What is the matter with DC?
Now I love DC comics and even some past DC movies, case and point - The Dark Knight is one of 3 movies I consider to be perfect, the others being The Empire Strikes Back and Seven Samurai. That being said, there is no denying that recent DC movies have disappointed many people. Although DC and its fans are probably sick of Marvel comparisons it isn't at all hard to see that Marvel is dominating both critically and box-office wise. So I am going to list three things that can take the DCEU from having half baked characters and thin plots to the rich worlds and compelling ensemble, currently boasted by the box-office giant that is Marvel.
Point 1: Get priorities in order.
Have you ever noticed how trailers for DCEU movies are always fantastic and make the movie seem really exciting but when the movie comes round it struggles to rise above “Meh”?. That's because of DC’s executives decision on how they make their movies. DC will spend upwards $300 million on making the best film possible but end up getting cold feet and having to spend another $100 million or so on re-shoots and extensive editing to make the film more box office friendly.
For example, “Suicide Squad” originally had a very dark tone (just look at the changes to the logo!) and the trailer had everyone excited but what happened? The studio took what was set to be an enjoyable film and fiddled with it to make it more commercially viable, which is how we got the watered down mess that was the final cut. This is not what we see from Marvel. Marvel has developed a formula which is pure box office crowd pleasing gold. They use this formula and build as good a film as they can, around it. This was evident in “Doctor Strange” which would never have been anything other than a success. It had a stellar cast, a familiar story and a unique visual style.
This and the Marvel brand was enough to ensure its success and this gave the filmmakers freedom to make as good a film as they could. Where DC tried to force money into an art piece, Marvel make's art out of a money machine.
Obvious Statement. Talented filmmakers make good films (duh). This may seem obvious but DC seems to forget about or just ignore this. Marvel puts faith in skilled filmmakers such as Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), the Russo Brothers (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War & Avengers: Infinity War 1 &2) and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther).
This ensures that there is talent and vision behind the camera because it's clear to see that there is plenty of talent in front of the camera in DC’s corner. In contrast to this, DC will higher a bankable name like Joss Whedon or Zack Snyder and give them a limited amount of creative freedom which prevents them truly making a coherent film. The reshoots and editing is also crippling most of DC critical and box office performances by watering down ideas and increasing budgets.
Even Suicide squads David Ayer is a brilliant film maker but he was creatively muted by reshoots and editing that completely diluted his vision. However things do appear to be improving at DC because talented director Matt Reeves as well as writer Ben Affleck are being given sufficient freedom on the upcoming 'The Batman' solo film currently in the works.
One thing that places Marvel at the top of the superhero totem pole is the flawless balancing of risks and safety. For example, 2014's “Guardians of The Galaxy” took a group of C/D list superheroes and made an obscure choice for the lead role as well as having a complete change in tone from what had been established as the winning formula. This would seem a doomed film but these risks combined with the safeties of the film made it new and exciting.
It still had a largely stellar cast, including Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Benicio Del Toro and Zoe Saldana. Another example is “Captain America: Winter Soldier”. On the one hand we have an established character with a lot of top class actors such as Scarlett Johansen, Samuel L Jackson, Robert Redford and Chris Evans. On the other hand however it is a follow up to a generally luke-warm film. It completely changed the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. as well as setting up one of the franchises most compelling story lines in Bucky Barnes AKA. The Winter Soldier.
Every safety makes the film strong and every risk pays off massively to make a great film and a box office hit. At DC there is none of this. Every risk DC tried to take get U-turned by the studio at the last minute. For example “Suicide Squad” was set for a very dark sense of humour but the studio got scared and changed the script so the characters could fit with the modern "quippy" expectations for a superhero. “Justice League” was also set to be a unique film tonally but was also changed last minute due to executive intervention.
In summary, DC needs good filmmakers with enough freedom to make a good movie around a good story-line and they need to learn to have confidence in risks. You may have noticed that there is one DC film I have not mentioned, rest assured, it was deliberate. “Wonder Woman”. “Wonder Woman”, while by no means a masterpiece is easily the most enjoyable DC film because it does these three things. It takes a story that allows it to mix a relevant social point with visually interesting action sequences. They gave a good script to a good director and allowed her to do what she wanted with the film (It also helps that the director could strongly empathise with the messages of the film).
- Alex J Archer