Earlier this week, one of our readers submitted a Collider Mail Bag question: “Why are people very critical of DC movies?” While she conceded Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad had “many flaws,” she deemed both of them “fun” films before considering Thor: The Dark World, not one of Marvel’s best but was still given a pass by fans and critics.
It’s a legitimate question, though perhaps a more accurate one should be, “Why are people biased against DC movies?”
Sure, these films broke box-office records, and Suicide Squad earned the top spot in its first couple weeks. But, much like BvS, it too experienced a massive dip (about a 79% drop in revenue) during the second week. Was it negative word of mouth that changed this tune? Were these films actually that bad? Was it bias? Perhaps it was a little bit of all three.
These films were already going to make money from their premieres because people were excited to see these characters on the big screen: one was the first time DC’s Holy Trinity came together in a live-action feature, and the other brought with it Task Force X (including fan-favorite Harley Quinn and a new Joker). Hence, an overwhelming amount of pre-ticket sales. But it’s hard to ignore the quality of what was shown.
From filmmaking and storytelling standpoints, two out of the three DC Extended Universe movies suffered from poor editing and focus. BvS felt like watching a 151-minute-long trailer, uncomfortably cutting from scene to scene while throwing out a lot of material (Luthor, Batman fighting Superman, Easter eggs, Wonder Woman, Man of Steel fallout, Doomsday, kryptonite, etc.) — and Suicide Squad was literally re-edited by a company that makes movie trailers. From a fan standpoint, these character interpretations were not the ones we grew up reading in the comics. I’ve asked a lot of Superman purists and most of them — even the ones who did like Man of Steel — are firm in their stance that this alien who laid waste to Metropolis and put a terrorist through a brick wall is not Kal-El. Similar discussions are being had over Batfleck and his kill count, and the darker tone.
That said, I do remember sitting in a screening for BvS, and someone next to me said something along the lines of, “We know this movie is going to be bad. I’m just seeing it to see it.” Whether it was Zack Snyder’s original vision for Superman in Man of Steel or what, there seems to be some level of hostility towards the franchise, which brings back that Collider Mail Bag question.
Collider’s Sinead De Vries theorized it’s because we have something drastically better to compare it to: Captain America: Civil War. Marvel adapted one of the most riveting, exciting pieces of the comics for a smackdown between Team Cap and Team Iron Man. It was fan porn at its finest. It was also essentially the same concept behind BvS, which came out a few months earlier: two iconic superheroes fighting each other because of idealogical differences.
The only problem was, again, Marvel executed it better. The home of the Avengers is at a point where it’s reaping the benefits of all the groundwork laid out beginning with the first Iron Man, but I think the keys to understanding why audiences tend to rally behind Marvel and not DC in terms of these movies are, as the reader question brought up, the Thor movies.
Chris Hemsworth debuted as the Asgardian Avenger in 2011, the same year of the first Captain America movie. It was also the year Team DC suffered a massive blow with the debut of Green Lantern, which fans and Ryan Reynolds still talk about to this day. Thor wasn’t an exceptional movie, but it succeeded because it (A) stuck to the Marvel formula, (B) featured something we’ve never seen before, a myth-based superhero movie and the cosmic world of Asgard, and (C) kept things fun and comic book based.
At the time, we only had Iron Man (hit), The Incredible Hulk (miss), and Iron Man 2 (miss). When Captain America debut later that year in June, its success prompted audiences to adjust their expectations of what a superhero movie could be. Then The Avengers came along, and that became the new standard. Thor: The Dark World wasn’t exceptional either, but it hit similar beats in this now post-Avengers world. When Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, two of Marvel’s best, came along, they changed the game again.
Now, we’re living in the golden age of superhero movies with films like Captain America: Civil War, a diversified slate from Black Panther to Captain Marvel, and the prospect of Avengers: Infinity War. These have upped the ante considerably, which is why when we don’t see the same from DC, we’re quick to poo poo the films. I wouldn’t agree with the Collider reader when she theorized that if Thor were hypothetically within the DC wheelhouse, fans would be more quick to bash the films. I would say, however, that if BvS came out during 2005 alongside the first Fantastic Four, more people would have found more joy in it merely for the fact that we didn’t know any better at the time.
Also working against DC is the Dark Knight trilogy, which still casts its shadow over the Extended Universe Warner Bros. are trying to create. The studio is now scrambling to infuse humor into Justice League, a funny thought considering they produced probably the most successful darker-tinged superhero movies of all time. Again, Zack Snyder didn’t execute the tone and story better than Christopher Nolan.
Are people harsher with DC than Marvel? I’d say so, but it’s only because we’ve conditioned our palettes a certain way by feasting on high-quality offerings. When we’re then presented with something that doesn’t taste as good, that we can’t savor, that doesn’t make us want more, it’s easy to spit out, because we know there are far better selections on the menu.