Revenger Guest Column: “WB/DC Learned All The Wrong Lessons From Marvel’s Success”
Here at Revenge of The Fans, we pride ourselves on giving fans around the world a sounding board for their opinions. Last week, we gave this platform to Aaron Virola. This week, the honor goes to Chris Lisanti. Similar to Aaron, Chris is a longtime support of the precursor to RTF: El Fanboy. He’s also a Patreon Patron. His support and patronage of RTF makes him a Revenger.
Here’s his guest column:
Revenger Guest Column: “WB/DC Learned All The Wrong Lessons From Marvel’s Success“
May 2008 – Samuel L Jackson appears as Nick Fury in a post credits scene at the end of Iron Man and announces The Avengers Initiative. The world of Super Hero Cinema, for better or for worse, will never be the same.
June 2013 – Warner Bros and DC release Man of Steel, which is intended to kick off a DC Cinematic Universe to rival the MCU. Zack Snyder is handed the reins and well…
There is plenty of blame to go around for the mess that is the DC Universe. Many will blame Zack Snyder for creating unlikeable characters and setting a dark, depressing tone. Others will blame Warner Bros. executives for too much interference. Surely all of these are factors, but at the end of the day all of these things can be folded into what I think is the biggest misstep that WB/DC made:
They learned the wrong lessons from the success of the MCU.
The success of the MCU is very specific to Marvel Studios. It was born out of necessity and executed patiently and perfectly. Marvel properties had enjoyed success in the movies before there was an MCU. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was an enormous success for Sony, and the X-Men franchise, despite its inconsistent quality, was also very successful for Fox. Sure there were misses, like the Ben Affleck Daredevil or the Thomas Jane Punisher and numerous attempts by Fox at the Fantastic Four, but nobody is perfect. Due to Marvel Comics having to sell the film rights to some of their properties to other studios, Marvel Studios was now going to be making their own movies without access to many of its A-list properties. They had a strategy. The whole would be greater than the sum of its parts. The strategy worked for them.
There are definitely lessons to be learned from the success of the MCU. If you have a clear vision, cohesive storytelling, and stay true to your characters, you can create not just a shared universe but a brand that will appeal to hardcore fans as well as new fans who might not usually turn out for a superhero movie. I have relatives who never read comics, and are certainly not fanboys or girls, who always want to go see the next “Marvel movie.” The brand is what is successful, the shared universe was how they built their brand but the two things are not one necessarily one and the same.
In 2009 when DC Entertainment was created it didn’t have the disadvantage that Marvel Studios did. Because of the fact that DC Comics and Warner Bros. studios are under the same corporate umbrella the film division would have access to all of the DC Comics properties, including Superman and Batman- who are their own brands that have already proven to be box office gold when done right. It’s important to place emphasis on the words “brand,” “done” and “right.” The possibilities were endless. Sure DC Entertainment got off to a rough start with the 2011 disaster that was Green Lantern, but time heals all wounds and it was quickly forgotten. This was going to be a chance to make movies with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. that were true to the characters and would have some connective tissue just like they did in the comics and the animated series that we DC fans had all known and loved. This was the DC fans’ dream come true. What could possibly go wrong?
I am not privy to the conversations that take place in the board rooms of DC Entertainment, but actions speak louder than words. Based on their actions, DC found the MCU’s lowest common denominators for what made it successful and seemed to have approached things from a position of insecurity. They have a shared universe; WE will have a shared universe! / They made the Avengers; WE will make Justice League. Avengers: Infinity War will be 2 parts (the original announced plan); so Justice League will be 2 parts (also the original announced plan)! They have a cool opening logo montage; WE will have a cool opening logo montage.
They even copied what they thought was the model for the success of Guardians of the Galaxy by making their own movie about a rag tag group of non-heroes who come together to be heroes. That movie would be Suicide Squad which would be released in August just like the original Guardians. In theory there is nothing wrong with DC Entertainment taking inspiration from the MCU, there is plenty of good to be taken.
It isn’t what they took, it’s what they didn’t take.
The problems and the drama have been well documented over the past couple of years. If you look at everything that was done from Man of Steel through Justice League, very little of their decisions stayed true to the characters, showed a clear vision and any sense of cohesion. Characters went from being dark and brooding, to colorful and smiling, sometimes over the course of the same movie. The best example is Wonder Woman. She started out in BvS as someone who had given up on humanity and abandoned us for a century. Then in her brilliant solo movie that concept was retconned and she was a hero who would never give up on us, only to be back to being the hero that gave up on us again in Justice League. These were supposed to be the same characters in the same universe right? Behind the scenes, directors were coming and going, movies were being dropped from the slate and rumors and arguments among fans and media had become common. The most interesting thing about the DCU was the behind the scenes drama instead of what was actually on the screen. At this point any chance of them taking the patient approach of Marvel was it out the door. It was clear that this was no longer about a cinematic universe, this was a sprint to get Justice League into theaters as quickly as possible so that they could put all of this to bed and go back to the drawing board.
Now that Justice League is behind us, the future of the DCU is still a very fluid, if not volatile situation. Who exactly is running the show? Will Matt Reeves direct The Batman trilogy and if so who will play Batman? Will Henry Cavill ever truly get to play the real Superman in the Man of Steel sequel that never happened. Can James Wan and Jason Mamoa do for Aquaman what Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot did for Wonder Woman? Is Flashpoint a smart idea for the first solo Flash movie or is that going to be another BvS style mistake?
No matter what happens from this point forward I hope that whoever is in charge of DC Entertainment and the DCU stops looking for the lowest common denominator after other movies become successful. No, Deadpool and Logan weren’t successful because people want to see R-Rated Superhero movies, you hear me DC? They need to take the real lessons from the success of the MCU, from movies like Deadpool and Logan and from their own success with Wonder Woman. In fact, maybe they can take a look at the X-Men franchise to see how you can rebound from poor creative decisions and still come out a winner. They already have great actors cast in the roles, now if they just stay true to their characters and have a clear and cohesive vision we could still be in for something special.
The opinions stated above are solely those of the author. If you’d like to have your say, you can.