This is why, despite having all the narrative coherence of a Prodigy music video, DC films are artistically miles above Marvel. You heard me. Zack Snyder is a better director when it comes to understanding and challenging the fundamental cinematic language of cinematography, editing, and directing.
Here's an example. Let's say you have a scene where a bomb goes off in a government building and you want to show the effect that has on the world. How would you convey that without any dialogue?
Warner Brothers Pictures
We start on a close-up of the chair exploding, then the room exploding, then the hallway outside the room exploding. Every time, the fire engulfs the screen as the source of it slowly moves from left to right -- giving the quick cuts a feeling of progression. Then we see the building explode, followed by the protesters outside reacting, followed by the people watching it on TV. In seven shots, the event ripples outward in a way that tells a very large story.
Now let's see how Marvel handles the same thing.
We get a wide shot of the truck bomb. Two medium reaction shots, followed by a few other quick reaction shots. And finally a couple more wide shots to most efficiently portray the action. It's aggressively standard, brightly lit, and framed as traditionally as possible. Because as Every Frame A Painting recently pointed out about the franchise's completely unmemorable music, Marvel films are made for safety and efficiency. Each film is designed to fit into a larger episodic franchise, like an episode of a TV show, making it so that no single one can visually stand out in any extreme way.
Even Doctor Strange -- a film with amazingly unique visuals -- still presents those effects with the same commercial cinematography, standard editing, and safe orchestral score the MCU always uses. It's like your old elementary school portrait: There might be some high-priced wicked lazer shit in the background, but it's still the same dimensions and composure as the rest of the class.
All that Escher shit in the background, and it's still framed like an episode of NCIS.
And the weirdest part is that I still prefer the Marvel films. Because like most audiences, I'm not watching these films solely for their artistic merits, but rather to escape the never-ending sorrow-gorge that is my waking life. And Marvel is objectively way better at solid narratives, fun characters, and broad entertainment. Only there once was a time where a film could be both fun AND cinematically complex, thanks to all the Spielbergs of the world who are slowly fading away.
It boils down to this: Every director exists on a spectrum between "artistically unique" and "universally appealing." On one end, you have your David Lynches and Terry Gilliams, and at the other are the JJ Abrams and Joss Whedons. Neither side is bad or good, but it's always been my opinion that the best directors exist somewhere in the middle. But now that studios either have to make billion-dollar successes or shoestring indies, that Venn diagram between commercial successes and artsy snobbery has been breaking apart, forcing anyone hoping to see dinosaur murder AND cinematic inspiration into a Sophie's Choice.
Macall B. Polay/HBO
Or a Game Of Thrones fan.
And yes, due to its moderate budget, Sophie's Choice would never get made today without adding some action setpieces and getting Brett Ratner to direct.
David is an editor, columnist, and gloomy-gus for Cracked.com. Cheer him up on Twitter.