Marvel Entertainment has ruled the box office with its numerous hit films, especially those produced by Marvel Studios. Meanwhile, DC Entertainment and its parent company Warner Bros. while successful with TV and video game adaptations of the DC superheroes seemed to be asleep at the wheel in putting out film products to counter Marvel’s box office dominion.
Around the beginning of this decade as Marvel Studios was blossoming what was DC Entertainment doing around this time? We got from them Green Lantern and The Dark Knight Rises. The former film didn’t perform to expectations and failed to resonate with fans and audiences. Green Lantern was hamstrung with weak villains, pedestrian storytelling, and for a film featuring a cosmic hero it was too Earthbound. On the other hand, the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was well received at the time of its release, but many grumbled that it was too ponderous, pretentious and its villain Bane (Tom Hardy) couldn’t compare to The Dark Knight’s Joker (Heath Ledger). What was noticeable was that Batman’s world seemed smaller and darker than the more light-toned Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seemed odd that Batman was the sole superhero around in Nolan’s films, although for The Dark Knight Rises’ plot of Gotham held hostage, that was a necessity. It was plain to see in the end that while the Batman films were hugely successful, they did not do anything to expand the DC Universe in film. So once that trilogy was completed there wasn’t anything to follow it.
Does all of this mean that it’s over for DC? Should they throw in the towel? Hell, no! They may be way behind Marvel at the moment, but they are gearing up for a new war that will start in March 25, 2016. The release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice is just the opening salvo. However, the failures of Green Lantern and The Dark Knight Rises in terms of creating a cinematic universe is why DC had to start over with Man Of Steel in 2013, already a few years behind Marvel Studios. That reboot of Superman and his mythos was successful, but it’s considered controversial by many fans who decried the character deviations, especially when Superman killed at the film’s end.
Nevertheless, the film did begin an earnest establishment of a larger universe. Take the scene near the end when Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon) fight above Earth and tear apart a satellite belonging to Wayne Industries. It was a nifty Easter egg, but it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment and the film should’ve done more. Imagine if a post-credits scene was shown where the near destruction of Metropolis is shown on a TV screen. The camera would’ve pulled back to show that the TV was in a cave and that Batman could be seen watching the disaster on TV. Or have the TV in a non-descript apartment where a certain green Power Battery could be spotted.
Regardless, Man Of Steel was DC’s first true attempt at establishing its own cinematic universe. Its Easter eggs may pale next to Iron Man with the Avengers Initiative scene, but it’s a start.
Broad Horizons Ahead For Both Companies
From March 2016 until 2020, DC has eight films scheduled for release. At this point, the general public doesn’t know which properties will be on the big screen aside from Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, but current rumors point to Shazam, Wonder Woman, the Justice League (finally!), a new Batman, and a proper sequel to Man Of Steel. DC and Warner Bros. should be commended for not rushing things unlike some other movie studios with comic book properties (looking at you Sony). This means that when the universe is finally presented it should be cohesive and well done.
Regarding the recent decision to move Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice from May 6,2016 to March 25,2016, it may seem like an admission of defeat. One way of looking at it is that DC recognizes what a juggernaut Marvel Studios and its films have become and want to avoid direct competition. But it’s really a more strategic move by DC and Warner Bros. to ensure that Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice reaches the widest possible audience. That is why they moved up the film’s release date so it doesn’t have to compete with the third Captain America film. A lot of people salivated over the prospect over these two comic book titans going at it in the box office, but in reality such direct competition would hurt both brands. In this case, DC would have suffered more. Why? It’s likely that Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice would’ve won the match against the third Captain America film, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a proven brand with devoted followers and Captain America has risen significantly in popularity thanks to his last film. There isn’t any way that the third film would flopped; it would’ve earned a respectable amount of money in the matchup, enough for Marvel to declare a pyrrhic victory and claim their film held up well against DC’s better known characters. In the meantime, if Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice didn’t have super impressive opening box office numbers or heaven forbid came in second on the opening weekend, it would’ve spelled a PR disaster for DC and stifled their burgeoning cinematic universe. DC had more to lose than Marvel, so taking a page from their competitor’s strategy book, they positioned their centerpiece film in a less competitive time period where it’s guaranteed to score high.
With DC beginning its own universe, which at this point is still in planning stages, Marvel is charging forward with more film releases. Next year will see the eagerly anticipated sequel Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man. The following year we’ll get the aforementioned third Captain America film and on July 28, 2017 the Guardians of the Galaxy will return to theaters with a new film. Additionally, Marvel recently announced several release dates through 2019 for five more films in the MCU. No details have been released but the speculation is that these films may include sequels to Thor, the Avengers, possibly Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr. recently expressed interest in continuing to play Iron Man), and new properties like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, the Inhumans, or Doctor Strange.
A film based on the last character mentioned, Doctor Strange, also means that Marvel is branching off in yet another direction. Like with Guardians Of The Galaxy, which is actually a space adventure film, a Doctor Strange film would not be a traditional superhero film, but rather one that deals in the genre of horror and fantasy. The fact that Scott Derrickson has been hired to direct the film is indicative of its horror trappings since Derrickson’s resume includes horror films.
Guardians Of The Galaxy and the upcoming Doctor Strange film point to how Marvel has won the Movie War because they’ve done so well with superhero films that they are now able to branch off into other genres. DC has tried doing this in the past with poor adaptations of Constantine and Jonah Hex. If DC’s film slate includes a rumored movie based on its fantasy property Sandman, then this would prove that DC is remaining competitive and moving beyond superheroes as well.
Clearly, things look fantastic for Marvel Studios, right? Well, there is the specter of a big flop coming its way. It’s bound to happen, it’s inevitable. Some say the studio is now overdue for one, which was why so many thought Guardians Of The Galaxy would flop because its concept seemed too bizarre for mainstream audiences. That failure may come next year with Ant-Man. The film has had numerous behind-the-scenes headaches which spiraled from the original director Edgar Wright abruptly leaving the film over creative differences. Then Marvel Studios went through an embarrassing public search for a new director before hiring Peyton Reed. But at this point, it’s too early to write off a film that hasn’t even begun filming yet.
With that said, it’s incredible how quick fans are dismissing next year’s reboot of the Fantastic Four and the announced spinoffs of Spider-Man films. The fact that Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are properties that don’t belong to Marvel Studios is a bothersome idea for many that are convinced that only Marvel Studios alone can produce high-quality superhero films. By the way, it’s one clear advantage that DC has since it has control over all of its properties and it’s easier for them to create a cinematic universe.
The studios that handled these three properties, Sony Pictures (Spider-Man) and Twentieth Century Fox (X-Men and Fantastic Four) put out adaptations with wildly different degrees of success. The X-Men films started off great then had two films that weren’t good. The series rebounded in 2011 with the prequel X-Men: First Class and is now back in fine form with the recent X-Men: Days Of Future Past. So even though Fox has the movie rights, Marvel’s mutants look to be in good hands.
That cannot be said however for Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. The latter property is baffling because Fox has the rights to the superhero team and although the X-Men property is fine, the company doesn’t seem to know how to properly present Marvel’s first superhero team on film. Instead of just letting the franchise die with the ill-begotten Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Fox is producing a reboot with a controversial cast, no advance publicity to calm fans and word that the reboot won’t be a superhero film. The last point cements the concern that the Fantastic Four reboot will stray far from what made the team so endearing and successful.
The early Spider-Man films were once amazing, popular hits, now mention of a new film or related spinoffs elicit yawns, or worse, dread from fans. After the critical failure of Spider-Man 3 (the film itself did very well in theaters), Sony rebooted the franchise in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man. Despite criticism from some corners the film was successful and took a new, grounded approach to the superhero. However, after seeing how successful The Avengers was, Sony decided to create its own cinematic universe in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. That film repeated the mistakes of Spider-Man 3 by cramming it full of unnecessary subplots and too many characters in a poorly done effort to create an expansive universe. Despite the negative reaction to The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony is hellbent on going ahead with its expansion plan by putting out films based on Spider-Man’s villains Venom and the Sinister Six.
Ultimately, it may not matter to a lot of people whether or not Marvel Entertainment can keep all of its superheroes under one studio. But for Marvel, there is some cause for concern because they don’t have control over all of its properties and it must be rankling. What’s more, the improper way these three properties are handled could wind up diluting the Marvel brand. Think of it this way, average moviegoers doesn’t know the minutiae of which studio owns what rights. They just see the Marvel logo and assume the film is being done by the same company. So if they see a poorly done Fantastic Four film they may pass on seeing another Marvel superhero film, which could be made by Marvel Studios. It’s a guilt by association dilemma. That is why Marvel has been going about buying back the rights of its many characters. The last significant holdouts are the three mentioned properties. But Fox and Sony know they have cash cows in their hands and won’t let them go until the films begin flopping. As successful as is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it feels a bit incomplete. This is something DC doesn’t have to worry about.
A True War Is Coming
The current Comic Book Movie War may seem lopsided in Marvel’s favor and that is a correct assumption. The Marvel movies, specifically those released by Marvel Studios, have been wildly successful because A) they’re well crafted films backed by producers, directors and a film studio that genuinely cared about the finished product and B) Marvel Studios took the extra effort to create an organic cinematic universe that enriched the viewing experience. The bottom line is that while DC dithered until very recently, Marvel films have had a chance to establish themselves so they have the advantage that DC formerly had back in the last century.
But DC realizes to its credit that the paradigm has changed. They are embracing the concept of a shared cinematic universe which began with Man Of Steel and will be fully realized with Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. With more films following up the epic encounter between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Tomorrow, DC will rightfully be a viable alternative to Marvel. Then the true Movie War will be underway. So who wins? We’ll find out in a few short years, although either way, the comic book/superhero fans win.
José Soto and Lewis T. Grove