Suicide Squad befell the same fate as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It started strong at the box office before second week drop-offs compounded negative reviews. In an age where everyone is a critic and the professional critics are ignored, it appears the dissenting voices are the loudest. With further doubts raised about the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), is the Warner Bros. led property starting to implode?
Before the cameras even started to roll on Batman v Superman, DC and Warner Bros. had their work cut out. They faced the unenviable task of chasing down rivals Marvel. The Avengers led superhero cinematic universe is a magnet for two things: cash and compliments.
Both of these can be attributed to the accessibility of the Marvel movies. From the opening feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Iron Man, they have made no attempt to hide the comic book roots from which they grew. They have been easy going action films, driven by simplicity.
The peak was arguably The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble). It would have been easy to crowd the film with too many main players but Joss Whedon pulled it off using a blend of humour and a clear plot.
This love has allowed Marvel fanboys to escape the negative points within the MCU. Those that were quick to pounce on Suicide Squad are not so quick to discuss Iron Man 2.
Therein lies a fundamental problem: DC haven’t been afforded the time to find their footing or been allowed to develop their own style. They are judged harshly for not being Marvel, but equally derided if any element of the DCEU mimics the MCU.
Historically, DC films have carried a darker tone (we’ll ignore Catwoman) or more recently with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, been grounded in something closer to reality.
Man of Steel and Batman v Superman approached the arrival of superheroes in a more realistic manner than Marvel ever will. When given the chance to explore these themes in Captain America: Civil War, Marvel shied away. Unfortunately for DC, being a superhero flick in a time the market is over saturated, means they aren’t judged on their own merits but compared to the market leader.
And this is where DC seem to be turning the gun on themselves.
A dark tone can be well received, Nolan’s trilogy was hardly a mainstream cartoon like The Avengers, so DC were right to start their movies with a more serious undertone. The problem is, dark for dark’s sake is draining on viewers. Without substance it has a depleting effect rather than become tone setting.
That objectively observed lack of substance isn’t down to DC characters having an inability to explore larger themes, it’s because parent company Warner Bros. are being swayed to the Marvel mainstream.
This leaves them in no man’s land.
DC wants the popular Marvel share while retaining a more meaningful scope. It can’t do both and the cracks are beginning to show.
Suicide Squad was another film that some critics went after in a big way. Most of those observations were unfounded or unfair. It wasn’t a muddled mess nor depressing. It was a simple action flick that ran from start to finish without a hiccup. There were enough laughs, decent action scenes and enough character introduction to allow DC to now use the villains ad hoc.
But average isn’t DC’s aim and Suicide Squad took a big step to selling out.
It was a further step away from a gothic palette and real world influences on fantasy elements. Those things were still there, but delivered with less certainty. Unless it comes across forceful and confident, DC’s vision will be swallowed up by internet trolls and critics that are judging DC based on a rival’s blueprint.
Warner Bros. will point to critics often getting it wrong. Transformers has always reviewed poorly and taken home massive returns. Same with Pirates of the Caribbean. But these films are cash cows that don’t care about artistic acclaim. DC on film should be about satisfying the comic book fans and pioneering new visions for the big screen.
Long after the current superhero phase, Tim Burton’s Batman entries will still stand out as a turning point and The Dark Knight will forever be the benchmark. If DC decides to forgo long standing values to chase down Marvel for their share of cinema revenue, it will fail on all accounts.
Unless it stops worrying about box office returns and market share compared to Marvel, it will march toward a self-induced, slow creative death, in which it may never find resurrection.
8 thoughts on “Is DC committing Suicide?”
Marvel fans are not quick to discuss Ironman 2 because there isn’t much to discuss. There is a general agreement that Marvel overdid it with the tie-ins, that the villain is weak and that the only thing which carries the audience through the movie is that character of Ironman itself, as well as the exploration of his personal demons.
But you know what, with ever DCEU movie which is released I appreciate Ironman 2 more. Because that one is at least a freaking movie and not an overly long youtube video. At least it knows its audience and ensures that it can follow the plot. And at least it is not generic, it is flawed in a kind of enjoyable way. Not a great movie, just a decent one.
And yeah, you could claim that Warner is caught between a rock and a hard place. Buhu. They were in the movie business long before Marvel Studios and they dragged their feet. They never took any chances and now they pay the price for it. (and no, allowing a highly popular director like Burton or Nolan to do their vision of Batman doesn’t count as “taking chances”). I guess the structures at Warner Bros are not really made for a cinematic universe, since the director driven approach is totally unsuitable to put one together. I won’t bemoan the “Vision” of the DCEU, because I doubt that Warner Bros ever had one to begin with. They are just chasing the trend.
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There are many points you raise that I agree with, like how Warner Bros. were making movies long before Marvel started.
But I don’t understand how Iron Man 2 can get a pat on the back for having an easy to follow plot and avoids being generic. Surely that’s a more fitting description for Suicide Squad?
I also agree, it seems unlikely that while they were making Man of Steel there was a complete vision for a shared universe. They’ve reacted on the fly and it shows.
Also, they are geared toward solo projects that complete a small narrative. DC characters exist better on the big screen when they can be explored fully, combined movies with definite sequels hinder this.
Although this approach must become frustrating when it means reboots are required at the end of every cycle so Warners Bros. aren’t approaching this half-hearted; they’re just novices to the shared universe concept.
As I said in the article, they are currently looking too much to the Marvel blueprint, when they stop this and return to their roots, they should be fine.
I watch those movies from the perspective of someone who is not a particular comic book fan…meaning most what I know about comics is from the animated shows and what I read online. As such, I watch those movies a little bit different than others. For example since I didn’t really watch the trailers, the revelations that Bucky was the Winter Soldier was a shocking revelation for me. And when I watched Ironman, I had no idea who Black widow is, so I spend the movie trying to figure this suspicious character out. But when it was over, I had the basics down that she was a shield spy who was send do assess Tony. And that she is a badass fighter.
But with the DCEU I feel like I am reading the 20th volume of a book series. I am constantly confused by what is shown on screen. Why did Harley Quinn fall for the Joker? Why are they jumping into a tank? What is going on there? BvS is even worse in this regard (I didn’t even recognize the Flash).
And if you take the Iron Man 2 and Suicide Squad and take away the trappings…meaning in Iron Man 2 the excuses for action scenes and in Suicide Squad the constant repetition of “We are the bad guys”, what do you get? In the case of Iron Man 2, you get Tony struggling with his inner demons. In the case of Suicide Squad you get the plot of Fant4stic! And the same pacing, an overly long first act (honestly 40 minutes of narration and introduction, I am not even sure why half of the people are in this movie), followed by filler until it is time for the third act. You know that it happens because a light shoots into the sky. Insert random “we need to work together” revelation and you have the plot of every second Superhero movie out there, with nothing to it which makes it special.
I think that Warner looks too much at Marvel’s blueprint at the wrong places. What they should emulate, the basic structure of one clear “showrunner” so to speak, that they don’t do, consequently they have no plan and too many cooks in the kitchen. At the same time they copy elements they shouldn’t in the misguided belief that there is something wrong with the DC Comic universe. Like I said, I am no expert, but even I know that DC is about gods trying to hold onto their humanity, and their strongest stories are about concepts instead of characters. Their biggest strength is their villains, and cinematically, it would be a lot of fun to create all those fictional cities and places. But instead DC tries to make their heroes relatable (because Marvel does it) and fail to do so, they try to set their story in the real world (because Marvel does it) which makes their character just look silly and they try to do the big team-up (because Marvel does it) without working towards it. And they f… up their villains.
Inadvertently you have led to an appropriate analogy for the differing take on the approach to movie making. Marvel treat their films as cartoons, DC as real world movies. Does this mean Marvel are easier to jump into? Yes. But that doesn’t make them better.
Using Iron Man 2 as an example of hidden demons does a great disservice to any incarnation of Batman, the epitome of a many haunted by his past and the path he chose.
Marvel’s accessibility does mean there are less questions when first jumping in, but that means there are less answers to come. Okay, DC may assume the viewer has a base knowledge but even in the case of Harley Quinn and The Joker in Suicide Squad (cut scenes aside) when joining any story, watch it unfold and see where it goes. The blanks in their relationship will be filled in.
As for The Flash appearance, officially we haven’t been introduced to him in the DCEU yet, it is prior base knowledge that draws your judgement. For now he’s a guy that popped into a Bruce Wayne “vision.”
Marvel may set their stories in real world places but quickly jump to unreal scenarios. DC make a caricature of real cities and turn them into living, breathing places. Over the years Gotham has been as memorable as its inhabitants.
It’s the other way around in my eyes, despite being so colourful, Marvel goes for a more grounded approach, asking the question how heroes would work in our reality. DC works the best in a heightened reality (all their most successful movies have this one in common). I actually wish that the DCEU would follow the example of those movies and create those movies as said living breathing places instead of some washed out version of reality.
Marvel also doesn’t treat their movies like cartoons, they are way too layered for that. But it treats the audience like they see those characters for the very first time (which is true in a lot of cases) so that they can experience the stories like a new reader would.
Warner on the other hand is so caught up in the idea how iconic their characters are, that they assume way too much of the audience, especially the international audience.
I guess it all comes down to perception. I recall Superman being examined for over an hour in BvS and Lex Luthor asking awkward political questions to Senator Finch which led to her demise. That’s without considering Bruce Wayne’s reaction to a God-like alien on Earth.
Given the same opportunity in Civil War, Marvel had the customary Iron Man/Captain America argument we see in every film, an explosion at the UN, followed by a glossing over of the rights and wrongs of superheroes.
It’s telling that you say Marvel’s characters are more layered and face inner demons. Out of all their properties the one to fit that description best is Banner/Hulk. He is still years away from another solo movie and remains a puzzle for them based on previous attempts.
The more there is to characters, the harder they are to translate on the screen. That’s why Warner Bros. struggle with DC, there’s more depth to explore.
But I respect your opinion and I’m happy the style you prefer for superheroes works so well for you.
I think they struggle because they either don’t trust their characters or don’t understand them. Or both.
BvS is the movie which blows up the main plot point (easily the most annoying scene of the movie, and that is saying something).
Civil War deliberately leaves the answer open. It shows that Tony is right that oversight is needed, by demonstrating how even heroes are prone to acting emotional, seeking revenge instead of justice. (But then, Civil War IS a revenge play from start to finish). But it also shows that Cap is right about the danger that the concept of oversight is misused in order to control the avenger. You are supposed to think about those questions and make up you mind yourself. It is not important what exactly is written in the Sokivia accords, the question is how the Accords would need to look like. I am in the middle of the argument, thinking that a rulebook is needed to specify in which kind of situations the Avengers are allowed to act and what happens when they ignore the rules or people get unnecessarily hurt, as well as due process concerning the question what happens when they ignore those rules. But when it comes to the question if Cap or General Ross decides where they should go, I would rather trust Cap.
And, for the record, I HATE this “this Company has more/less depth” argument. It is nonsense, and it contains a certain arrogance I really, really dislike.