River Geek: Marvel kicking DC’s butt at the box office

By on May 14, 2012

I will admit that as a comic book fan I’ve always been more a DC fan than a Marvel fan. I think probably because when I first got into comics it was through DC and I found myself loving the world of the DC Universe. I loved the original multi-verse and frankly I always had a hard time getting into Marvel characters. But I do read Marvel and I do enjoy them, just not with the same passion. That being said, I’ve really been enjoying the last few years of Marvel movies leading up to the Avengers.

I won’t go into a review as that has been done to death, but Avengers is quite frankly an amazing film. It balances the need to market to a larger audience with great moments and scenes that will make most fanboys drool. Marvel has made some mistakes of course, but more often than not they knock it out of the park.

Which brings me back to DC because something else happened this week. The final episode of Big Bang Theory’s fifth season aired. The show, the most popular comedy on television, is produced by Warner Bros., the company that also owns DC. As a result, DC properties are front and centre on the show, from t-shirts and props to the very DC centric comic book store the guys frequent. So it was funny when Sheldon was given a moment this week to, as he did earlier in the season, talk about how bad last year’s Green Lantern movie was. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

But it does bring up an interesting point. While Marvel has been dominating the box office, DC, home to Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, the Justice League, not to mention the eternally popular Sandman, has done next to nothing or they have done it poorly. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, set to end this year, has been the only real bright spot for DC.

The last Superman movie was a good cure for insomnia and while I didn’t think it was horrible, Green Lantern was a movie badly cast, lacking a solid villain and contained far too much back story.

Meanwhile the Watchman adaptation was a good effort but relied too heavily on CGI environments, giving it feeling of not being real, and stuck too close the source material, making it drag badly in places while the Losers, another DC adaptation, is best not mentioned at all.

Despite being owned by one of the biggest media companies on the planet, DC has not been able to come close to matching Marvel’s success. Why?

For one, while Marvel does not own the film rights to X-Men or Spider-Man, they have kept everything else to themselves. They have been able to assert a measure of control over the properties. This has meant a uniformed vision for their film properties and a uniform style. When you watch the individual Marvel films and then the Avengers it feels like a share universe. It works well. And the Avengers felt special because it was so cool seeing these characters from other films come together in this one. And Marvel is able to ensure its characters are handled property and live up to the spirit of their comic book counterparts.

They may bring in A list talent to write and direct, but there is a feeling they aren’t given the freedom to do whatever they want. If they want to play in the Marvel sandbox, they have to follow Marvel’s rules.

No such strategy exists for DC. Batman and Superman are islands on to themselves. And there seems to be no plan in place for individual films of many of their characters, let alone a Justice League film. There also seems to be no uniformity to their style. It would be hard to argue with the success of the Nolan Batman films, but Marvel was able to use the success of Iron Man to set up the Avengers and introduce characters like Black Widow and Nick Fury. Not only can DC not take advantage of the success of the Batman films to do the same thing, once this year’s film is released, that will be the end of this version of Batman. DC will literally be starting all over again with a new take on Batman. It’s a wasted opportunity.

The other common thread in all Marvel films is they are fun. There is not of humour. People were laughing out loud at parts of Avengers. Green Lantern should have been fun but it wasn’t. It’s hard to put a finger on why, but it just felt like all the humour was forced. In contrast, the funny in Marvel films is more organic and character driven.

It’s hard to believe the day after the Avengers opened there wasn’t a meeting at Warner Bros. talking about their film strategy for DC. What came out of that meeting is anyone’s guess but I’m guessing it wasn’t a pleasant meeting. Next year DC will release Man of Steel, their reboot of Superman. Zack Snyder, the man behind 300 and Watchmen is directing and Henry Cavill is staring. I’m not yet sold on Cavill as Superman. He doesn’t look the part and the puffy hair style, receding hairline doesn’t scream Superman to me, and knowing Snyder it will likely tilt dark. DC seems to be trying to bring some of the Dark Knight charm to Superman. That is probably a mistake. If anything a Superman film should feel a lot like the Avengers – bright and fun. I’m not a fan of the way the original Superman film ended, but it was a charming and fun film. Something missing from Superman Returns and I will bet dollars to donuts missing from Man of Steel.

In the meantime, Marvel will move forward with new Iron Man, Thor and Captain America films. Other studios are bringing out Spider-Man and a new X-Men movie and DC and its fans will be left on the sidelines. It’s tough to believe we may get a third Hulk movie before we ever see The Flash on the big screen. And I suspect there will be a lot more grey in my hair before we see a Justice League film.

Next Time

Ok that’s it for this week. I will be back neck week to talk about Star Wars, celebrating the 35th anniversary of its release.