Tony Black shares his thoughts on the state of the DC Extended Universe…
So we can all agree on one thing here, right? Suicide Squad is a disaster. Yay or nay? If you’re reading this, there’s every chance like me you thought it was almost as loud, boring and ponderous as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but not quite everyone has agreed. Not just the anti-Rotten Tomatoes contingent and their hilarious fanboy whining, but the more intelligent Joe Public. I’ve seen enough people coming out in defence of Suicide Squad to make it certainly not the kind of Batman & Robin car crash everyone looks back and laughs at. The bigger question is, to an extent, the elephant in the room – how many of us *wanted* Suicide Squad to fail?
You know what, cards on the table, I’d be lying if I said I wanted the incumbent DC Extended Universe to succeed right now. Zack Snyder got only one thing right in two (now three, given his involvement in Suicide Squad) films and that’s Batman. He effectively has destroyed Superman for a generation of moviegoers and peddled hollow, noisy filmmaking in the guise of modern mythology. David Ayer has done the same, whether all the blame is his or not – his name is on the door. Not everyone wants to admit this, or admit they’re secretly thinking this, but be honest with yourselves – quite a lot of you don’t want DC to keep trying to repeat a trick Marvel have done this last almost ten years and, here’s the rub, have done better.
Circumstances have admittedly changed and the playing field has differed, but there’s a reason Kevin Feige started with Iron Man and a previously faded, charismatic movie star – he didn’t know the concept was going to work. The fact Marvel have even done this, establish a Hollywood template now being aped by every major franchise, is a marvel frankly in and of itself; the sheer logistics of building to The Avengers in 2012 was expensive and risky but why did it work? Because we had time to care. We had time to take these characters and this overarching world into our hearts. Remember also, Marvel had the harder sell. Before the MCU, if you didn’t read comics, chances are you’d probably only heard of Spider-Man & The Hulk. Those two have remained in popular culture since the 60’s but the rest? Thor? Black Widow? Hawkeye? No chance.
Compare that with DC’s opening Justice League roster next year – Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Alfred. Your Mom knows those names and she’s probably never read a comic book. Hell even the majority of Batman’s rogues gallery are better known than the Marvel heroes! DC have in the bank a bigger stock of characters who exist in pervasive pop culture beyond the page to draw on, characters that people will know and immediately appreciate, and ironically that’s been their downfall this last couple of years. They thought we would accept any old bombastic, plotless hokum they throw at us because we already know who these people are. Marvel worked at it. Marvel invested you in characters like Tony Stark most of us had never even heard of, to the point now as many kids want to be Iron Man as they do Batman. Think how hard that was to achieve. Think how they did it with no Spider-Man until this year, and even without much of the Hulk overall. They did it because they took their time, they let it build, and crucially they got in damn good creatives to construct it. Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston and of course Joss Whedon. Line them up against Zack Snyder, David Ayer, Patty Jenkins. Let’s be honest, we’re not even talking about the same league of filmmakers.
Of course since these films were mostly shot, a lot has been shook up behind the scenes at DC Films. They know they’re in trouble. Dawn of Justice has its defenders but most reasoned critics of film recognise that film, and Man of Steel before it for the most part, for what they are; films which utterly miss the point of the characters and worlds they’re creating so they can deliver explosive, epic action set pieces and the kind of brainless blockbuster fodder they assume audiences want. Lowest common denominator offal. Now that’s not to say Marvel get it right every time – you only have to look at Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World as examples of when they get the mixture wrong – but they’re not so obnoxiously self serving and short sighted as to develop the kind of soulless, bloated pictures the DCEU has so far vomited up.
Many complain Marvel play it safe and produce the same kind of film, and there is an argument for that, but why do they stick to a template or formula? Because it works. Because people react to it mostly in a positive way, enough to want to follow these characters. How many Marvel films have polarised opinion in the way Batman v Superman did or Suicide Squad is doing now? How many Marvel fans are throwing their toys out of the pram because their characters aren’t being loved by everybody? Their reaction is predicated on an irrational anger because people are calling out Snyder & Ayer for the hacks they are. Well you know what? I’m angry too.
I’m angry that three times in a row now DC Films have served up these aggressively mediocre and vacuous movies using characters who deserve so much better. Batman will hopefully be redeemed when Ben Affleck is left to his own devices, and if we’re lucky he’ll bring Jared Leto’s promising Joker and Margot Robbie’s delightfully demented Harley Quinn with him. The rest can go hang at this point for all I care. Wonder Woman could well be salvaged if Snyder has kept away enough and Justice League is at least making the right noises in providing some levity and pulling back to being just one film, but we can’t have another Suicide Squad. Seriously, it’s enough. It’s enough already.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves going forward. The Marvel Cinematic Universe approach works and the DC one doesn’t. You suspected it after Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, which tried to sell you half a dozen films and a dozen new characters in one, and failed in both, puts that almost beyond a doubt. If DC can face this truth, admit to themselves that in trying to be Marvel they’re doing what I’d argue is a richer comic book universe a disservice, then maybe we can call the whole thing off after Justice League and spend all that money better.
That of course isn’t likely to happen while films like Suicide Squad keep getting the box office openings they have, but watch those takings plummet when most people don’t go back for second helpings, just like they didn’t with Batman v Superman. You deserve better than this. We deserve better. And I’m not afraid to say, thank god for Marvel for being there to *give* us better. DC Films, you have much work ahead. Make it count.