Marvel movies rely on their humor, and their cavalier attitude. Man of Steel, as a counterbalance, did not. Star-Lord, Chris Pratt's Guardians of the Galaxy hero, cracks jokes. In Christopher Nolan’s world, Bane cracked Batman’s spine.
It’s not an easy divide between Marvel and DC movies to say that one side drifts toward light while the other embraces the shadows. Step back and look at the big picture, though, and this appears to be one crucial way to categorize the cinematic universes that are developing on screen between the rival studios. Now, one interesting report says that this is by design.
Drew McWeeny at HitFix writes an engaging column about the alleged "No jokes" policy that is in place at Warner Bros. as the studio builds its DC universe off of the success of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. This is an important time for Warner Bros. and DC, and the path of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could go a long way to ensuring that DC catches up to Marvel… which has a ridiculously long head start but still could feel the heat of competition if DC and Warner are able to ramp up their combined production schedule.
Why so serious?
McWeeny traces the "No jokes" policy back to the failure of Green Lantern, Warner’s attempt to launch a DC superhero franchise around an actor – Ryan Reynolds – versatile in both action and comedy. And while Chris Pratt is doing similar shtick in Guardians of the Galaxy, inconsistent tone – and not prevalent humor – went a long way toward sweeping the legs out from under Reynolds, and Green Lantern, as a whole.
Should humor be banned, completely, from DC’s pending movies? Absolutely not. It’s OK to strike a serious tone with your characters (and somber Batman basically demands it). But some of the characters on the planned DC slate need levity and a lightheartedness if audiences are going to swallow their comic-booky exploits. You can make The Flash deadly serious, I suppose. But why would you want to?
The interesting part is that Zack Snyder, in the closing moments of Man of Steel, attempted to liven the mood. Kal-El (Henry Cavill) playfully mocked Harry Lennix’s General Swanwick, and the pretty soldier was allowed to admit she had a crush on our planet’s newest protector. It was a potential springboard into a lighter (though not necessarily "light") Batman v Superman epic. Of course, dour Bruce Wayne and his somber, butt-kicking Batman will be making his way into Dawn of Justice, and the humor surrounding that character on screen has been limited to camp. Can their be a proper balance? Should there be?
"If DC finds a way to try to play their films on this larger, operatic, hero-as-myth level storytelling, I'd be excited to see that," McWeeny writes. "But if ‘No Jokes’ is a reaction to Green Lantern, an edict that comes from a desire to simply do things differently from Marvel, it could really paint DC's movies into a corner." Great point. And he continues that the mandate could chase off some seriously talented storytellers who could do some amazing things with the Justice League characters who should be part of the fabric of this expanding universe.
The tone of these movies will mean everything. "Serious" isn’t a bad word, but "fun" shouldn’t be outlawed, either. We’ll see how the action plays with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice finally opens in March 2016.