One of the more interesting things to come out of this weekend was the internet shoving match between critics, fans and filmgoers alike over Dawn of Justice, the quasi-Man of Steel sequel and Justice League prequel did massive box office numbers despite the phrase “fanboy” being flung around like monkeys flinging poop at annoying teenagers at the zoo. Marketed well, Batman vs. Superman is the beginning of something bigger as DC will try to take their proper market share from the so far unchallenged might of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and their backers from Disney.
Right now it seems to be that Marvel is winning, based solely on the sheer size of the market they’ve captured. Marvel is the brand that most box office goers associate with comic book films now; every quarter, it seems, Marvel has a $200 million production out in theaters that winds up making a princely sum. It’s not really a war as it is a slaughter by Marvel over the past decade or so.
Since Iron Man changed the game in 2008 Marvel Studios has been in the lead. DC may have had the higher peaks, as The Dark Knight is a clear step ahead of anything Marvel Studios has ever done, but DC’s lows have been significantly lower than anything in the MCU. Nothing Disney has done has hit the depths of a film like Jonah Hex and to a much lesser extent The Green Lantern. But they haven’t hit the heights DC has been able to, creatively, either. And that’s what Dawn of Justice is mining into: that comic book films have the ability to be genuinely interesting pieces of cinema and not just a trend in big budget action films.
Marvel has managed to essentially dominate the market for nearly a decade, and build in a near critic proof profitability over the years because they deliver popcorn superhero films. The MCU is light, fluffy and has essentially taken the guesswork out of the genre. Comic book films from Marvel mirror the Michael Bay type of action films in that regard. There isn’t much that differentiates one Marvel film from the other on a pure filmmaking scale; they all have similar film-making styles, hit the right notes and have the same style of pacing.
They get interesting by working within different genres while remaining a comic book film, like how Captain America has found strong success going from an old school World War II film into a 70s style political thriller, but there’s a Marvel action film style now that’s easily replicated. The MCU, at its core, is just the latest wave of popcorn films and that’ll never change.
It’s also why Dawn of Justice was such a different film and got mixed reviews. Zack Snyder, for better or worse, is going for broke instead of the same old. It’s why I liked Dawn of Justice more than any Marvel film since Winter Soldier. This isn’t a popcorn film, which I think is a lot of the pushback from critics toward. Snyder, for better or worse, is going for a grander universe with much more of a grounded base to it.
Let’s look at the world he’s created. We’re 18 months after Man of Steel and the world has changed. An invincible man who can fly is a genuinely scary concept. If someone like Superman showed up into modern society we’d have the same reaction that we see in the film. People would want to worship this man with god-like powers, we’d investigate whose side he really was on and there’d be someone who wanted to see if we had a neutralizer just in case he turned into the devil.
It’d be one of those watershed moments in the history of the world; mankind has definitive proof that we are not alone in this universe. Look at the way the MCU treated the arrival of Thor. It’s a shrug and “oh well” as opposed to “OMG THE NORSE MYTHS ARE TRUE!” and causing a grand discussion about the nature of faith, mythology and reality. All of the super powered characters in the MCU, and to a lesser extent in Fox’s X-Men franchise, haven’t really explored the game changing nature of everything that has happened in the shared film universe. It’s like watching a Transformers film; the world acts as if costumed crusaders are normal in the same way Bay treats people reacting to giant talking robots that disguise themselves as automobiles as normal.
Aliens from another dimension invade New York, battled back by the Avengers, and nothing really changes in perspective. There’s never a look at how the world has changed with all of these super-powered people showing up in the MCU because it never has to. The reason why the MCU is becoming fairly disposable is because it never thinks beyond the film itself. It doesn’t have to because we’re going to look at films in the MCU like we view that stretch in the 90s where Con Air, The Rock and an ungodly amount of films all had that same sleek, Speed style pioneered to box office success.
It is paper thin in that regard and that what Snyder is looking to explore: how does the world react when everything in it has to be changed.
The world in which Superman and Batman live in is reacting to the nature of their heroes. Batman is a violent sociopath who attacks criminals, admitting he himself is a criminal in what he does. Superman is dealing with a society that doesn’t know to embrace him as its protector, its messiah or potentially its downfall. This is such an amazing thing to contemplate in a superhero world because society isn’t equipped to handle it.
It’s why I liked the film a ton. This is universe building in a way that gives us the ramifications on an intellectual basis, not just costumed heroes saving the world with fairly limited repercussions to anyone not listed as an extra in the credits.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .
Tags: Batman, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Man of Steel, Monday Morning Critic, Superman