As Marvel’s Avengers start to reassemble in 2021 for what will be, in all likeliness, a very successful Phase Four, Warner Bros. and DC are left to pick up the pieces of the DCEU, as they hurry to put together something that can at least fill the superhero void whenever Disney doesn’t have anything going on its end. However, if one lesson is to be learned from the past eight years is that DC’s heroes are best served when they’re doing their own thing.
It’s commonly said that good artists borrow and great artists steal, but so far Warner Bros. experiments with the likes of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have really failed to either of those particularly well. The DCEU certainly isn’t stealing from Marvel Studios, yet when it tries to borrow ingredients from the MCU formula that have made it so successful, results have been mediocre at best.
A prime example of this was seen in Joss Whedon’s Justice League. While now it’s clear for everyone to see just how different were the routes chosen by Zack Snyder and Whedon to get the Justice League to send Steppenwolf back to where he belongs, the latter’s path definitely wanted it to have some serious MCU vibes.
Of course, that wasn’t 2017’s Justice League sole problem, quite far from it, but having the film stand out so much from the rest in things as obvious as its color palette, which clearly echoed that of Marvel was simply a bad creative call. The truth is that aside from a huge CGI budget, DC and Marvel films are playing different sports, and thus they really shouldn’t subject themselves to the same rules.
Marvel Studios really struck gold with its PG-13 superhero formula. Even the worst movies from that lot made great money, and this means that in the beginning there was really little to no reason to depart from that style. Nevertheless, as Marvel gained solid footing, producers, screenwriters and directors started taking more risks with regards to each movie’s plot, a trend that maybe started with Guardians of the Galaxy and Iron Man 3, only to reach its apex in WandaVision and Loki.
No matter the case, MCU viewers are willing to be much more forgiving of any shortcomings in Marvel content, partly because there’s so much of it. Should DC try to find such a magic recipe? At this point, probably not, since it’s nowhere near close to doing so, proof of it being lack of similarities between its best movies, or even what makes them good. Trying to play Marvel's game would be akin to a startup trying to go head-to-head against Facebook, Amazon, and Google, the MCU fight in a different weight class.
Shazam! leans on a blend of goofiness and darkness that hides a more serious high stakes underlying plot, and it’s different merely for having so many teenagers play big roles; both Wonder Woman movies represent a stark contrast to Snyder’s darker world, and at the same time bring forward the kind of female icon Marvel lacks; finally, Aquaman stands as DC’s most Marvel-like movie, and though unexceptional it commits very few or no sins in a story that’s more similar to early MCU projects, like Thor’s first two entries.
The DCEU as it lives now is barely a thing, very little has been accomplished in terms of character development for these heroes, and that includes Wonder Woman. That’s why trying to put together a supergroup film like Justice League presented so many problems; unlike the Avengers, moviegoers didn’t know much about these heroes, they had few reasons to care about them and it took Snyder four hours to come close to accomplishing it.
It’s also why Warner Bros. opted to let The Batman existed in a separate universe, Bruce Wayne is clearly its biggest power player and it would be too much of a hindrance for that film to bear the load of Ben Affleck’s Batman on its shoulders. Right now, the DCEU should play to the individual strengths of each individual franchise so, eventually, there’s something to build from.
To this day DC’s crown jewel is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, films that did not bend over to suit the standards but instead allowed its creative personnel to work with the great source material the comics provide to give Batman his own tone. This is the same thing that made Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman good, as the director has proudly told reporters several times, she fervently fought for years for her right to shoot the movie she wanted to make.
There’s no denying Ray Fisher’s allegations cast a dark cloud on top of Warner Bros. executives. Nevertheless, the only way they can improve their reputation is by amending the many mistakes that have been made in the past. The good news is that there is plenty of room for taking risks and moving forward with new ideas since what is there already is obviously not doing the trick, and because the Snyderverse is not coming back.
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