Earlier this week, I was finally able to carve out time to go see Captain America: Civil War. And hot damn, was it something else. I keep waiting for Marvel to stumble, to have the project that ruins their hot streak, simply because there’s a pessimistic part of me that doesn’t believe anyone can keep winning forever. But this is not the film to do it. I won’t go into spoilers, just trust me that it’s a solid, well-delivered film that really adds a lot onto the existing MCU.
But this blog isn’t about Civil War, or the MCU, or Marvel at all. Because, when reading up on stuff the next day, I saw all the comparisons between Dawn of Justice and Civil War, none of them favorable to DC, and decided it was time to grit my teeth and sit through the new “Superman” film. And… well, you’ve seen the reviews and plummeting box office percentage drops, if not the movie. It was bad, which genuinely pains me.
Now I’ve been on enough websites to know any sort of criticism to either film studio immediately devolves into accusations of fan-boy favoritism, but here’s the thing: if anything, I have more loyalty to DC than Marvel. Familiar readers know I’m a self-admitted Superman fan, I’ve praised their animated division (especially the people behind Young Justice) to the high heavens, and I regularly discuss their comics and television properties in a positive light. I want to love the DC movies, Superman especially, which is why it’s all the more frustrating to see them fall so short.
So, here is my humble plea to DC’s movie division: Please get your shit together. I’m going to put some ideas below, stating at the forefront that I know nothing of films (but I do have some experience managing superhero tales). Take them or don’t. Maybe you have better ways to improve. Use them. Talk to your animated division, who have been quietly killing it in movies and shows for decades now. Just do something. Give us a reason to line up at midnight with excitement, instead of sitting with trepidation as we watch our beloved superheroes fall further and further from grace.
Here are a few potential ideas to get you started:
1) Recognize that different characters need different tones
I’m not going to get into every single decision that the MCU did right and DC faltered on, but this is one that has to be said. I understand how it happened, DC was riding a cold streak on superhero movies, and then Nolan came along and turned Batman back to hot shit after the Clooney fiasco. He did it by making the Batman movies rooted in reality and grittiness, a style that really clicked with what Batman does. And DC saw that, then came to the wrong conclusion: people must want gritty superhero movies.
Which is incorrect. What we want are superhero movies with tones appropriate to the featured character. Nolan’s Batman worked for the same reasons that Snyder’s Superman is dogshit: the dark gritty tone. With Batman, that makes total sense, as it does with Daredevil and Jessica Jones. These are in-the-street superheroes, dealing with low-lives and scum and having to push through the seemingly endless waves of crooks. Superman literally soars above the clouds and fills people with hope, there’s nothing gritty or realistic about him.
MCU started off making the right move here. Iron Man is a different movie than Captain America: The First Avenger or The Hulk (Ed Norton standalone) or Thor or Ant-Man. I’ll admit that Civil War feels tonally more like an Avengers film than the previous two Captain America films, but given the scope of the cast that sort of makes sense. The point here is that Marvel makes movies based on what tone and style suits the characters best, they don’t start from a template and shove their characters into it. And that leads to a more diverse telling of stories instead of the exact same plots. Winter Soldier was a spy-thriller, and Ant-Man was a heist film if you cut to their cores, yet both worked.
We get it, dark and edgy worked once, but stop taking the wrong lesson from why that clicked, DC. And quit doubling down on it, rather than admitting you made a misstep. Which, speaking of missteps…
2) Move Zack Snyder
That’s right, move. Not fire. I don’t entirely blame Snyder for the train wreck Superman has become, any more than I blame a knife for stabbing me. We both know it’s the one wielding it who’s at fault, and from the fact that they kept him after Man of Steel and DoJ it’s clear that DC gives the marching orders. However, Zack Snyder isn’t a man without talent. I liked his take on Watchmen, because like Nolan and Batman before, it was a good fit for the property. That said, no one should have ever let him near a Superman movie, let alone two, for the exact same reason that we all wonder why the hell Joel Schumacher made Batman movies.
Rather than kicking him off all projects outright, I’m going to suggest moving him to another property, one that suits him a bit better. While I did admire the work on Watchmen, in more recent years Snyder has been slipping pretty badly. His characters are thin, plots poorly thought out, and he seems to care more about action than what gets us to it. He’s become the Michael Bay of superhero movies, essentially. But you know what, that’s okay. Michael Bay movies earn a shitload of money and make some people happy; because there are times you want mindless action. Instead of fighting it, let’s put Snyder on a property where those aspects become strengths instead of weaknesses.
Let’s have him make a Lobo movie. I made the name a wiki link for those unfamiliar with “the main man” and his history, go catch up if needed. Lobo is all action and almost zero planning or thought. He doesn’t need justification, or character development, or any of the things we expect to see from characters more established and essential to DC. While we couldn’t let Snyder within a mile of the script or dialogue, he could use his style to make a movie of Lobo flying around the solar system, fighting aliens across their whole planet, just because his cable went out. And, hand to God I’m not being sarcastic here, I’d go watch that movie. It would probably be pretty fun, and would ride the R-rated wave we’re about to see come bursting out of DC post-Deadpool, because again they always take the wrong lessons on why things worked.
3) Slow. The Fuck. Down.
I’m working hard to keep this from being a direct contrast of Civil War and DoJ, mostly because that’s being done better all over the internet. However, one aspect needs to be mentioned, because it highlights part of the issue. DoJ felt rushed and crowded with the cast it had, while Civil War boasts more superheroes than a true Avengers film and balances them well. Part of the reason for that is because they didn’t have to shoehorn in introductions; we already know who almost all of the characters are. And that’s because Marvel has spent almost a decade introducing them to us bit by bit. They get time to shine, and then shift to the background for someone else’s story, then move to the forefront for another tale. It’s a very well-balanced ensemble management, and something DC really needs to take a cue from.
It’s not hard to see what happened. Marvel’s rise began with Iron Man, which came out in the same year as The Dark Knight. DC probably thought that they were simply seeing the return of interest in superhero movies, as some movie tastes are cyclical. So they kept focusing on the Nolan trilogy, which wasn’t a bad idea, but they didn’t then understand the scope of what Marvel was building. Or if they did, they certainly didn’t expect it to succeed; which is actually a fair judgement given the size of their task and superhero movies’ historically unpredictable performances. By the time they finally realized what Marvel was building, the scale their competitors were working on, they’d fallen far behind the lead. Worse, with Bale and Nolan both out on the Batman property, they had no existing stars to build the brand off of, like Marvel did with Robert Downey Junior.
So they rushed it. They started trying to churn out films, to create a universe, to build up to a Justice League movie as fast as they could to try and stay relevant as the MCU grew bigger and stronger. But that failed to recognize part of what made MCU great. Because it took so much time, giving us good stories one after the other about individual superheroes, we were all the more thrilled to see them come together. Even more than that, starting off small gave Marvel the freedom to course-correct if they had to. They adjusted things that didn’t work from movie to movie, sometimes replacing whole actors, so that when the Avengers finally hit the big screen they’d put a lot of polish on the formula. DC, on the other hand, is slapping characters in so fast and pointlessly that we can barely remember them, let alone care or identify favorites.
They need to stop, take a step back, and slow things down a bit. Instead of trying to match Marvel’s universe, they should look at matching their success. DC has the properties to do it. We’ve seen Superman and Batman whip the shit out of box offices and critical reviews alike, and I have earnest faith that a good Wonder Woman movie could do the same. Pulling back from the perceived race, making some films that establish the characters firmly before tossing them together like action figures from a toy box, would strengthen the brand by a shitload. DC isn’t going to catch Marvel anytime soon in terms of scope, they started too far behind the line for that. But if they can catch up in quality, that’s a contest they have a real shot at winning.
In closing, let me say this: I know this was a pretty harsh blog, DC. And I’ll fully admit that I have exactly zero amount of movie making credits to my name (unless you count the Drinkalong Power Hours). Strip away the book titles, and all I am is a fan. Which is why I felt compelled to write this entry. DC, do you know how hard it is to keep being one of your fans? Instead of getting to celebrate our favorite characters, we’re having to defend them with an ever-shrinking supply of ammo. Instead of being filled with joy and excitement before each opening, we’re anxious, hoping against hope that this will somehow turn out okay. While the diehard Marvel fans are enjoying a functional renaissance of their properties, we’re dealing with the same drab mono-colored shit repackaged over and over.
I, we, still want to love your movies, as I’ve loved so much of your other work through the decades. So please, DC, asking as a kid who grew up awkward and inept, who loved the superheroes you gave because when I watched them I really felt like the world could be a better place, I am begging you here.
Please get your shit together. For all of us.