Anthony Stokes on the “Marvel’s movies are for kids, DC’s for adults” debate….
We’re in the age of blockbusters and tentpoles and I personally couldn’t be happier, especially with Marvel. They’ve continued to produce quality, well-made movies with Oscar caliber storytellers at the helm and delivering a consistent movie going experience. Their counterpart company with significantly less success is Warner Bros. / DC. I’m not a fan of their characters, their comics (outside of Batman of course), their business model, or their movies.
Objectively it should be clear who’s the more successful company at this point – at least as far as movies go. Marvel has the most brilliant marketing plan of any studio right now and continues to reap the benefits for what is essentially a never ending promotional machine. Their movies and TV shows function as long commercials, only adding more money in Marvel’s pocket whilst also giving the fans what they want, and if Guardians of the Galaxy is even a mild success that will only open the flood gates to what can be turned into a franchise. But, if Marvel is a well oiled machine, then DC is a chicken with its head cut off, still technically functioning but not very efficiently or gracefully. But if you ask DC fans the only reason Marvel is more successful is because they make kid friendly movies, while DC appeals to more mature viewers, resulting in less box office. Basically Marvel movies are for kids, and DC movies are dark and more adult. Okay, fair enough – let’s explore this dynamic and see if it has any legs.
Let’s examine first what constitutes a kid’s movie. Well obviously these are movies which appeal primarily to kids. Let’s say a kid is somewhere between the ages of 4 up until around 13. That’s the end of being a toddler through to the start of being a teenager, and most kids movies are rated G to PG, at least in the United States. Now, if we use the certificates as a guide, Marvel movies are rated PG-13. That said, most movies that are considered “kid’s movies” are really for all ages. Kids wouldn’t get all the satire in Shrek for example, but they still enjoy it just as much as their parents. The only real kid’s movie in recent memory this year is Planes which really functions as a babysitting video to keep children busy. Despicable Me 2, Monsters University and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, all entertain anybody, so therefore are they really kids movies? Is the title “kid’s movie” something that’s even relevant anymore, considering most of them go straight to DVD? I don’t think so, or at least not as a negative connotation, just like saying something is a “TV movie”. In this golden age of television that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
So in my opinion I don’t think Marvel movies are kid’s movie because I don’t believe in that term. However, how accessible are they to kids? Who makes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s audience? Well according to Box Office Mojo, The Avengers had an evenly split demographic of under and over 25. While it could be argued that parents taking their kids to the movies would account for the balance, this still very much debunks the whole “just for kids” argument. All ages would be the apt description.
However, maybe those DC fans making this claim mean that Marvel movies are kid’s movies in comparison to DC’s “edgier and darker” body of work. I still say this in very much incorrect. Iron Man 2, the black sheep of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, could be considered lighthearted escapist entertainment, but that description certainly doesn’t fit the rest of Marvel’s movies. Iron Man is a techno character study, The Incredible Hulk has very little levity in it, Thor is a Shakespearean drama, Captain America: The First Avenger is a war movie, and Iron Man 3 is a techno thriller as described by Shane Black. Now a kid isn’t going to be able to appreciate the snappy dialogue in Avengers, or the mystery and political undertones in Iron Man 3. A kid can really only enjoy the visual gags and the spectacle.
And as far as Marvel’s movies not being as “dark”, first off this is a largely misunderstood and overused term as already explored in a previous article. Towards the end of every arc in a Marvel movie our heroes are completely devastated – be it through personal failings, loss of loved ones, ineffectualness, or being totally defeated – especially Tony Stark in Iron Man, who is torn apart that his entire legacy has been a lie. This is a really human character arc that makes him sympathetic. This is why Iron Man 2 doesn’t work, because his character doesn’t have any real conflict. And I’m not saying these movies are “dark”, but they’re a lot more nuanced then people give them credit for. And as mentioned earlier, they’re guided by powerful and assured storytelling by Oscar-calibre directors who make every frame and every scene memorable, along with scripts that have great humour – which probably gives off the impression that they’re just comedies, or too kid friendly.
So then, let’s talk about Warner Bros. and DC now. I already mentioned I’m not a big fan, but I think I have good reason. They simply don’t make movies that appeal to me. And these people saying “DC is darker” – if you ask them to give an example they’ll say The Dark Knight, Man of Steel and maybe the more informed ones will mention Watchmen. I guess they forgot about Catwoman, Green Lantern, and Jonah Hex, which are considered amongt the worst of the comic book movie genre, and are definitely not dark nor edgy. And while I would say The Dark Knight trilogy is edgy in comparison to say Catwoman or Green Lantern, I still wouldn’t consider it edgy or dark outside of that. There’s the appearance of something that’s edgy, but really if you look at those movies overall they’re about hopefulness and faith in the face of a dire situation. How many main or secondary character deaths are there in this entire trilogy, not including villains? From memory, one. I could be wrong, but isn’t that the same as the supposed kids movie The Avengers? And while that certainly isn’t all that matters, it puts things into perspective, especially in The Dark Knight Rises, which by all means should have been an opportunity to kill off at least a few of the supporting characters. And with Man of Steel as well, the tone seems to me to be uplifting and inspirational, especially with the final scene.
Maybe if you’re only factoring in recent DC movies, sure – Warner Bros. makes somewhat “mature” movies. If they continue to go on this road of pseudo edgy movies and they actually start to get better reception (outside of The Dark Knight Trilogy), then I’ll bury the hatchet and become a fan. I certainly welcome competition and the two companies could complement each other very well. But I don’t think Warner Bros. / DC is there yet and I don’t think Marvel Studios’ movies are these kiddie comedies that haters like to make them out to be. Overall, what should matter is who makes better movies, which many can say is subjective. However, people vote with their wallets, and not being kid friendly didn’t stop The Dark Knight from becoming a huge success. If you make a great blockbuster people will see it and then see it again, regardless of who the target audience is. I look forward to being a DC fan once Warner Bros. manages to find its groove.
Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker.