Samuel Brace with three ways that DC can beat Marvel…
1) Know Your Strengths
This would seem obvious, and it is, just not to DC. They know good and well what they have going for them and just as importantly, what they do not, but instead they are going for what they think everyone wants, which is just playing into the hands of Marvel and therefore making themselves look bad. They need to stop, that is if they want to start winning.
Disney is playing the smart game right now, they, unlike their rivals, are actually playing to their strengths, not a clever strategy, just a sensible one. This strength being that Marvel has a more appealing roster of characters. Their B list of heroes and villains is mighty impressive, as is their C list. Strength in depth is the name of the game here and they are running with it. This has allowed them to build their cinematic universe, without it feeling sparse or lightweight in any particular area. DC’s strength is that Batman is more appealing than everyone Marvel has to offer. They need to work with that. They will not compete, head to head, up and down the roster with Marvel. If they continue to try, they will lose, but if they realise what they have with Batman and his affiliated villains, they can succeed in ways that Marvel never can. The shared universe thing does not match up well with what they have to offer. Stand alone, more personal stories is where they need to go. People love Batman, even with a bad film they can do well, but they will slay if they do it right and shine their spotlight on him.
2) Be the Antithesis
As mentioned, Marvel has got the whole shared universe thing down. What they have however, comes with its own limitations, a ceiling that they won’t be able to break, a ceiling which they are about to hit, and unfortunately for DC, they are not going to be able top it. So they shouldn’t try. They don’t need to. What DC needs to be is the antithesis of everything that Marvel is. Not just thematically but in the way their movies are presented and produced. They need to recalibrate and do the opposite.
What DC needs to provide its audience, who are begging for something tangible, is individual, independent films that stand on their own. They don’t have to follow the path of others; instead of trying to beat Marvel at their own game, they should start playing another game entirely — or in reality, restart playing a game which they perfected before Christopher Nolan decided enough was enough after The Dark Knight Rises. If they get back to these roots, these roots of making a film, just a film, not a prequel to a sequel, they will carve out their own distinct place in the market and provide audiences with an attractive alternative to the bloated uniformity of Marvel’s asinine pop culture project.
You see, Marvel don’t care about making great films, they care about pop culture — a smart move — but what if DC just got up and said “Hey Marvel, you can play with your toys over there and sell as many t-shirts and top trumps as you want (do kids still like those??) but we are going to make films”. They would likely find themselves in an incredibly healthy situation, while separating themselves from the crowd. What they are doing now clearly isn’t working as well as it could, so change the game and then Marvel can’t beat you at it.
3) Let Directors Direct
A problem in the superhero shared universe arena, is that the studios behind Marvel and DC, micro manage their films to death. They don’t hire directors for their vision; they hire them to point a camera. If WB get the hell out of the way, hire a director for his skills and let him produce the product he wants, they will have a significantly better chance of creating better movies than Marvel. Sacrifice the uniformity, the cohesion between films — it’s boring anyway and people will soon get sick of it — and allow directors to come in and make radically different movies from each other. This is where point two and three come together: get a director in that wants to make a film about X, with a story that starts and finishes with that film (the opposite of Marvel), and don’t ask him to seed six more movies. There. Simple and refreshing.
They won’t attract the top directors however if the talent knows that they won’t have the creative freedom to produce their best work. If they know that they’re just there to capture footage they won’t come to the party. It’s not nebulous why Batman Begins worked so well and why it ended up spawning two sequels. It’s because Nolan came in and made his film and didn’t have people saying “you can’t do this” and “you need to tease that”, and “it has to look like this to fit in with that”. It’s obvious why Guardians of the Galaxy is by far and away the best and most interesting Marvel movie, because it’s the most independent one. It’s the flick with the least to do with the others. This isn’t tough to get.
Reach out to the most creatively unique visionaries out there, the top talent and say “Hey, want to make a Batman movie? Cool, we won’t interfere; we are hiring you because we trust you”. Imagine that, a bit of trust. It could go a long way and will help them thrive in spectacular fashion. This is so obvious, and you wonder how long it will take WB to figure this out. They know how to make this work. They’ve done it already. And of course not every film is going to be The Dark Knight, that’s obvious, but if you don’t pick up the tools, you’re not going to build the chair. So pick up the god damn tools, WB. Give yourself a chance of greatness, and you never know what might happen.