Holy Failed Cinematic Universe, Batman!

 

Suicide_Squad_(film)_PosterIf the reviews are accurate — and I imagine they are — Suicide Squad is now the latest in a string of big-screen misfires from DC Comics. To find the last unambiguously good movie set a DC universe (though not in the this current one) you probably have to go back a full eight years to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Many of the offerings since then have been indefensible; I can confirm this with Green Lantern, and I gather that both Jonah Hex and Batman v. Superman were trainwrecks, albeit of different sorts. The better offering, including The Dark Knight Rises, Watchmen, and Man of Steel are all worth watching, albeit with caveats. During the same period, however, Marvel has churned out more than a score of films which — a few duds aside — have tended to fall somewhere between serviceable (Thor II and Ant-Man come to mind) to excellent (Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy*Captain America II).

What gives?

The conventional wisdom is that DC has gone for dark and gritty while Marvel has gone for fun and spectacle. There’s a lot to be said for this; if your intent is to convince a lot of people to get off their couches and go to a theater, simply showing them a good time is probably a smarter bet than trying to depress them. (Interestingly, the gritty-vs-fun dynamic is largely reversed on the small screen, with DC’s television offerings tending for camp while Marvel’s have been gritty and violent; curiously, both are quite good). But I think the bigger problem is that Marvel’s made better choices in leadership while DC blundered in choosing Zach Synder to helm its franchise.

Synder is a talented and ambitious film-maker: For all its myriad problems, Watchmen was far better than it had any business being and its opening sequence alone was worth the price of admission. However, Synder has always been someone who excels in moments rather than over time, and this makes him poorly-suited to be the major creative influence in series of long films that will take nearly a decade to play out. Contrast DC’s selection of him with Marvel’s choice of Joss Whedon — who knows how to tell a story — and Kevin Feige’s oversight, and it’s little wonder why there’s such a difference in quality.

* Though I enjoyed Guardians, I wasn’t awed by it as many apparently were. For what it’s worth, I thought Captain America: The First Avenger was a better movie, though this is a minority opinion.

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  1. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: you probably have to go back a full eight years to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

    Probably because it was filmed in Pittsburgh.

    I got to watch the Batmobile go up and down my street through fake snow for like a week.  I haven’t seen the movie but I understand my home makes an appearance for about 3 seconds.

    As for the rest, I have no idea what you are talking about.

    • #1
  2. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    I rather enjoyed Batman v. Superman.

    • #2
  3. Barkha Herman Inactive
    Barkha Herman
    @BarkhaHerman

    So you haven’t even seen the movie?

    • #3
  4. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Ha! NPR was going on the other day about how important Suicide Squad had been for female cartoonists. My thought was “the movie must not be doing very well if that’s the tone they’re taking.”

    • #4
  5. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Barkha Herman:So you haven’t even seen the movie?

    Correct. I have not seen Suicide Squad and this isn’t a review of it.

    • #5
  6. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Synder is a talented and ambitious film-maker: For all its myriad problems, Watchmen was far better than it had any business being and its opening sequence alone was worth the price of admission. However, Synder has always been someone who excels in moments rather than over time, and this makes him poorly-suited to be the major creative influence in series of long films that will take nearly a decade to play out. Contrast DC’s selection of him with Marvel’s choice of Joss Whedon — who knows how to tell a story — and Kevin Feige’s oversight, and it’s little wonder why there’s such a difference in quality.

    I think there is a lot of truth here.

    I’d also add that no one seems to have come up with a credible take on Superman for the 21st century.  An updated Batman was more advanced technology and a darker psychology.  But with Superman…for example, what should a being with all of that power being doing and is being in disguise working as a journalist the best use of his time?  That might more sense for 1938 Superman with more limited powers, but it seems more like a conceit for the character today than something organic.

    • #6
  7. William Fehringer Member
    William Fehringer
    @WilliamFehringer

    Does the asterisk mean “very excellent” or should I be looking for a footnote for Guardians?

    • #7
  8. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    DC’s trying too hard to re-imagine its universe, while Marvel (usually) stays true to the character and history of its superheroes and villains. There are politically correct exceptions (a black Norse god? Really, Marvel Studios?). But for the most part, Marvel Studios portrayals of their characters remain true to the spirit and history of the characters. Any tweaking has been for the better, usually (the comic book Tony Stark was always more serious than Robert Downey Jr.’s film version, but Downey’s version captures of the essence of the guy pretty well).

    DC, on the other hand… whew, where to start? First, their movies are too damn dark. The Man of Steel could have been accurately called Brooding Loner of Steel. Well, that’s not Superman. Jonathan Kent was played as a cynical, fearful man, rather than the kindly Kansas farmer of comics who always saw his son as a (literal) gift from the heavens, and raised him to be a light to the world. B v. S tried to move him into this territory some, but it still doesn’t work. Henry Cavill is actually pretty good in the role, in many ways. To my surprise, Ben Affleck has been a pretty good Batman, and no complaints at all about Gal Gadot as WW, but the rest of the upcoming Justice League looks like Super Hipster Reimaging League. The Flash and Aquaman and now these vaguely Asiatic looking guys that are nothing like their characters. Contd…

    • #8
  9. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Douglas: To my surprise, Ben Affleck has been a pretty good Batman,

    I think you have a lot of company on this one.

    • #9
  10. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Hey, on GL we tried. We really did.

    • #10
  11. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    Armond White’s review in NR I thought was very interesting.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/438703/suicide-squad-moral-conflict-millennials

    • #11
  12. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    DC’s characters are more iconic than Marvel’s, therefore any deviation from the source material is much more noticeable.

    At the same time, the source material for DC’s characters has itself changed more over the company’s history than Marvel’s has, so what one person thinks of as a “deviation” might actually be from the source material. The DC Universe has been “darker” and “grittier” for over 30 years, when Watchmen and Crisis On Infinite Earth’s were first published.

    The biggest problem with DC is the same for both the comics and the movies: too many of the characters are over-powered, ruining the internal logic of the universe. The level of crime in Gotham City makes zero sense in a world where Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, the Flash, AND the Green Lantern all exist.

    The thing is, these characters weren’t designed to inhabit the same universe. They were created by different companies which were later bought by DC.  The best DC stories have always been the stand-alone ones, often existing outside of continuity (e.g. The Dark Knight Returns).

    In the Marvel Universe, most of the characters were invented by the same company in the 1960s (with the exception of Captain America who was created in 1941). As such, they were able to make sure that any new character didn’t disrupt the internal logic of the universe, either by limiting the character’s power levels or by giving them plausible weaknesses.

    • #12
  13. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Arthur Curry is now a long-haired, gruff, tatted up (Polynesian tribal style) hard drinking Millenial. Snyder has made him Conan the Hawaiian . The Flash looks like some nerd from Kazakstan, so socially painful that in the trailer for the upcoming JL flick, he tells Bruce Wayne he’ll join “because I need friends”. So, Snyder took Barry Allen from a blonde, mid-30’s police scientist from the Midwest, and turned him into vaguely ethnic Berkeley geek that hopes to touch a real girl one day. Nice.

    Green Lantern? Sheesh. Not enough space for that travesty. Ryan Whatshisface was no Hal Jordan.

    Jared Leto’s Joker isn’t scary at all, just kind of annoying with his laugh and his gang tats. Will Smith… the rapper… as Deadshot? Pfffft. Suck.

    DC is suffering from past success: Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns were so successful, that now they think everything has to be dark and gritty. They keep forgetting that comics is essentially a kids medium at heart, and so should be fun.

    Nothing about DC is much fun these days.

    • #13
  14. Yudansha Member
    Yudansha
    @Yudansha

    I happen to like all the DC movies I’ve seen so far.  I’ve always thought Green Lantern got a bum rap.  I thought it was a lot of fun.  I’ve not yet seen Suicide Squad.  It was never one of the story lines that caught my interest as a comic book reader, but I’m open minded about it.

    Marvel movies do tend to be just a bit more fun because they don’t take themselves as seriously as the DC movies, but that said, I really can’t stomach another “Wolverine” flick.  For pity’s sake Marvel … PICK SOMETHING ELSE!

    • #14
  15. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    It’s possible Disney simply has better creative people than Warner Brothers.

    I always preferred Marvel anyway, or used to when I read comics except of course for Batman – every boy wanted to be Batman. Everything I hear about Marvel, the comics, now is pretty bad.

    Yudansha: I really can’t stomach another “Wolverine” flick. For pity’s sake marvel … PICK SOMETHING ELSE!

    That would be 20th Century Fox trying to milk the franchise, not Marvel Studios which does not own the cinematic rights to the X-Men (sadly).

    • #15
  16. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: But I think the bigger problem is that Marvel’s made better choices in leadership while DC blundered in choosing Zach Synder to helm its franchise.

    I saw a great little video on YouTube that deconstructs why Zack Snyder isn’t a good filmmaker. The gist is that he places way too much focus on interesting moments rather than interesting plots and characters.

    Despite its faults, the reason why his Watchmen movie worked as well as it did was because he stuck so closely to the source material, which is all about character and plot.

    Again, this is another problem with the DC universe itself (of which, strictly-speaking, Watchmen is not a part). Very few of the most iconic DC characters have very interesting personalities. They’re all stoic and two-dimensional.

    (The best exceptions to the rule are The Flash and Green Arrow, which helps explain why their tv shows work so well. Another exception is Captain Marvel/Shazam. That character can be utterly fascinating, when written well, but like the others becomes dull and two-dimensional when teamed-up with the other DC heroes.)

    The most interesting things about the top DC characters are their origin stories, which is why so many DC movies (as well as Smallville and Gotham on tv) happen to be origin stories.

    For way more Marvel characters, the origin story is almost incidental. It’s the quirks and twists of their characters which makes them interesting.

    • #16
  17. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Misthiocracy: The biggest problem with DC is the same for both the comics and the movies: too many of the characters are over-powered, ruining the internal logic of the universe. The level of crime in Gotham City makes zero sense in a world where Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, the Flash, AND the Green Lantern all exist.

    Shouldn’t they be dividing things up a little more?  Detroit and Chicago could use some help too for starters.  Aleppo in Syria too.  Would Superman allow the Kims to run North Korea with nuclear weapons?

    • #17
  18. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Austin Murrey: Everything I hear about Marvel, the comics, now is pretty bad.

    I used to talk to Chuck Dixon at his old forums pretty often. Chuck was one of the few right-leaning writers at DC before he was forced out (in part because of his politics). Chuck does independent creator stuff now, and gets asked about his thoughts about the industry. He’ll tell you both Marvel and DC are in a death spiral, and I agree. They went from a kids/teens medium that sold comics for all ages, and sold them everywhere from gas stations to supermarkets, to a Millenial ghetto aimed primarily at 20-somethings to 30-somethings selling exclusively in comic shops here and there for four bucks a pop. It’s now all dark, gritty, and politically correct stuff not fit for a teenager, not to mention a 10 year old. There’s a race to change genders, races, and sexualities on the characters now. Thor’s a woman. The Hulk is a Korean. Iron Man is a black girl. Batwoman is a Lesbian. Green Lantern was an angry Arab for awhile.  There’s a big, big push to gay-up everything (Alan Scott, the classic Green Lantern, has also been re-imagined as gay).

    As Chuck has said, it’s not about good stories anymore. It’s all SJW nerd drama and virtue signaling. And the industries sales have really suffered as a result. Kids don’t touch them anymore.

    • #18
  19. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Douglas: I used to talk to Chuck Dixon at his old forums pretty often. Chuck was one of the few right-leaning writers at DC before he was forced out (in part because of his politics).

    I just listened to Milo Yiannopoulos’ interview with Chuck. Good stuff.

    • #19
  20. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Quinn the Eskimo:

    Shouldn’t they be dividing things up a little more? Detroit and Chicago could use some help too for starters. Aleppo in Syria too. Would Superman allow the Kims to run North Korea with nuclear weapons?

    In the DC universe, everyone has their own city, and they’re all fake cities patterned after real ones (Central City/Keystone City was supposed to be the analogs of the Kansas City’s of MO and KS. Gateway City was the DC version of St Louis. Metropolis was supposed to be New York by day, and Gotham was supposed to be New York by night). Marvel used real cities, and almost everyone is in New York. So DC actually splits their characters up geographically more than Marvel does.

    • #20
  21. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Douglas: Arthur Curry is now a long-haired, gruff, tatted up (Polynesian tribal style) hard drinking Millenial.

    Actually, in the comics, Aquaman is one of the more interesting DC characters because of the political aspect of his stories, what with him being the King of Atlantis and all. He really didn’t come into his own until 1994 when they ditched the orange and green costume, gave him long hair and a beard, and cut off his hand. That was over 20 years ago. That’s the version of Aquaman who is the inspiration for Jason Momoa’s version.

    aquaman

    A character needs some tragedy in their life in order to be interesting. Batman’s an orphan. Superman’s a mega-orphan. Wonder Woman is an exile from her people. Etc. But once you put them together in the same universe, they stop making sense.

    The DC Universe should be either a utopia or a blasted wasteland. The middle ground is unplausible.

    • #21
  22. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Douglas:

    In the DC universe, everyone has their own city, and they’re all fake cities patterned after real ones (Central City/Keystone City was supposed to be the analogs of the Kansas City’s of MO and KS. Gateway City was the DC version of St Louis. Metropolis was supposed to be New York by day, and Gotham was supposed to be New York by night). Marvel used real cities, and almost everyone is in New York. So DC actually splits their characters up geographically more than Marvel does.

    Nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd.

    • #22
  23. N.M. Wiedemer Inactive
    N.M. Wiedemer
    @NMWiedemer

    This goes back to systemic executive and editorial failings  from DC and Warner Bros.  going back nearly twenty or so. Both Marvel and DC editorial have made near fatal mistakes multiple times over the years, but DC and WB have been face planting it since the turn of millennium. Countless blown opportunities, reboots, brand degradation, promoting drinking buddies to top positions while dismissing and disenfranchising their most successful talent and editors. They’ve been living off their stable of iconic characters for so long without contributing anything of value to them they’re now eating the seed grain after salting the earth.

    They have multiple characters valued into the billions of dollars and they can’t sell more than 35,000 copies of a comic on a regular basis. The Failure of the cinematic universe is the result of these elements of editorial corporate rot influencing the studio’s decisions.

    On the bright side, many of the TV shows from DC seems to have been able to avoid this trap so far- they’re surprisingly enjoyable at times.

    • #23
  24. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    This touches on another reason the Marvel movies work so well: In the movies the X-Men and the Avengers do NOT co-exist in the same universe.

    One single cinematic universe could not plausibly contain all that power. The stories only make sense in isolation.

    If they existed in the same universe, where was SHIELD when the events of X-Men were going down, and why didn’t the X-Men help out when the Chitauri invaded New York considering that the X-Mansion is in Westchester County?

    • #24
  25. Knotwise the Poet Member
    Knotwise the Poet
    @KnotwisethePoet

    Misthiocracy:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: But I think the bigger problem is that Marvel’s made better choices in leadership while DC blundered in choosing Zach Synder to helm its franchise.

    I saw a great little video on YouTube that deconstructs why Zack Snyder isn’t a good filmmaker. The gist is that he places way too much focus on interesting moments rather than interesting plots and characters.

    Reading Tom Meyer’s comments about Snyder also reminded me of the video.  It is a very good piece of film analysis.

    And I’ve come to the same conclusion too, with regards to the DC Cinematic Universe.  I think they just put their money on the wrong horse with Zack Snyder.  The guy’s great at creating iconic imagery, but quite deficient in other aspects of story telling (I’ve only seen 2 films of his- Owls of Ga’hoole and Man of Steel; in both cases I was wowed by the visuals but never felt really invested in the characters or story).

    It’s too bad that Suicide Squad director David Ayer wasn’t able to pull them out of their critical rut, though I’ve read reports that that’s in part due to a rushed development schedule and studio interference.

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Yudansha: Marvel movies do tend to be just a bit more fun because they don’t take themselves as seriously as the DC movies, but that said, I really can’t stomach another “Wolverine” flick. For pity’s sake Marvel … PICK SOMETHING ELSE!

    Remember, the X-Men movies are produced by 20th Century Fox, not by Marvel.

    • #26
  27. Chris Bogdan Member
    Chris Bogdan
    @ChrisBogdan

    “Misfires” in the sense of ticket sales, or execution?

    • #27
  28. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Mike LaRoche:

    I rather enjoyed Batman v. Superman.

    It’s the most serious super-hero movie when it comes to American politics; it’s the first serious treatment of 9/11 in popular spectacles; the Batman-is-Bush suggestion is about the best way available in popular spectacles to explain to young & internet-is-reality Americans what the war in Iraq was about; it has a moral seriousness, like Man of steel, that apparently the superhero-movie watching public does not like. These movies are blockbusters, but they’re not as successful as Avengers or Star Wars. I despair to see them trashed here, especially with mealy-mouthed talk about what’s ‘unambiguously good’. Marvel movies are comparatively brainless, to say nothing of the utterly mediocre dialogue that passes for wit–in movies driven by dialogue, without any of the style of Mr. Snyder.

    This preference for Marvel is an almost complete reversal of valuation & makes me shake my head at conservatives’ taste in movies whenever I run into it, & it’s not infrequently.

    I agree the Snyder movies tend to be failures, but they’re far better than the alternative, especially the Joss Whedon brand of sarcasm that’s supposed to reassure everyone nothing bad ever really happens. They’re successful enough to be able to face the market & movies should not have the kind of success one sees with some of these billion-dollar blockbusters, as though Americans were enthusiastic children.

    • #28
  29. Knotwise the Poet Member
    Knotwise the Poet
    @KnotwisethePoet

    Misthiocracy:This touches on another reason the Marvel movies work so well: In the movies the X-Men and the Avengers do NOT co-exist in the same universe.

    One single cinematic universe could not plausibly contain all that power. The stories only make sense in isolation.

    Ditto.  There’s a lot of geeks who really want X-Men and Avengers to cross over, but I’m very skeptical of the notion.  Both universes are already overflowing with tons of colorful characters and powers, I don’t see any need to mash them up together.  I was even skeptical of them bringing in Spider-Man at first, though Civil War did change my mind on that.

    • #29
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Quinn the Eskimo:

    Misthiocracy: The biggest problem with DC is the same for both the comics and the movies: too many of the characters are over-powered, ruining the internal logic of the universe. The level of crime in Gotham City makes zero sense in a world where Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, the Flash, AND the Green Lantern all exist.

    Shouldn’t they be dividing things up a little more? Detroit and Chicago could use some help too for starters. Aleppo in Syria too. Would Superman allow the Kims to run North Korea with nuclear weapons?

    Too many of them are so powerful that it doesn’t matter where they are based. Superman and Supergirl alone are fast enough to circle the planet in an instant, and they don’t need to eat or sleep because they’re solar-powered. They should never be off duty!

    • #30

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