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Earlier this week, I told a few co-workers I think DC’s long-term outlook at the movies is more promising than Marvel’s. To say this opinion was poorly received would be an understatement. People condescendingly laughed all up in my face. There was no regard for my feelings. It was just a torrent of jokes about my perceived level of wrongness. Someone even asked if I don’t follow superhero movies “that closely”.
In a regretful and cowardly moment of shame, I retreated back from the conversation and gave out a wishy-washy “we’ll see”, but you know what, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that I’m right. Yeah, Marvel has had a good run, but if I was given the choice between running DC movies and running Marvel movies from this point forward, I’m choosing DC almost immediately. There’s more upside, more good characters to play with and I think a much brighter future.
The Part Where I Admit Marvel Has Had A Better Run The Past Decade
The superhero fight between DC and Marvel has been a one-sided pummeling for what feels like a decade, at least at the movies. Kevin Feige and company, with the help of Disney, have gone on one of the most amazing runs of good press, good reviews and record-breaking box office in the history of Hollywood. DC, on the other hand, has been repeatedly beset by behind the scenes issues, abrupt changes in creative direction and box office numbers that have been, more often than not, underwhelming.
In all fairness, there have been several times during that stretch in which Marvel has been given the benefit of the doubt, while DC has been zealously and almost gleefully criticized for relatively minor mistakes. Every single round hasn’t been lopsided and summaries that express as much aren’t accurate, but even so, the starting point for this conversation has to be that Marvel has done a way better job with its movie characters over the past decade. That’s a fact, and if you can’t admit that, you’re a shameless DC homer, which I am not. I’m just more bullish moving forward than almost everyone else.
The Part Where I Pick Batman Over Spider-Man
Let’s say you were starting over from the beginning. No superhero movies exist. It’s your idea to make them a thing, and you need to figure out where to start generating ideas. You can either work with Marvel or you can work with DC. If you work with Marvel, you have access to Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and the X-Men, among others. If you work with DC, you have Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Lex Luthor and The Joker, among others. Is that even a contest? How the hell would you pass up Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman?
I’m absolutely not saying Marvel has bad characters. Spider-Man is right up there among the all-time classic comic book characters in my mind, but everything always stops and starts with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Those are the all-time legends, and on a list of all-time great villains, DC would have most of the frontrunners too. Just because Marvel has done more with its characters doesn't mean they're inherently more popular.
The Part Where I Miss Iron Man
You’re probably expecting this paragraph to be about a rights issue thing, but let’s put that stuff aside, especially since Marvel has systematically reacquired the rights of most of its characters recently. I’m just talking the characters who are in play. DC has everyone available. Avengers: Endgame, however, made it pretty clear we’re not going to be seeing at least Iron Man and Captain America (at least Steve Rogers) for a long time, which is a huge blow. With all apologies to the other Avengers, those are the characters that put the most asses in the seats. Their loss will be felt tremendously. We also can’t see any stories past the Endgame timeline with Black Widow (although she’s getting a prequel) and exactly how much Thor will be used after Thor 4 is unclear. James Gunn is also likely done with Guardians Of The Galaxy after Volume 3, and that franchise might not even continue.
Meanwhile, DC has none of those restrictions. Apart from some villains it probably shouldn’t go back to in the near future, everyone is in play and free to be used moving forward. There are also not any fears about recasting because that’s constantly happened throughout Batman’s run. No one expects the same person to play Batman 15 years from now, but it seems very likely there will be some blowback if Marvel attempts to recast Iron Man or Captain America too soon.
The Part Where I Knock Marvel’s Next Generation
Marvel has done a tremendous job of creating loveable supporting characters during its current sustained run of success. Key side pieces like Groot, Falcon, Loki and Bucky sell their own merchandise and have large followings. The fact that I was pumped when I heard Darcy Lewis was returning to the MCU should tell you all you need to know. Unfortunately, they are not being groomed to carry the cinematic load moving forward. They’re being shifted to television and/ or will likely remain as bit players in movies. The characters being groomed to actually lead some version of The Avengers, whatever it’s called moving forward, have actually had more limited success, at least apart from Black Panther, who I’m like an 8/10 on.
Captain Marvel's first effort did great box office but, whether you want to blame sexism or not, has a 53% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, probably because the movie is really mediocre (and there are some sexist trolls). The Doctor Strange film is 17th in box office of the 23 MCU movies and while a big favorite among superfans, doesn’t seem to have gone over as well with casual viewers, at least judging by my own conversations and the comment section here at CinemaBlend. I personally love Ant-Man, but he’s not going to be the long-term face. So, I guess we have to hope Thor and Hulk stick around for awhile longer? Or that Shang-Chi or The Eternals work out? What exactly is the plan here? Because you know, down the road, Marvel is going to want another Avengers-style supermovie, and the X-Men aren't carrying anything.
The Part Where I Ask For More Joker-Style Movies
I liked Joker a lot. Not necessarily because everything about the movie worked but because I liked seeing a bold and daring take on a classic character. I liked that it didn’t feel like other comic book movies, and contrary to what some of my co-workers might tell you, I did think it had something important to say about mental health and isolation, even if it was on the nose. Regardless, though, I’m convinced the basic idea here is going to be attractive to a lot of filmmakers. If DC continues down this path and offers creative freedom (or something close to it) to more filmmakers in Hollywood, I think quite a few are going to jump at the chance to try something ballsy and original. Maybe someone will make the Batman hunting a lone serial killer drama I've always wanted.
Making a superhero movie, at least in the big budget sense, requires compromise, sharing a long-term vision and trying to fulfill the expectations of many different types of fans. It’s why so many of the Marvel movies have a really healthy mix of humor, action and mild violence and also push the larger story forward to be carried on by the next film. The movies are supposed to work for 12-year-olds and their parents sitting next to them in the theater. With Joker, Todd Phillips didn’t have to worry about that. He just made the movie he wanted to make, and I’m excited about other filmmakers who might want to scratch that same itch.
The Part Where I Compare Upcoming Movies
Over the next few years for DC, we have Birds Of Prey, which is the Harley Quinn movie, Wonder Woman 1984, The Batman, with Robert Pattinson, Paul Dano and Zoe Kravitz and James Gunn's new take on The Suicide Squad. I'm honestly hyped for all 4 of those movies. The original Suicide Squad didn't work, but Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn was far and away the best thing about it. I think, deep down, we all know someone is going to make a spectacular Harley Quinn movie eventually. Maybe this is it. A second Wonder Woman movie (the first one was great) with Kristen Wiig and the 1980s is all the sell I need. I think Pattinson was a great casting choice as Batman, and I'm excited to see what that world looks like with him at the center. And who doesn't want to see a James Gunn Suicide Squad? This is 4 potential wins.
As for Marvel, it's a much more uncertain future. The New Mutants trailer was released more than 2 years ago, and given how the last X-Men performed, there are rumors Disney might just throw it on the streaming service. After that, it's the Black Widow prequel, The Eternals, Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange 2 and Spider-Man 3, which has attracted a lot of less than stellar behind the scenes headlines lately. I'm pumped for Black Widow. I'll give the rest of these movies a chance, but I'm honestly more excited for all 4 DC movies than I am for any of these. After that, I start to get a bit more excited with Thor 4, Black Panther 2 and most importantly, Blade, but there are a lot of movie between now and then. Blade doesn't even have a release date.
The Part Where I Claim Victory
I think Marvel is going to figure it out. I think Kevin Feige and company have made too many wise decisions over the past decade to let all of this collapse. This article is not about how I think Marvel is going to start churning out box office bombs. The studio will make it work, and some of the new characters will (hopefully) fill the void of Iron Man and Captain America, but when I look at DC, I just see so much promise. I think Robert Pattinson was a great choice to play Batman. I think Paul Dano is going to make a spectacular Riddler and Zoe Kravitz a must see Catwoman. I think giving more directors like Todd Phillips a blank canvas to play with a character outside of continuity is a great decision, and if I’m starting from somewhere, I want to start with the classic comic book characters, which are, at least in my mind, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
I like DC’s long-term outlook better than I like Marvel’s, and whether you give me shit in the comment section or not, I’m happy with this opinion.