Comic books movies have somehow accomplished the impossible: bringing nerds and mainstream audiences together under one glorious, unified sentiment, all for the sake of profit. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a prime example of the utter impact these once “geeky” pieces of media have had on our society. Billions of dollars have been generated only within a few days, due to the recent release of Endgame. Marvel, a titan of comic book media industry, have made history for what they have done for this realm of fiction. Unfortunately, other companies have tried their greedy corporate hand at capturing the enigmatic, alluring world of Marvel and have failed miserably; these failures can be observed in numerous movies made by DC. That is not to say that the established line of characters of these two universes have obvious or more desirable differences. (Are the Avengers and Justice League not one product from two different stores?) Rather, it is the execution of these characters, the plot, and tone as established in the films that create such stark distinctions in quality and enjoyability.
Many people, including myself, have not read more than a few pages of a comic. Because of this, my attention will be set completely on the cinematic universes, instead of all canon. Hopefully this will eliminate any confusion, as many do not have access to all volumes of every comic created by these two companies.
The most obvious issue the DC movies have is their odd and disjointed tone. For example, the campy, comic-book nature of a Justice League movie would have one expecting a fun, exciting adventure. Instead, audiences walk away only able to recall a quarter of the events because of how somber and boring it was. Tonal issues plague the DC universe, making movies like Suicide Squad feel like 100 different editors worked on different parts. The humor and the action are poorly balanced; the visuals and color pallete are guilty of looking downright horrendous at time; it is best not to even mention Henry Cavill’s terrifying CG upper lip. Credit must be given to the directors of Shazam and Aquaman, however, for they managed to diverge from DC’s infamously “dark and edgy” tone by making a fun family film and an insane water cacophony (respectively). The success of these two films are equal to the amount of failures the MCU has had over the past decade. This franchise can keep the ratio of light-hearted jokes to hard-hitting emotional scenes nearly perfect, and they have created so many memorable moments that can be enjoyed unironically (unlike Aquaman) for years to come. Marvel has had some flops, such as the Hulk movie and 1.5 of Thor’s trilogy, yet the quality of the films they are producing now has shown they have learned from their mistakes. They have rose to the top because of this.
Superheroes must be crafted in such a way that they are powerful yet somewhat destructible, otherworldly yet empathetic. These restrictions are pivotal if a franchise wants to attract an audience. Any of the Spiderman movies are examples of this. Marvel has Captain America, Captain Marvel, Loki, Thor, Iron Man–intense, powerful, genius, and godly beings that still have personalities, goals, weaknesses, and that trademark Marvel wit. What does DC have? A Ben Affleck Batman that looks bored half the time. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman that fails to express goals or leaps in logic. Ezra Miller’s… let’s just say he was as bad as Superman’s face. The point is, these characters are simply not likeable. They do not have the same charm, charisma, and swagger of their Marvel counterparts, and they do not have the capability to carry an entire movie on their own. Their chemistry with one another is weak, and their jokes miss far more than they hit. Overall, the interactions between and aspects within the characters of the DCEU fall flat after watching a Marvel film.
Finally, the most important aspect of creating a comic book movie: the antagonist. Too often are villains caricatures rather than characters. The mental gymnastics they do to explain their perspectives gives audience’s headaches, often creating plot holes in the story, and their general impact on the plot can be barely noticeable. DC is a major offender of this. Take Justice League’s antagonist, Steppenwolf. The character is meant to be evil; all he comes across as is a prop. It is obvious that he is fake and no more than a few computer-generated tricks, and this can be felt in the atmosphere he creates. Since it is clear he is not real, the weight of his actions, the significance he has to the story, his mere existence as a threat, are lost by the audience. On the other hand, Marvel has managed to make their villains into their most memorable, adored icons. Loki falls into this category, but what about their main villain? Thanos, a purple menace of immeasurable power and unwavering purpose, fills the air every time he is on screen. The attention he commands from the audience makes him feel real, thereby making his purpose believable and almost logical. While he is CG, the direction and performance by Brolin create a masterpiece of a villain. When trying to compare Thanos to Steppenwolf, it is only laughable.
DC superheroes are fun and interesting; their movies are not. Perhaps the franchise is starting to make progress, as seen with Shazam. Sadly, this does not erase their previous works with mismatched tones and poor character development. Marvel is not perfect, but the elements that are detrimental to a comic book movie are poignant and unforgettable in their films. Media is able to influence the strongest-willed of people; the way our society reacts and analyzes it is all up to media company’s effectiveness at manipulating the variables. If done right, we get a product like Marvel. When done wrong… Superman’s CG lip.