The internet seems to get more enjoyment out of mocking the DC Extended Universe than watching the actual films. Its early years were basically a "What if every decision that the MCU made somehow went horribly wrong?" scenario, and it became a cautionary tale for every studio that wanted to attempt a shared universe. But fortunes change quickly in Hollywood, and it sure does seem like the tide is turning in the whole DC vs. Marvel thing. Look at how ...
We need to start with some context. Coming off the heels of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, the DC Extended Universe has been widely seen as an unrelenting half-decade-long wet fart. But for such a clownishly inept undertaking, it's sure made a hell of a lot of money. DC's movies have performed remarkably consistently, with all of them bringing in at least $650 million worldwide, and Aquaman recently broke the billion-dollar mark. That's right, the subplot from Entourage about Aquaman being a box office smash turned out to be a prophecy. What else does that show have to each us?
Remember, the MCU was far more erratic in its early years. The first Captain America only made $370 million! Worldwide! The Incredible Hulk didn't even make its budget back domestically. I can only imagine Kevin Feige screaming, "IT'S COOL. IT'S ALL GONNA WORK OUT IN 2012!" at an investors meeting.
But even recent movies like Ant-Man ($519 million) and Doctor Strange ($677 million) were "failures" by the standard DC is held to. Really, the only reason any of DC's flicks could be considered letdowns is that Warner Bros. tends to spend way too much on them, and they don't reach the absurd highs of the most successful Marvel blockbusters (note: hardly anything does). But in most contexts, the nearly $750 million Suicide Squad made would be considered a lot of money.
Through a mix of hard work and some kind of divine providence, the MCU has thrived. That said, it looks to be facing hard times ahead. After Avengers: Endgame concludes with what I can only assume will be Groot's 40-minute eulogy to Iron Man, Marvel/Disney is going to have to do some serious recalibrating if it plans on continuing to rocket forward.
The contracts of a number of the MCU's most bankable stars expire following Endgame, and Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Robert Downey Jr. have all hinted that they may be hanging up their capes and codpieces for good. The MCU has been a miracle of near-perfect casting, but that can be a double-edged sword. I mean, how do you replace friggin' Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man? Avengers directors the Russo Brothers have implied it's basically impossible, and where would the MCU have been if it wasn't hooked up to an intravenous drip of Tony Stark quips?
Almost as concerning for Marvel is the exodus of talent behind the camera, with Joss Whedon, James Gunn, and Ava DuVernay crossing the line to DC. They join names like James Wan, Patty Jenkins, Matt Reeves, and Chris McKay already toiling away at Warner. Despite all the snickering, the DCEU seems to have no trouble attracting talented creators.
Marvel has been pretty hesitant to abandon the realm of the PG-13. They've treated mature stuff like Daredevil and Jessica Jones like weird friends that aren't invited to the REAL party, and on the subject of the recently acquired Deadpool, the CEO of Disney has basically said "Yeah, he'll be in the MCU. Except he won't." DC, on the other hand, is not as shy about delivering all the cussin' and decapitatin' that a large amount of fans crave.
Did you know that DC has a comic out now featuring full-frontal Bat nudity? Because they do, and it's ... a thing that happened. But on the better side of that spectrum, they've also been running a successful mature readers line, Vertigo, for decades. And that lineup has already been adapted into movies like V For Vendetta and TV series like iZombie and Preacher. Properties like The Sandman and 100 Bullets are on the way to the big screen too. Remember that smug guy from college who kept telling you to put down Avengers and read Y: The Last Man and also try out slacklining? That dude is so pumped right now.
Oh, and let's not forget that batshit-looking Joker movie in which a dastardly Joaquin Phoenix stops subway riders from being able to go to the bathroom, apparently. To be fair, most of these edgy projects are currently being kept separate from the DCEU proper, but at least DC is open about that. Marvel makes R-rated series, pretends that they'll be important in the grand scheme of things, and then shoves them under the bed when their parents visit.
It's pretty much guaranteed that future comic book movies are going to be less of a parade of angsty middle-aged white dudes now that Hollywood has been reassured that they can be diverse while still raking in gargantuan sums of money. And I think DC may actually be better set up for this more inclusive future than Marvel.
Yes, after 20 damn movies, Marvel is finally letting a female hero take the lead in Captain Marvel, which has every chance of being a big hit. That said, Captain Marvel ain't Wonder Woman when it comes to legacy, popularity, or, well, pretty much anything else. Captain Marvel also isn't Supergirl, Batgirl, Catwoman, Batwoman, or Harley Quinn. Not that every superhero needs to be one that your dad remembers (if someone tells you they were a DIE-HARD Guardians Of The Galaxy fan before the movie came out, they're very likely lying), but established brands definitely still matter.
Also, Marvel has had mixed luck in trying to pass the torch to a new generation of more diverse characters on the comics side. Some, like Afro-Latino Spider-Man Miles Morales, have been warmly received, but others, like new Hulk Amadeus Cho and teen Iron Man successor Riri Williams, have received far less nurturing from the publisher. Too often, these new characters are introduced amidst the usual internet ballyhoo, but after 10-20 issues, they're quietly pushed into supporting roles so that Bruce Banner can continue his sad monologuing without distraction.
Meanwhile, DC has a somewhat better track record with these transitions, with Green Lantern John Stewart and Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes being fan favorites. Heck, the latest Martian Manhunter series gives the character a new black alter ego, and nobody's batted an eyelash. Not that diversity is a competition; it's just that the landscape is clearly changing, and DC seems more ready for it.
Zack Snyder managing to make a boring movie about Batman and Superman punching each other is a fuck-up of staggering, historical significance. But let me ask you: Why was Marvel the one to kick off the cinematic universe thing? DC was the first to have success at the box office, with Superman in 1978 and Batman in 1989, and they haven't been plagued with the rights issues that have overshadowed Marvel like the specter of death. The reason is simple: You don't need a universe when you've got goddamn Batman and Superman.
If Man Of Steel and Batman v. Superman had been critical darlings and maybe pulled in a few hundred million more each, would we have had a billion-dollar Aquaman movie in 2018? Doubtful. Would we have interesting, varied stuff like Shazam!, Birds Of Prey, Plastic Man, a goddamn Aquaman spinoff, and that Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie in the works? Even more doubtful. Would we have the human emotion known as joy? No. None.
Don't forget, it wasn't a mainstream franchise like Spider-Man or X-Men that launched the MCU; it was Marvel's perpetual mid-tier drunk uncle Iron Man. Batman and Superman taking a time out means Warner Bros. needed to delve a little deeper into DC's bench, and as Aquaman shows, the audience is game for this.
Make no mistake, though, B&S are only taking a temporary hiatus. Sure, Snyder burst into the Cinematic Universe Saloon, promptly shot himself in both feet, fell through the front window, and got kicked in the junk by his own horse (all in slow motion), but Batman and Superman are still two very potent bullets in WB's chamber. However, the fact that they're momentarily retired forces DC to be daring and creative for once, rather than lighting up the ol' Bat signal again and hoping giant paychecks fall in their laps. Even in the world of big-budget superhero movies, getting out of your comfort zone can make all the difference.
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