Comic-Con has come and gone but the legacy of the 2015 convention promises to extend well beyond the four day event. With new trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad the upcoming release of Marvel’s Ant-Man has had to take a back seat in a busy week for film news. But where does this rivalry start and when will it end?
A while back Marvel and DC announced their respective five year plans. Both just as ambitious as Stalin’s Soviet Russia and both receiving the same excitable yet sub-conscious sceptical reaction. It remains to be seen if Marvel and DC can achieve their inspiring ambition but what we know for sure is that the longer the reign of the celluloid Superhero continues, the divide between the two comic superpowers will continue to grow.
For avid Marvel comic fans, or DC comic fans, their allegiance is already set. They will refute all arguments used to admonish their beloved franchise and rightly so. If anything is clear from the failed comic book adaptations of old, a little passion goes a long way. Marvel’s Daredevil suffered a cruel, crushing, and embarassing defeat at the hands of a justified critic response and DC struggled to impose their celluloid reimagining of Green Lantern to an audience that were only really just warming up to the idea of a Superhero monopoly. But for all my generosity both of these films represent a ‘Starke’ contrast to Marvel’s modern catalyst, Iron Man (2008).
Iron Man injected a new lease of life into the Superhero sub-genre. Since the comic-Superhero adaptations of Superman (1978) and the subsequent boom until the mid-90s celluloid Superheroes enjoyed relative success as stand alone films. There was never too much emphasis on the studio and as such they pretty much kept to themselves. Obviously there were some major successes, Superman being the most notable, but nothing compared to the levels of the 21st Century. Nobody saw the total reimagining of the cinematic Superhero landscape coming.
Fast forward to 2015 and Superhero movie news has become ubiquitous. To channel the wise words of Uncle Ben “with great power comes great responsibility.” As Marvel fans are treated to motion picture realisations of their favourite Superheroes and Supervillains alike the burgeoning franchise success only heaps further pressure on the studio to keep churning out box office hit one after another. This Friday (17th July) Marvel launches Ant-Man out into the big wide world, a digital world full of expectation and unnerving critique. It will be no competition for the ‘Avengers Initiative’ consisting of ten films to date but it comes with the same baggage.
Quoted in a recent Guardian article Matt Mueller of Screen International commented that,
“They [Hollywood studios] are all talking about ways of expanding their current franchises, rather than looking for more original ways to attract an audience…But you wonder if audience fatigue is going to come into play, and whether this is a dangerous game to play in the long term.”
Mueller raises a couple of poignant issues here not least of all the torturous death of originality, but also that one day audiences might get a little tired of all these spandex heroics.
With all the Superhero movies that have been released over the years you’d think we were at that point already. However, it was not until very recently that ‘comic adaptation’ became synonymous with ‘box office hit’.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe emerged in 2008 with a frustrating Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and it stayed this way for a while. The Marvel technicians were busy out back building their superweapon while the world slept. DC were yet to make any move toward their own cinematic universe. Christopher Nolan’s inimitably successful Dark Knight Trilogy introduced a little anarchy but while incredible it was a little too humble to upset the established order and cause the chaos The Joker oh so dreamt of.
In flies Zack Snyder and the Man of Steel and we’ve got a whole different ball game on our hands. Dark, somber, sinister. Quoted on Screen Rant Snyder claims,
“I wanted a hero in Superman that was a real hero and sort of reflected the world we live in now.“
For all its comedic shenanigans Marvel can never claim to aspire to something nearly as idealistic and from this perspective Man of Steel deserves a second look.
It appears, much to The Joker’s dismay, that Man of Steel was the agent of chaos DC needed. Superhero movie fans now had two competing cinematic universes.
On the one hand we have Marvel with their established reputation, heavy budget and uncompromising fan support. Whilst on the other we have the tardy DC, five years late to the party and carrying Snyder’s divisive pallette hues. However, by matching Marvel’s ten film plan until 2020 DC have the advantage of introducing new characters to engage with, not least of all David Ayer’s Suicide Squad.
With new trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad airing at San Diego Comic-Con, film fans and film journalists went into overdrive sharing videos on Twitter, posting excitable YouTube reactions and articulating their opinions for all the world to see.
What shone through in both trailers was DC’s desire to take the battle to Marvel. Introducing Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn into the DC universe early promises to challenge Marvel’s future intent regarding strong female characters. Wonder Woman is set for 2017 and in a growing debate regarding Hollywood equality Marvel and DC also have a chance to scrap the white male dominance in their current casting pools. As leading contributors to the world of cinema they won’t only be waging a war with each other over box office sales but they will revolutionise modern cinema from casting equality to digital techniques.
How will the battle pan out? Does it boil down to a black and white distinction?
David Hughes acknowledges that Marvel’s “lighter tone has won them more fans.” But is the distinction between Marvel and DC this black and white? Or rather, white and black? Afterall even Yin and Yang act as complementary parts of a divided whole. Marvel show no signs of easing back their snappy humour that audiences relate to, it’s their trademark and it works well. Likewise DC is finally receiving the attention it deserves from film makers and film fans.
DC is about beautifully shot dark films that don’t tiptoe around serious questions and importantly aren’t afraid to expose harsh realities in a modern age. There are no stupid Iron Man jokes or ego trips from Thor over the size of his hammer. DC’s dark side fits their cinematic universe into the Superhero sub-genre like a Thriller in a Christmas woolly.
I’ve recently announced my total admonishment toward the superhero genre but in hindsight it is only really Marvel’s Avengers franchise, including the sum of its parts, that have left a foul taste in my mouth. No matter how hard I try I can’t say the same for DC’s vision. We’re currently one film into their burgeoning cinematic universe and the excitement surrounding Batman v Superman is hard to ignore, likewise Suicide Squad. Despite Ant-Man‘s release this week I’d say DC achieved its first real success with two trailers in a soon to be long drawn out battle of studio Superhero wars.