As of April 17th 2016, the reviews for Captain America: Civil War are in. Currently sitting at 84% on Metacritic (indicting universal acclaim) and 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Compare this with the abysmal critical response to March’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and it’s fair to say that as of right now Marvel are winning the war for super hero cinema. And while I’m sure some of the more extremist fanboy’s among you are readying overreactions; this article isn’t about why ‘Marvel’s THE BESTEST‘ and ‘DC SUCKS‘, but about how with over 30 superhero movies scheduled till 2020, if we get more Batman V Superman and less Civil War; superhero movies will go the way of the western.
Despite Marvel’s current winning streak, DC isn’t incapable of making good movies. In May 2008, Iron Man came out and was quickly declared the best superhero movie of the modern age. A title it held for a good 2 months until The Dark Knight came out.
The Dark Knight was a leap forward in the modern superhero flick. Superhero cinema has become the multi billion dollar industry it is by constantly pushing forward, instead of telling the same story again and again in spandex. That’s what keeps superhero movies dominating and that’s what DC need to start doing to really compete with Marvel again.
- X-Men – superheroes are cool again
- Spider-Man – Superheroes are fun again
- Iron Man – the man in a suit…is cool
- The Dark Knight – movies with superheroes are cool
- Avengers Assemble – colourful unabashed superheroes are cool again
- Guardians Of The Galaxy – unpopular funny (sorta) superhero movies are cool
- Deadpool – adult superhero movies are cool again
One in seven of those films are a DC property and it certainly would look like DC have always been playing catch up. But in truth, DC have been pioneers in superhero cinema. And when they do, it’s a revolution that results in an industry wide and even pop culture shift.
Of the big two, DC were the first to have Superman reach a wider audience by appearing in other media. In newspaper strips, radio, live action and animated TV shows; Superman and DC lead the charge, years and sometimes decades before Marvel. Even Smallville was groundbreaking. Amidst the teen drama TV dominating the airwaves in the late 90’s, DC used Clark Kent’s feeling he was ‘from another world‘ as an allegory and married growing pains with science fiction in a way that is still aped in both movies and TV today.
Superhero TV shows are ten a penny nowadays, but moving comics into other mediums is why the characters are iconic today. Looking at Marvel’s previous attempts with the Spider-Man TV show, the Fantastic Four movie right up to David Hasslehoff’s aborted Nick Fury movie, Marvel just couldn’t get it right. Which seems unbelievable now, as we live in a time where a Marvel movie where a man could shrink to the size of an ant grossed half a billion dollars.
The Adam West Batman movie was a bigger success than anything Marvel had put out at the time. And both Donner’s Superman and Burton’s Batman aren’t just landmark superhero movies, but cinematic landmarks in general. And it wasn’t just in cinema where DC would dominate. As successful as the 90’s X-Men cartoon was, Bruce Timm’s Batman is still considered the greatest cartoon ever. And is there any superhero game that can hold a candle to Rocksteady’s Batman games? So DC do know what to do with their IP, it’s just right now, it’s looking a little shaky.
Judging by Man Of Steel and BVS, Snyder’s Justice League won’t be too different or too successful. Making Aquaman an interesting character doesn’t seem impossible but so far they seem more interested in making him ‘gritty’. The director announced for Flash literally has no directorial experience, and Wonder Woman looks cool, I guess. But really for the first female superhero movie in years…is it too much to ask that it’s groundbreaking? Really? Superman made you believe a man can fly (at least for people in the 70’s) and Wonder Woman…likes fighting? But judging it based off a teaser trailer is unfair, but the point is, there’s so much more to these characters than superheroes.
Spider-Man isn’t just about a guy who can ‘catch thieves like flies‘. It’s about a kid who will never stop trying to make amends for his Uncle’s death. There probably aren’t many that can relate to the proportional strength of a spider, but there are many who can relate to guilt, loss or even just being an outcast. That’s why Spider-Man endures. Superman is the embodiment of the American dream. A country built on people from outside of it. He encapsulates all that’s great about America, and always sees the best in it, but isn’t even from the same solar system. He’s an immigrant to the nth term.
Batman will always make money, but if DC want to really get back on track making people fall in love with Superman, making stronger Superman films could be a good way of strengthening the brand. The thinking that Superman is boring and not what people want from superhero cinema now, is simply wrong and I’d direct all naysayers to Captain America, a character who received the exact same criticism and now has the best Marvel movies of all.
Superman has over 70 years of stories, so why not start there? There seems to be a constant distancing from the source material as again ‘Superman’s just not cool bro‘. Well Superman has been the star of some fantastic stories, and there are too many to mention. But a cinematic take on some of these would show the cinema going audience just how great Superman can be.
The first arc in Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run harkens back to original concept of Superman. A very strong man who couldn’t fly or shoot lasers and was more concerned taking morally bereft landlords to task as opposed to thwarting alien invasions. He simply wore jeans and a market job Superman T-Shirt. Morrison drew inspiration from Bruce Springsteen, making Superman feel more grounded and relatable and less Godlike.
Can we all agree the Superman origin has been done to death? Well Mark Waid’s Birthright is one of the most solid and modern origin stories, and has a smart take on the troublesome Clark Kent ‘disguise’.
Geoff Johns Action Comics does many things but notably it manages to feature a creative reinterpretation of Brainiac. Less a supervillian, more a hyper obsessive collector; and manages to tie the death of Pa Kent in and have it hit harder than anything on film.
Max Landis’ American Alien finally allows young Kent to enjoy being a kid with powers, which is also way more relatable. If you could fly, your first thought wouldn’t be ‘I must protect my country‘.
Kingdom Come is bound to become a Justice League movie at some point, and they’ll probably centre it around Batman, but it is a Superman story; an old man Superman story and delivers another side not seen on-screen before. And obviously Morrison’s All Star directed by maybe Edgar Wright? Terry Gilliam? Would be that leap that DC and cinema are waiting for.
DC are taking steps in the right direction by having DC Comics MVP Geoff Johns work with Ben Affleck on a Batman script, with Affleck set to direct and star. And once Affleck’s Batman is a huge hit hopefully they’ll look to other DC writers for script work. So let’s just get over this hump and cross our fingers for Wonder Woman. No, it can’t be ‘decent‘ or ‘pretty good‘; please, please, please make it face meltingly good, it’s what she deserves, it’s what we deserve. Until then, here’s another look at the Marvel’s next leap:
And I’m feeling pretty clever with my Edgar Wright ‘All Star Superman’ movie, what directors would you like to see take a stab at some DC movies?
And if you’ve made it this far here’s a little treat.