What Marvel Studios Could Learn from the DCEU

What Marvel Studios Could Learn from the DCEU



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Amid a box office dominated by the MCU, The Batman proved one thing about comic book audiences: they are ready for something different.

They may get trolled for mostly dropping the ball on a shared universe, but DC remains the trendsetters when it comes to comic book adaptations, be it live-action or animated movies, even series.

You will get no argument from me that Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman were not A+ movies, but they provided a suitable lead-in to the epic Justice League Snyder Cut, and his portrayal of Batman remains my favorite. Wonder Woman was surprisingly good (WW 84, not so much), though I detested Aquaman with its low-rent CGI and campy screenplay. Then there is the glorified kids’ movie, Shazam, which worked because, at its heart, Captain Marvel is meant to be a kid’s superhero fantasy.

While the DCEU is preparing to be reinvented with The Flash, Black Adam, and Batgirl, the grandfather of comic publishers continues to offer something that Marvel does not: disparity and originality. Joe Russo, who, along with his brother, directed some of Marvel Studios’ biggest hits, Winter Soldier, Infinity War, and Endgame, hit the nail on the head in an interview with IGN when he spoke about current superhero trends.

“The corporate agenda is, ‘Do you like chocolate ice cream? Well, here’s chocolate ice cream with sprinkles, here’s chocolate ice cream with fudge.’ It’s their job to turn the money printer on. It’s the creative’s job to say, ‘Well, shit, I don’t know if I want to watch that.’”

Without picking on Marvel too much, the studios had been shoveling out the chocolate ice cream by the ton. Marvel has entrenched itself firmly into the Disney-fied action-comedy routine with zany antics and bad acting best suited for a Disney Channel sitcom. DC has tried to dip its hand into the PG family-friendly pool with Shazam, WW84, Aquaman, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, and Joss Whedon’s Justice League. What gets overlooked is that DC has given us much more than just Marvel lookalikes, and it would seem they’re moving back into that model.

That is where DC has been excelling for years. They may not get the same box office results, but that’s beside the point. From it’s animated movies to its live-action series and of course the movies, DC is doing what Marvel should do; give us choices. 

DC literally has something for everyone. If PG family movies are more your taste, there’s plenty of those. At the same time, DC has been producing some of the more mature superhero content this side of The Boys. The animated movies, specifically Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, have been exceptionally dark, but DC has been hitting homeruns on HBO Max. Watchmen was brilliant while Doom Patrol, The Suicide Squad, and Peacemaker have been the mature, bloody action-comedies we need in our lives. 

When it comes to Marvel’s box office track record and critical reception, it’s typically smooth, steady sailing. Every movie, it seems, gets called the best MCU movie to date (with the exception of The Eternals, but I’ll circle back around to that). The thing with Marvel is that they have carved out a clear path in the market. Whether we can credit that to Kevin Feige or Disney executives, we known exactly what to expect from a Marvel movie. It’s going to be mostly PG (with a sprinkling of curse words to give it that added 13 edge) family entertainment that is more comedy than drama. Sure, the Multiverse pushes the envelope as far as new characters and plot devices, but the heart of the PG action-comedy remains unscathed. No matter what the trailers may hint towards, when you buy a ticket to a Marvel movie, you know exactly what you’re in for, and that is why mainstream fans love it.

That’s where The Batman stands out from the crowd. And, boy, is the field of superhero movies crowded, not that I’m complaining. There’s a lot of criticism toward superhero movies being theme park rides and whatnot, and those are valid comments. As a lifelong comic fan, I love comic adaptations and superhero movies when they’re done well. Generally, I enjoy the Marvel movies, and I will be first in line to watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but they have definitely dug themselves into a rut that is more sizzle and less steak. That is where the criticism is coming from; it’s the Marvel formula that filmmakers are turning against.

The trouble with most superhero movies post-Winter Soldier is that the subject matter isn’t respected as art. Anyone who has read the modern comic masterpieces from Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman all the way up to the 2000s with Ed Brubaker (who had terribly underrated Daredevil and X-Men runs) and Rick Remender understands how dramatic and emotional a comic can be. The films are better when they stay true to the right source material, and not just that from the Stan Lee era, which was the definition of camp. The most emotionally captivating moments from No Way Home walked straight off the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #121-122. 

When DC attempts to model the MCU formula, they lean into the cliché-riddled Silver Age schlock. The characters break the fourth wall and comment on how ridiculous the costumes look, etc. They ignore the progress that was made in the 1980s. In fact, I would wager that most of the creative input on the films is coming from people whose only knowledge of comics is from the Silver Age goofiness. 

What The Batman’s box office success proved is that mainstream audiences are ready for something different - something more serious. Will it make the billions of dollars worldwide that Multiverse of Madness will haul in? Certainly not, but that’s not the only measure of success. While not every comic adaptation needs to be dark and gritty, not every character is best rooted in comedy, either. 

Comics come in a wide variety of flavors, and it’s time the movies did as well.

Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.

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