Can DC Entertainment’s Cinematic Universe Be Saved?
Nobody liked ‘Suicide Squad’, ‘Batman v. Superman’, and ‘Man of Steel’. Ruh Roh. Here’s what’s happening at DC Entertainment and why their movies are so bad.
Despite what you might have heard, “Suicide Squad” is not a bad movie. It’s not a great movie, to be sure, but given its company in theaters this summer, you really can’t go wrong by seeing it. The thing is, this is DC Entertainment’s third film in what they’re calling the “DC Extended Universe.” (Think: The Pepsi to Marvel’s “Marvel Cinematic Universe” Coca-Cola.) And three films in, it’s hard to describe any of the DC Extended Universe movies as good. Now contrast that with Marvel. Despite the lackluster presence of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Iron Man 2,” and “The Incredible Hulk”, most of the Marvel films start at “good” (“Ant-Man”) with even a few verging on cinematic classics (“Guardians of the Galaxy”). So the question is, with three movies in the books, and “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” on the way in 2017, is it too late to save the DC Extended Universe in the minds of moviegoers?
To answer that question, there’re two things we need to look at. The past track record of DC Comics-based films and the recurring issues found within “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (BvS), and “Suicide Squad.” What it all comes down to is that DC Entertainment, so far, has failed to learn what makes the Marvel movies so successful, and it’s not simply being “fun”.
First and foremost: It’s impossible to make an argument that “Batman” is not a big screen success story. He was the first of DC Comic’s Holy Trinity (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman) to come to theaters in 1943, and the Christopher Nolan trilogy was good enough to snag an Academy Award. And honestly, that film in particular probably would have won more awards if not for some snobbery on the Academy’s part concerning comic book movies.
It is rare to find any list of comics based movies that don’t have “The Dark Knight” at or near the top of the list. So we know it’s possible for there to be great films based on DC Comics characters. We also know, thanks in no small part to “Catwoman” and “Green Lantern” that it’s possible for DC to make worse films than “Suicide Squad”, “BvS” and “Man of Steel,” and that’s even before we get to “Steel.” A film so bad, I can’t do it any justice by describing it to you. “Steel” is something you need to experience for yourself, preferably in the company of people you don’t like.
The problem is that if you look at the quality of the Nolan “Batman” movies, or even the original “Superman,” and then you look at the three films in the DC Extended Universe, it’s clear we’re not getting that same level of quality. We’re getting rushed, corporate mandated crap designed to appeal to the wrong group of people: Fanboys.
In “Suicide Squad,” you’re introduced to a lot of cool characters, but the majority of the film is focused on Harley Quinn and Deadshot, leaving the other characters to stand around and do next to nothing. Just look at Katana. She is the lone superhero in “Suicide Squad” and here’s everything she does in the film: Gets introduced in under thirty seconds. Has her back story delivered through clunky exposition that comes in the form of shouting. Stands around. Stands around some more. Action scene. Cries. Action scene. Stands around. Credits. And it’s not just Katana that this happens too. You can say the same for all the “Suicide Squad” members who aren’t Harley Quinn and Deadshot. And if you go back into BvS, you can say the same for Mercy and Jimmy Olson, except instead of being allowed to live, both characters die pointless deaths.
Why cram these characters in at all? Well that’s what leads us to the key problem with the DC Extended Universe.
Marvel gives you the least you need to know about any given character, and if something doesn’t make any sense or complicates the movie from the comic, it gets cut. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a great example of this. The movie is a far more streamlined version of Dan Abnett’s run on the “Guardians” comic. There are fewer members of the team, the extensive back story and reason for the team existing stemming from Marvel’s “Annihilation” miniseries is completely ignored in the film. Basically, anything that would confuse people new to the Guardians is simply not put in the movie. That’s not the case with the DC Extended Universe. EVERYTHING is there, even if it means characters have nothing to do just to please the hardcore comic fans. The same fans who are going to see the film no matter what. DC Entertainment HAS their money already. But if you look at the steep declines that followed “BvS” and “Suicide Squad” at the box office, you’ll know what I’m saying in this article: The majority of people who don’t read the comics aren’t bothering with these films because the films have done nothing to make them accessible.
The DC films also make zero effort to make you care about anything that happens in them. “Suicide Squad,” the best of the three by a mile, is very jerky regarding its pacing. You get some back story for Deadshot and Harley Quinn, and then they’re off to beat up the villain. “BvS” has very little Batman vs. Superman action in it. Instead, you get a long, slow, plodding, and dark prelude to a “Justice League” movie that has no reason for existing this early. It took four years and a bunch of movies between “Iron Man” in 2008 and the first “Avengers” film in 2012. Each member of the Marvel team got their own movie and gave audiences a reason to WANT to see them in their big teamup movie. DC is ramming “Justice League” through NOW even though their new Batman hasn’t had his own movie and “BvS” and “Man of Steel” sucked. And it’s too late to stop this. We’re getting “Justice League” next year, ready or not. Despite only being one year after the release of “BvS”.
Why exactly? Nobody knows! DC just said, “Hey we’re going to do this”, and it’s clear from the complete and total incoherence of “BvS”, “Man of Steel”, and “Suicide Squad” (to say nothing of the production problems and massive reshoots) that there’s no plan at DC. They’re just making the films to make money. Sure Hollywood is a business, but if you want to stay in business, those movies have to be good. So far? They’re not. (I don’t have the space to get into this further, but yes, all of this is made worse by the fact that the CW DC shows are infinitely better than the DC movies, and yet the movies have gone out of their way to distance themselves from the shows and recast characters who already have popular actors portraying them like The Flash. It’s stupid, but given that there’s no plan and nobody at the wheel at DC, I understand why it’s where it is.)
If there’s any salvaging of DC’s extended universe, it can’t just be lip service. After the critical response to “BvS”, DC took reporters and bloggers on a tour of the “Justice League” set, and a lot of them came back talking about “light” and “fun” everything looked. As if DC was saying, “See? We get it?” But I don’t think that they do. Because you can have big, successful DC movies that aren’t light and fun, like “The Dark Knight.” That’s not the problem. It is certainly A problem, but the bigger problem is that the people behind the scenes, many of whom have been fired in DC Entertainment’s defense, are gearing their films to the wrong people.
They’re trying to be Marvel without taking the right lessons away from Marvel. Sure Marvel movies are light and fun, but they’re accessible to nonfans and prioritize those fans over the small (compared to the theater audience) group that still buys the comics. As long as DC Entertainment continues to focus on my fellow fanboys and fangirls, there’s no saving their cinematic universe.