Article: The DC Movies That Audiences Deserve

Why is it that DC's films haven't quite taken off like Marvel's have? What's missing?

"Hey Ben!!! You're Batman!"
For a long while now I've been scratching my head trying to define the biggest difference between Marvel and DC. I think I finally figured it out. Marvel, no matter how wild a story or character might be, is typically very grounded and digestible. DC is typically not. One might say Marvel leans more toward reality for the benchmark of its stories. This is why I love Marvel, and this is why everyone else loves Marvel. The DC universe, however, is far stranger, experimental, and very grandiose. DC's characters are larger than life. This, I think, is exactly where the studios have been getting it wrong. They keep wanting to make Marvel movies out of DC's universe. It's not going to work and hasn't worked. Before getting down to the film-centric business, I feel I need to break down the core difference between the two comic factions.

I'm not saying there aren't larger than life heroes or stories in the Marvel universe, but for the most part, Marvel has its feet on the ground no matter how crazy a story might get. Take for instance, the flagship characters: Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-man, Punisher, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury. These are the characters on the tips of everyone's tongues. Each character, regardless of a small few superhuman abilities, is believable, Thor being the exception. Their powers, motivations, relationships, and personalities all have solid roots in reality. What's so appealing about Marvel is that their stories make me feel as if I could be Spider-man, or that a Tony Stark might one day exist given enough money and time.

For DC, you have Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Aquaman. Other massive titles for DC include Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Sandman. Though I'd say Batman is still in the "larger than life" category, for the sake of argument we'll leave him aside. Each of these tentpole characters are massive and far more extraordinary than their Marvel brethren. I don't think I really need to spell out why, but I'll toss around some things. Aquaman is/was the king of Atlantis and can talk to fish. The Flash is faster than the speed of light. A Green Lantern is a space cop chosen by a cosmic ring forged from will itself by blue dudes with receding hairlines. Superman is Superman. Wonder Woman is Thor with boobs. Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Sandman are darkly surreal stories more farfetched than the aforementioned Justice Leaguers.

DC is wild stuff and needs to be treated as such.

"26....I'm Batman.
27.....I'm Batman.
28......I'm Batman."
For this DC film franchise to work they need to not do what Marvel is doing. DC is not Marvel. No matter your opinion of Nolan's Batman franchise it doesn't work in the traditional DC universe. It can't. Nolan's Batman arguably works better as a Marvel story than a DC one. There's nothing particularly wrong with that approach, per se, but it tonally conflicts with nearly everything else in DC. Nolan's Batman is self-contained, leaving no room for Green Lantern's and Aquamen without it becoming extremely hokey and ridiculously out of place.

The Nolan standard must be left behind for this to work. The more realistic you try to make this universe the more disingenuous and silly it will all be.

You can't ground Green Lantern. The Green Lantern mythos is as big as Star Wars, or potentially bigger. It stretches throughout the universe, across planets and galaxies, to the beginning of time and reaches forward through prophecies of the future. The characters need to be relatable, of course, but what seems to be the trend with DC films is that a lot of DC's uniquely intriguing aspects are being chopped off, packed down, and shipped out as a condensed bastardized version of itself in order to fit in with the successful Marvel trend. This only prolongs the comparisons between the two in a realm where Marvel has already won and DC keeps trying to follow. The tools for carving their own road are already there, but they've barely been used yet. They need to circumvent competition by realizing its best laid plans are already in the comics. Warner Bros. just needs to stop being afraid.

Marvel doesn't seem ashamed of its source material. Again, there are exceptions to everything, but few would argue that Marvel films are not tonally consistent or that their characters aren't true to form. Warner Bros. needs to take what's already established seriously. This is vital. In my opinion, one of the single biggest reasons Ryan Reynold's Lantern flick didn't work was because perhaps the most detrimental villainous presence in the Green Lantern comics was written far off the rails: the movie version of Parallax. For those that don't know, Parallax is an entity responsible for the most critical turning point in Hal Jordan's future that rippled throughout the entirety of DC comics. Essentially, Jordan goes on a hero-destroying psychotic rampage, which no one knew at the time was all Parallax's doing. Why would you severely alter something so crucial to the entire DC universe? Why waste all of that box office potential for a catastrophic event that could carry more than a dozen franchise films alone? Imagine turning Bane into a conniving mad scientist in a wheelchair and it would still be a more faithful representation than movie Parallax.

If DC were to take two tips from Marvel's film franchises, that would be respecting the source material and keeping the humor. While we're taking the source material seriously, that doesn't mean that Warner Bros. should forget what a joke is. This is especially critical when dealing with such fundamentally far-fetched stories. If we can't make light of these fantastical characters, the more dead-faced the films are, the more silly they will look and the quicker an audience will feel alienated.

I enjoyed Man of Steel for the most part. The cinematography is stunning. Visual effects are incredible. Henry Cavill is terrific. The action was intense and well framed, albeit irresponsibly over-the-top. The thing that kept pulling me out of the film was how straight-faced and sad everything is. Considering the maybe three attempts at humor throughout the entire film, each "joke" was eye rolling. If DC wants you to care for how deep, crazy, and sad everything is, it's a smart idea to not paint yourself as the mascara-wearing emo man-child who resides himself to the corner of the coffee shop. It's important to be three-dimensional. If you can make an audience smile first, you'll make them care later.

With characters like Barry Allen (Flash) and Hal Jordan (Lantern) I hope this won't be hard to do. As a side note, I hope they don't make Hal too much of a goofball. That's more Barry Allen's shtick. Ryan Reynolds got it all wrong. He's not enough James Bond and too much... uh... Ryan Reynolds. If this is all heading toward Justice League, which it is, I also hope they get the relationships right. It's very simple. Flash and Lantern are two peas in a pod. Batman hates Hal. Like, really hates him. Aquaman thinks he's a better leader than Batman. Then Superman forgets about his peasant human girlfriend and bangs Wonder Woman like he should.

And please, for the love of cute puppies, stop with the Batman voice! Wow, that crap needs to go.

If it weren't for Watchmen, I would consider Man of Steel the best DC live-action film ever made in terms of production value and overall faithfulness. Snyder is off to a good start. I think he just needs to lighten it up a bit and take it down a notch in terms of destruction. There won't be anything left for a third movie, man. How do you top leveling an entire city? You can't blow up Krypton twice. I'm sure Snyder will release another good DC flick, but I'm curious to see what other great directors might bring to the franchise. If Chris Columbus directed every Harry Potter, we wouldn't have seen what Alfonso CuarĂ³n did with Azkaban and how David Yates knocked the last four films out of the park.

I'm dying to see what Fincher could do with Batman or what the Wachowskis could do with Justice League. I'd even love to see Affleck take the director's chair for a film or two. Snyder might do an awesome job and they could very well keep him aboard for a while, but I fear it could potentially become stale. With different eyes representing the franchise each nuance of the DC universe could be explored to its fullest.

"RIPD 2: The Hunt For Turbo?
Yeah, I'm in. I'm right
across the street."
Warner Bros. is sitting on a mountain of gold. They just need to not be afraid to let it breathe. Let it shine. Don't be afraid of how immense the Green Lantern universe is, but don't show your whole hand just yet either. Like I said, Green Lantern could be as big as Star Wars just on its own if handled with subtlety and respect. Don't be afraid of just how dark and psychologically twisted the Batman universe is. Seriously, Warner, grow some balls with this one. Nolan's cut and dry pragmatism just doesn't fit here. Don't be afraid to bring Aquaman aboard. Contrary to popular belief, Aquaman is a mega bad ass. He can summon sharks in a tsunami. Granted, sharks in tsunamis might be a lot for the average audience too soon into the franchise, but sharks in tsunamis should happen at some point. You get the idea.

The Justice League could be an astronomical franchise hit akin to Harry Potter, which I believe might be the best example DC and Warner need to follow. The Harry Potter series started light, yet flawed, and continued to develop well over a dozen major character arcs and got disturbingly sinister while never forgetting the humor or massive action pieces. The DC film universe could easily be twice as big. Hell, it could easily be three times bigger. Just stop being afraid of making it too dark, too big, or too faithful. The common folk are going to want to see these films anyway. You already have their money. If the fans are respected, their word of mouth will carry this franchise even further. Comic books aren't lame anymore. Hot chicks read comic books now. They're bigger than ever. Warner Bros. could pay off the national debt with this universe if they respect the fans and the stories. After Man of Steel was released it wasn't long until talks of a sequel and Justice League started stirring about. I got that sinking feeling. They're moving way too fast. I think Warner Bros. is making the right decisions delaying the films and putting the proper care and time into them they deserve. I do have high hopes for Affleck. I have high hopes for Snyder's next outing. I still think this can be good. Really friggin' good.

-J.G. Barnes