Header Image Courtesy: Google Images/deadseriousness.com
July 2013. San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H went delirious when Zack Snyder unveiled the logo for Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (BvS: DoJ). Suicide Squad had one of the best marketing campaigns for a superhero film, ever. And yet, come 2017, there are question marks over the future of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and the directions it needs to take. Where did it go wrong?
For starters, Man of Steel, BvS and Suicide Squad (SS) polarized opinion. It isn’t all doom and gloom if a film polarizes critics and fans alike (see Iron Man 3) but it certainly helps if a film succeeds in capturing the imagination of either, if not both, of them. BvS and SS stand at 27% and 26% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes. On IMDb, they’re at 6.8/10 and 6.4/10, respectively. A lot was expected of these two, given that the wider success of the whole DCEU hinged on them. Did they fail? Not quite. But they weren’t the roaring successes that would have given comfort to the DC fans and the Warner Bros. executives.
A large portion of the scorn heaped on the DCEU films is directed towards their gritty nature. And that’s where the MCU is drawn into the argument. That scorn is both deserved and undeserved.
Why Make Them Gritty?
Zack Snyder and co.’s approach, as opposed to the MCU, was to make films that were inherently more serious and used a darker colour palette. The colour palette works more on a subconscious level, setting the tone and the mood. This approach doesn’t exactly attract people. While people flocked in droves in the first week of BvS, the poor reviews (mostly) and the dark, grim content likely kept family and general audiences away. Take Batman killing people in cold blood. Is that even possible? Of course. Batman has killed various times in the comics but it wasn’t necessary to show that onscreen. Batman as a character has always been shown as a person who doesn’t want to waste human lives. To various fans, hardcore among them, what he did in BvS was a volte-face. He probably would have been better served shooting people with tasers or rubber bullets.
Another thing that could have been avoided was the R-rated director’s cut that the film received on its home media release. Now I am all for realism in cinema. But we must not forget that the core fans of the books, and by extension, the movies, are children, teens and families. We do not, absolutely do not, need an R-rated version of a film that has the three most-famous superheroes in the world.
The counter-argument here is the wild success of Deadpool. Without it becoming a smash hit, we might never have heard of anyone from DC pitching the R-rated version. But Deadpool was its own beast — tiny budget, viral marketing, incredibly funny and a storyline with a personal grounding. The last one of these was what Suicide Squad lacked too. Let’s-save-the-world is more clichéd now than outlaw-and-corrupt-lawman ever was at the height of the Western.
Gritty Is Good:
The thing with success in Hollywood is that, once people think they’ve hit upon a formula, every single studio wants to replicate that. Granted that the plans for a DC Universe/Multiverse were afoot as far back as the mid-90s, it was only after the MCU took off that WB/DC really thought it necessary to push DCEU off the ground too. However, the one thing they decided was to make their films more gritty. The controls, so to say, were given to the filmmakers. DC directors have gone on record multiple times saying that they are given the creative license to make their films the way they see fit. Theoretically, that should be wonderful. And had these films failed despite being similar to the tone of the Marvel films, they’d have been lambasted for “copying” Marvel. Talk about adding insult to injury! Gritty can be exciting. As BvS’ theatrical cut showed, Wonder Woman was a hit with the audiences. As for Batman, well let’s just say he’s box-office royalty.
The films, though, would have benefited from less-clunky storylines. World-building in BvS took up precious time that would have been better utilized in exploring the characters and ideological differences of the two heroes. With Suicide Squad, the problem was again the same. Too many characters crammed in too small a space. Add to it the aforementioned let’s-save-the-world narrative and you have a trouble brewing. So while Deadshot and Harley Quinn stole the limelight, people like Katana and Killer Croc were left to be little more than sideshows.
Ben Affleck writing, directing and acting in the 2018 Batman film is terrific news. The focus though, has to be on Gotham. A detour to the “World’s Greatest Detective” side of the character would be welcome. Wonder Woman, helmed by Patty Jenkins, is set against the backdrop of World War I. Hopefully, her and Steve Trevor’s journey would have enough to keep the audiences lining up for their tickets. Geoff Johns as the head of the newly-created DC Films is a welcome move as well. With his knowledge and expertise, things should be smoother going forward. DC: Rebirth showed that the man hasn’t lost any of his mojo.
The tricky thing would be the two-part Justice League. Zack Snyder’s style hasn’t infused enough confidence, honestly. Plus, Superman would be absent for much of the first film. A lot would again rest on the broad shoulders of Bruce Wayne although, as the Comic-Con trailer showed, Barry Allen and Arthur Curry could be great fun too. And there is no reason why films based on relatively-niche characters like Aquaman, Shazam and Cyborg can’t succeed.
A stronger, successful DCEU would mean a stronger superhero genre and better films overall. Isn’t that what we, the fans, want? The present might not be bright, but there’s no reason why the future can’t be rosier with a mixture of luck and pluck.
Do visit my blog.
Share your thoughts on the DCEU and the post in the comments section. Thanks for reading.