There’s soon going to be a TV show about a superhero team called The Defenders, starring characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones. Even die-hard comic-book fans might not have read stories featuring all of them. Each one of them is going to get a solo show, which’ll lead up to a miniseries where they team up. That’s going to happen.
There still isn’t a Justice League movie.
Thor: The Dark World, sequel to 2011’s Thor, released on November 8, and has already earned $360 million. It had Norse Gods riding through rainbows on horses.
There still isn’t a Wonder Woman movie.
Clearly, DC is losing the big Hollywood battle against Marvel, despite having far more recognizable heroes, and villains. It’s also laudable how, despite having most of its A-list characters under the stable of other studios, Marvel has come out on top over the past 5-6 years. What is the secret behind its success? Why is DC getting its ass kicked so thoroughly? Can we trust Zack Snyder to revitalize the DC Universe? In this article we try to answer some of those questions. Here are the reasons why Marvel is currently unbeatable in the comic-book movie business:
Creative Risks Meet Shrewd Marketing
There are two ways to look at The Avengers. One — that it’s a bold, ambitious move by starry-eyed comic-book lovers who had a clear vision, and second — that it’s a carefully calculated business move, treating superheroes like toys, and coming up with a formula to maximize profits. So which one is it? Well, it’s a bit of both. At the heart of Marvel are nerds who want to see their favorite comic-books on the big screen, but they’re complimented by savvy businessmen who figure out how to sell the movies to the masses. This collaboration of artists and marketers has led to Marvel’s many successes.
Now contrast this to DC, who, outside of Christopher Nolan, are not willing do anything remotely innovative with their characters. Instead of trying to organically come up with a tone and aesthetic for their characters, they try to follow previously successful “formulas”. With Green Lantern, it was clear that the filmmakers were trying to emulate Iron Man, but forgot to add RDJ’s charisma, or a half-decent script. Then there’s Man of Steel, where Snyder blatantly tried to make it Superman Begins, but in the process completely misread the character, and gave us a turgid shoutfest. I have no faith in his plans for the future of DC. He is a hack of the highest order.
Faith in the Source Material
With every new comic-book movie comes the inevitable whining from fans who’re always annoyed about the filmmakers messing up some minutiae from the comics. From Wolverine’s costume, to Spidey’s web-slingers, the nerds will rage over anything. Or that’s what we thought. For years, directors who had never read comic-books would “interpret” them in their own style, and make something completely tangential to the original material. Tim Burton didn’t care that Batman doesn’t kill, he just wanted to make a synthetic gothic opera. We used to excuse such disregard for source material as artistic freedom, but maybe now it’s time to reconsider this. Literature lovers would be pissed if someone fundamentally misunderstands their favorite works in movie adaptations, and people would be fine with it, but when comic book fans protest, they’re deemed as petty obsessive.
Marvel changed all that with it’s different, more sincere approach to adapting comics. Instead of drastically altering superhero origins, making the costumes all-black, or trying to make the story “gritty”, they stayed as close to the original creations as possible, building on the archetypes instead of changing them. Despite countless superhero movies over the years, it was The Avengers that introduced people to the colorful, uninhibited fantasies of the comic world. The Dark Knight maybe a good crime movie, but there’s no DC film that has anything close to as joyful as seeing Hulk punch space-robot-snakes.
Instead of having confidence in their superheroes, DC is unsure about everyone who isn’t Batman or Superman. Even after the success of Marvel’s obscure second-tier characters, DC doesn’t have the balls to make a Wonder Woman movie, arguably the most famous female superhero in the world. The best they could manage was a team-up between Superman and Batman, whose success will decide if we will ever get to see characters like Flash on the big screen.
Handing the Fanboy the Pen (And the Camera)
The tone of Marvel’s films feel a lot closer to reading comic books, than other adaptations, and that’s because actual comic-book writers and fans often have a say in what goes in the script. The first draft of Thor was written by Mark Protosevich, a big Thor fan. Further drafts were co-written by J. Michael Straczynski, a veteran comic-book writer who has worked on titles like The Amazing Spider-Man and Superman. In the writing process of all their movies, they bring in comic-book writers to give their input.
But Marvel’s most significant move in this regard was hiring Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers. Giving a television showrunner with no big movie hits the job of directing such a high-profile movie was a big risk, but the studio was willing to take it because it understood the value of the fanboy’s voice. It’s an important lesson in producing a movie — it takes a lot more thought to hire the right creators, than just throwing the checks at big names. I think this is where credit goes to Kevin Feige, who always came up with smart (and cheap!) choices for directors. It must not have been easy to convince the studio heads to give Whedon the job, so Feige’s work in choosing the right people and keeping the universe together is commendable. His work in even more praiseworthy for:
(Mostly) Perfect Casting
People were unsure when Robert Downey Jr. was announced as the actor to play Tony Stark. But once the first trailer came out, all doubts were alleviated. Today we can’t imagine anyone else occupying the role. Then came the time to cast Thor, a much harder superhero to market. But with Chris Hemsworth they got the perfect guy, with the right amounts of charisma and looks, to play a God. Edward Norton as Bruce Banner wasn’t bad, but with Mark Ruffalo they again hit it out of the park. The casting of the SHIELD characters is also very good, with Samuel L. Jackson, and Scarlett Johansson providing the films with some additional gravitas.
My only beef is that they could’ve found someone better than Chris Evans to play Cap. It’s not that he’s bad, but his expressions are filled with too much self doubt and angst, for someone as straightforward as Steve Rogers.
DC, on the other hand has been hopeless without Nolan. Christian Bale and Heath Ledger have made their roles legendary, but the casting for other movies has been questionable. Henry Cavill isn’t that good an actor, and Ryan Reynolds didn’t fit his role despite his best efforts.
In the coming years, Marvel is planning to dominate the small screen as well, and introduce some lesser known characters in Phase III. Next year we’ll see Guardians of the Galaxy, a space adventure that’ll feature a talking raccoon.
DC couldn’t make Man of Steel 2 without involving Batman.