This past week the news involving the two big superhero film universes perfectly illustrated their states. For the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) it seems clear that they can do no wrong. This is based solely on the astronomic success of its latest film Black Panther. Meanwhile, over at the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the woes continues with the latest news that Joss Whedon is no longer involved with a proposed Batgirl film.
So why are the states of both cinematic universes so vastly different? Both have popular superheroes and their films have tremendous talent creating the films. But why is the MCU so popular while the DCEU is looking more and more like the JV squad? Well, it’s not easy to pinpoint the success and failures of both universes but there are some factors. Let’s go over them.
One advantage Marvel Studios and the MCU had over Warner Bros. and DC was simply a head start. The MCU began in earnest ten years ago with Iron Man. That film featured a well known, but not very popular, superhero. Marvel Studios did not have the luxury of having their early films star Marvel Comics’ headliners like Spider-Man and the X-Men. With this handicap, Marvel Studios was forced to focus on the character of Iron Man and it worked. But that was not all, at the end of the film, there was the famous Nick Fury tease that signaled the existence in the film of a larger universe. This excited fans and set the groundwork for a viable cinematic universe.
Each film in the MCU has organic (usually) references to other Marvel properties that helped create excitement for future films even if the current one was a disappointment. It also helped that each film in the MCU is distinctly different (for the most part) from the other. They ranged from standard science-based superhero yarns (the Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk), political thrillers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), period pieces (Captain America: The First Avenger), Star Wars-like space adventures (Guardians of the Galaxy), quirky, comical heist capers (Ant-Man), supernatural tales (Doctor Strange), stories set in fantastic locations (the Thor films), cultural milestones (Black Panther), and good ol’ superhero epics (the Avengers films). By being so versatile the MCU never seems to run out steam or stories to tell. Granted, the films have their faults like subpar villains, which are just dark versions of the main heroes, but the focus on character and stories made the MCU so successful.
There is also one other important factor that the MCU has and that is Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios and the filmmaking version of Phil Jackson. He masterfully and carefully guided each film to tremendous success. His vision for the MCU and ability to carry it out is a big reason for the upbeat state of the MCU. Will they falter? Of course, in fact, the MCU has had some genuine stinkers like Iron Man 2, but it has been able to quickly recover. Right now, Marvel is on a hot streak that has been going on for several years now and the future looks terrific with upcoming and hotly awaited films like Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and of course a sequel to Black Panther. Hopefully this streak will last for years to come.
Sadly, the same cannot be stated for the DCEU. Warner Bros. has not been able to find that one person who is their equivalent of Kevin Feige. This does not mean that they did not try, it’s just that the people they put in charge of the DCEU have not had Feige’s success.
To be fair, the DCEU only consists of five films versus the MCU’s 18, but Warner Bros. should be faulted for taking too long to get their comic book film universe off the ground. Unlike Marvel Studios, it seemed to take forever for DC to put out a film. They failed to put out a proper sequel to Man of Steel in 2013 and waited nearly three years before releasing the next film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. By this time, some momentum was lost and what made matters worse is that the film was not well received. This was critical because it was DC’s attempt to jump start the DCEU and catch up to Marvel. The second film clumsily created a cinematic universe, and the followup films, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, failed to build any momentum towards Justice League. The studio found out it was not easy to duplicate Marvel’s success by taking shortcuts.
Marvel Studios used several different directors to input their own spin in the films. DC on the other hand, put all their eggs in the basket with Zack Snyder. Three of the five DCEU films are directed by him, with each one being less and less liked. There are reports that Warner Bros. wanted to fire him from Justice League after Batman v Superman’s poor reception, but thought it was too late in the process to do so. Entertainment reporter Josh Dickey revealed this month that Snyder was actually fired from the film and Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to finish it. Unfortunately this was not enough to save it. We got an incoherent film that was rushed because Warner Bros. refused to delay its release and give Whedon the proper time to fine tune it. There are rumors that this refusal was because the studio execs wanted year-end bonuses. If this is so, it indicates how incompetent the studio is when it comes to their superhero property. Justice League should have been an epic success yet it barely made $650 million and its disappointing box office has put the DCEU’s future in doubt.
What can DC do? The best thing aside from rebooting is to focus on the core characters, aside from Batman. Forget about side properties like Suicide Squad 2, Batgirl and Justice League Dark and give us a proper Man of Steel sequel or trilogy. Stop relying so much on Batman because as popular as he is, the character sucks up so much attention that it is hard to give proper attention to other characters. Also, give talented filmmakers the freedom to bring their visions to life. Patty Jenkins would be great for Man of Steel 2 and George Miller’s aborted and intriguing Justice League film should be given another look
Keep in mind the state of the two cinematic universes will not stay the same. Sadly, the MCU will probably begin to falter at some point, perhaps when Kevin Feige steps down or some other reason. But Warner Bros. may find the right people to create truly outstanding DCEU that will be unqualified successes. This has happened already for them with Wonder Woman so the potential is there.