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.