4 Signs DC Comics Has No Clue How to Make Superhero Movies
Back in 2008, DC Comics had massive success with The Dark Knight. And now that Marvel's space opera about a low-vocabulary tree-man is the highest-grossing movie of the year, DC is more than eager to hop back aboard the hype train, unaware that they've aimed it squarely off a cliff. Their main problems?
DC's Doing the Exact Opposite of What Made Marvel Successful
DC can't just copy Marvel's film formula, so they're contrasting. Namely, DC's embracing the gritty overtones of the Christopher Nolan Bat-trilogy -- which printed a shit-ton of Bat-dollars, reactions to The Dark Knight Rises notwithstanding -- instead of Marvel's pop superheroics.
Also, DC is flip-flopping the structure of The Avengers. In that film, Marvel took an armful of superheroes -- most of whom had prior films to establish their characters -- and tossed them all into the same darn movie. If you hated Thor, it didn't matter -- you could ignore that character and instead relish Iron Man's banter, Captain America's befuddled good looks, or Hawkeye's, uh, Hawk-stuff.
This was a nice dessert after a well-made meal. Justice League is just a high dive into a swimming pool of ice-cream headache.
DC wants a piece of The Avengers' 1.5-billion-dollar pie, except they don't have the time or patience for all that universe-building claptrap. For 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the strategy appears to be "let's make a bouillabaisse out of all our intellectual property." Batman v Superman's seemingly pulling an Amazing Spider-Man 2 and throwing in new and unknown versions of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and presumably the first big-screen appearance of Lady Cop.
"Can we give her pants?"
"She's Lady Cop, not Harlot Officer!"
So what's the problem with this strategy? Only after DC has raked in the requisite $2 billion with both Batman v Superman and 2018's Justice League will we likely see Wonder Woman or Aquaman in their own films. This, of course, assumes the inevitable scene where Aquaman castrates a humpback whale doesn't cause audiences to cry themselves to sleep. And whatever do we mean by that?
DC Mistakes "Dark" for "Realistic"
It's not just the plots that have to be super-serious with DC -- it's the outfits as well. Zack Snyder "tried like crazy to keep the red briefs" on Superman's outfit. Ultimately, they were cut from the film, because a biologically impossible humanoid extraterrestrial in a blue jumpsuit is fine, but if you can see his underwear, that's just too far.
Similarly, the new Wonder Woman has lost her red, white, and blue garb, because nobody in the real world wears colorful clothing. Now she looks like she lost a fight with a bronze factory.
Xena: Warrior Smelter.
Compare this with Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel embraced the campiness of a talking raccoon, which allowed them to sneak some surprise pathos in. Meanwhile, DC is obsessed with making their films "realistic," apparently unaware that the entire concept of Superman is completely fucking ridiculous. (Nobody's particularly surprised by rumors that DC has a "no jokes after Green Lantern bombed" policy on the books.) And while we're on the topic ...
They Don't Know Why The Dark Knight Was Good
DC has bet it all on the screenwriting prowess of David S. Goyer, since he was the co-writer of The Dark Knight trilogy. This makes perfect sense, except that it makes no fucking sense. Here's what Goyer had to say about the writing process for the Batman films:
Chris is great, the best experience I ever had was working with Chris ... It's a very open environment. We fight, we argue ... Chris is always going to take the last pass on these scripts going in. He's a writer as well as a director, kind of 50/50, and so he's always going to get in there and take that last crack at it.
"I got people to care about other people's weird dreams. I can do anything."
When you look at it that way, it sounds like Nolan is actually the screenwriting genius and Goyer is just along for the ride. But that assessment really short-sells the writer of such films as Blade: Trinity, Jumper, The Unborn, and Ghost Rider 2. Let's take a closer look at some screens from The Dark Knight:
See how the film manages to be dark and colorful at the same time? Both scenes are bathed in a strong blue, with patches of orange (from the flames) or green (from the Joker) to liven up the scene. Compare that to the promo images from Batman v Superman:
Don't adjust your monitor brightness. It's meant to look like that.
All of Superman's colors are faded and washed out, while Batman is nothing but gray. Hell, in Man of Steel, the red S on Superman's chest -- in broad daylight -- was more faded than the Joker's lipstick at night.
"But Cracked, what's so bad about gray?" you plead (while listening to Macy Gray and reading The Picture of Dorian Gray). The problem is that the color gray makes us sad. And nobody goes to a comic book movie to feel sad, even if they did knowingly watch Green Lantern. But don't tell that to DC, because they're going all-in with the horrible bleakness, even for Superman ...
They Don't Understand Why Superman Is Important
Remember when Snyder directed Watchmen? That at least made some sense. Snyder does bleak films, and Watchmen was supposed to be a cynical look at the limits of superheroes in the real world. But then they unleashed Snyder on Man of Steel, and that's how we ended up with a bunch of "realistic" gobbledygook about interplanetary genocide.
So now that they've got Snyder determining the general tone of all the film versions of their superheroes, DC's doubling down on the dark-n-gritty. This may work for Batman, but this will kill Superman faster than a Kryptonite enema. Take a look at this screenshot from Superman: The Animated Series, which ran from 1996 to 2000:
The series is colorful and optimistic because Superman is an inherently optimistic character. Superman's always been the everyman people's champion who can do anything and right any wrong while never stooping to the bad guys' level. His earliest nemeses were corrupt public officials and landlords. (And let's not forget that his archenemy, Lex Luthor, is an evil CEO.)
And when you embrace this characterization of Superman, it's not impossible to have the hero address serious issues. Here's one of the greatest Superman moments of all time. It's a perfect, self-contained scene from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's 2005 comic book series, All-Star Superman:
You couldn't spare one minute of this from the 90 minutes set aside for destruction porn?
Superman is the ultimate aspirational hero we wish we could have and could be. And without further ado, Snyder's opinion of that particular line of thought:
I think that, honestly, the thing I was surprised about in response to Superman was how everyone clings to the Christopher Reeve version of Superman, you know? How tightly they cling to those ideas ... I really wanted to show the violence is real, people get killed or get hurt, and it's not fun or funny. And I guess for me, it was like I wanted a hero in Superman that was a real hero and sort of reflected the world we live in now.
Yup, Snyder noticed that Americans love the idealized, heroic Superman, and his response is to give us the exact opposite thing. He actually said that Superman is not supposed to be fun.
By the way, Superman killing Zod? That was Snyder's idea too.
Look, we already have enough harrowing shit in our lives. America is one of the most depressed nations on the planet. And DC Comics, we don't need you invoking 9/11 in a fucking Superman film. We need a dose of optimism, and you need to stop getting your asses handed to you by a raccoon nobody knew the name of three months ago.