justice League’s climactic battle. Read the plot descriptions anywhere – he gets recruited, helps resuscitate Superman, evacuates a family of five and gets a job. The end. Again, Marvel takes their fringe characters and gives them big moments, like Ant-Man in the airport battle of Captain America: Civil War, or Hawkeye’s speech to Scarlet Witch in Age of Ultron. The Flash is more or less an afterthought. And how pointless was camera time was spent on that family? Snyder’s direction is so careless here, as we cut to them throughout the film – they’re ready to defend their home, they’re getting out bug spray because jokes and they fear for their lives. But they’re who, again? No doubt they’re hiding the final Mother Box? Or the family of someone we’re supposed to care about? No. They’re pointless.
– DC continues to have a love affair with messy, brainless CGI. I won’t even go into Superman’s upper lip nonsense (the best news of which was finding out Henry Cavill will be in the next Mission: Impossible movie). All of these DCEU films, including the most-liked, Wonder Woman, end in a crap-storm of CGI noise. Is there no other way to vanquish the bad guy? Even Doctor Strange, which had a TON of CGI, found its hero winning by generally annoying the villain with a time loop, rather than destroying Hong Kong. Suicide Squad fought a pile of floating garbage or something, Wonder Woman’s battle with Ares was much less interesting than Steve Trevor’s act of unselfishness (and it’s not like her battle ended war), and is it possible the CGI is getting worse? Watch some of the shots in Themiscyra or the post-credits sequence. The blending of backgrounds is distracting as hell. Maybe it’s time to hang up the spectacle and revisit the script.
– Oscar winner Chris Terrio (Argo), who penned that memorable-for-the-wrong-reasons “Martha” dialogue in BvS, returns to cough up some more question-raising moments. My favorite is Wonder Woman’s response to Supe and Cyborg quipping after ripping apart the Mother Boxes, “I work with children”. Did I miss some movie where Cyborg and Superman are hilarious charmers? Or another movie where we get to see any kind of relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman? And did I miss the moment when Steppenwolf became fearful enough to antagonize his minions against himi? He was pretty confident the whole movie. I missed the tipping point in his strongly-held belief that he’d destroy our world. Also, lines like Bruce Wayne’s, “Superman was a beacon to the world” make me nuts because, according to your movies, DC, everyone hated Superman for two movies now. He was an alien, a foreigner, not to be trusted. Even Bruce Wayne only befriended him because their moms shared a name, not because he proved to be something other than an intruder and danger to humanity! Dear god, these movies make me crazy.
Does Justice League have its moments? A couple. When Superman stares down Barry Allen midway through his Flash run, that moment is fantastic, establishing Superman’s powers as beyond everyone else’s. Plus, Jason Momoa keeps having hard-to-dislike charisma in bad movies. He was so much fun to watch in the otherwise tough-to-swallow Conan the Barbarian 3D, and here he’s having a ball as Arthur Curry. But, again, he’s in a bad movie, so let’s get the solo Aquaman movie soon, please.
There’s talk of DC’s next solo movie being a stand-alone Flash movie based on The Flashpoint Paradox, which was a stellar animated DC film from 2013. It involves alternate timelines, and if that means demolishing this one and starting from scratch, you have my support.