A Game of Catch-Up

Joel Kataddy, Writer

Anyone who knows anything about comic book history knows that DC Comics released the Justice League comic series years before Marvel released anything similar. As a result, Marvel was sent into overdrive in an attempt to push out their own superhero team: The Fantastic Four. Now, the opposite seems to have happened. Marvel released their own movie superhero team first, with DC scrambling to catch up. Unfortunately for DC, it hasn’t worked nearly as well.

In 2008, Marvel’s Iron Man received tremendous box office success. This movie spawned the MCU as we know it, as just four years later, Marvel’s The Avengers rolled out into theaters. DC realized that they soon needed to release their own extended universe in an attempt to compete with Marvel’s unparalleled success. And so, Man of Steel was released in 2013, beginning DC’s own cinematic universe. The movie received mixed reviews, which, looking back, should have been a red flag for DC’s flagship superhero. Three years after, Batman vs Superman was released, which was, for many comic book fans and moviegoers, absolute garbage. But, that was just one bad movie, wasn’t it? Apparently not, as the same year, Suicide Squad premiered, which also disappointed almost everybody. But DC didn’t have the time to stop and make serious changes to their movies, since Justice League had already had substantial work done on it. Unfortunately, that movie, too, flopped, which was incredibly terrifying for a movie featuring DC’s most beloved superhero team. With these three movies, DC seemed to just continue digging themselves into a deeper and deeper pit. These movies have been less than loved, but it is important for them to see what has recently been successful for their brand and use it as a blueprint going forward.

DC needs to stop playing catch-up. Their second movie, featured their three most important characters in a team with little to no buildup. This was done in an attempt to push out their superhero team into theaters across the country to compete in the superhero market with Marvel’s team. Unlike Marvel, who had movies to establish their main character before their team-up movies, only one member of the Justice League had had his own solo movie, and he wasn’t even in the majority of the film. This rush to push out a team left DC unable to adapt to critics and their own failures, leading their movies to flop so miserably again and again. But now they have created two solo movies: Wonder Woman and Aquaman. While neither is a perfect movie, they both put interconnectivity on the back burner and focused on telling the stories of Arthur Curry and Diana Prince. They featured good actors taking on the roles that left audiences excited to see what they would do next. DC needs to go back to creating individual stories for both their superheroes and their teams and make each one seem unique and exciting if they want any hope of survival. After that, they can worry more about building up a connected universe.

It is not too late for the DCEU to right the ship. In fact, recent comments by Warner Bros’ CEO about a new focus on “individual experiences around individual characters” show that they are learning their lessons. Their upcoming slate does not feature any grand team-up adventures meant to redo the universe but instead consists of Shazam, an 80s-set Joker prequel, a Harley Quinn and Birds of Prey movie, and a Wonder Woman sequel. DC needs to do their own thing and not simply chase after their own Avengers. They need to stop trying to be “dark” and “edgy” simply because The Dark Knight made a ton of money a decade ago. If they pursue this plan for individual experiences, they are on the path of success. All it takes is for them to stop creating movies that copy what was popular before, and just start telling unique and interesting stories again.