Charlie Batten, Sports Online Editor
I’m gonna start this off by saying that I’m not going to be one of those movie buffs who clowns on the MCU for being purely special effects or saying they’re the same movie over and over again.
I’m very happy to admit I love Marvel films; they were a great part of my childhood and I still make an effort to watch a new one when it comes out. I view them as the film series that I grew up with in a similar way that older generations grew up with Star Wars or Harry Potter. I remember watching the first Avengers film in the cinema with my Mum when I was 11 and then when Endgame came out, I watched it on opening day after college by myself and cried five times.
However, since I started to mature in my early years of adulthood, I’ve started to yearn for a different type of superhero film. That’s where the DCEU comes in.
Now just to clarify I’m not exclusively talking about films in the Justice League realm but rather films made with DC characters such as Joker or The Dark Knight. What these films do is provide a different experience when watching our favourite heroes on the silver screen. Whereas with Marvel it can often be all fun-and-games and then in the last fifteen minutes the title character gives an emotional speech to the villain explaining how blowing up the entire planet won’t bring their mother back from the dead. To be fair DC have done this before as well (looking at you ‘Batman vs. Superman’) but what it does do is give variety.
Look at Joker for example: it’s not only an amazing villain origin story but also an exploration of the extremes of mental health, as well as a study of our own world and the effects that society has on those we ostracise. Marvel is trying to do this with shows like Wandavision, but it doesn’t hit the same as DC who often ground films like Joker in reality whereas Marvel always sticks to their world of wonderment and the extremes of fantasy.
What Marvel can do sometimes is alienate audience members because it knows its hand and it plays it again and again without risking anything different. I’m not saying this as a criticism; it’s obviously working as they keep breaking box office records. But if someone doesn’t like one Marvel film then there’s a chance they won’t like any of them.
Like I said before DC has variety: they try emulating the MCU with the Justice League movies, which admittedly have significant flaws. However, if the Snyder Cut is anything to go by, they have potential; going into other realms such as with the darker, grittier movies like The Dark Knight series or the more R-rated comedies like The Suicide Squad, fixing prior mistakes and providing an anarchic, unique superhero film experience.
Another key reason as to why the DCEU is better than the MCU is simple: Batman. I hinted at this earlier but all in all if I had to choose one over the other it would simply boil down to who has Batman.
The Dark Knight is easily the best superhero movie ever made. What Christopher Nolan does is show the true darkness of the character but also of Gotham and its inhabitants. The fact that each of the three films have such an amazing villain is testament to Nolan’s writing and the performances of the respective actors.
Matt Reeves’ The Batman is also an incredible experience as he creates a comic accurate depiction of Batman. Rather than have him punch baddies for three hours, we get to see him as what he is, the world’s greatest detective. It’s a movie that easily could’ve confused or bored viewers but ultimately paid off, as it’s being heralded as one of the best superhero films made in the last decade.
In the end, what DC has over Marvel is the variety. No two films are exactly alike and they’re not afraid to push the boat out in what they’re doing. Granted they still need improvement after projects like the original Justice League, but we’re now starting to be consistent with great films coming out one after the other.
Simon Edwards, Comment Online Editor
It’s easy to understand why there is a growing belief that Marvel is running out of steam. The unlikely colossus that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been rolling over blockbuster cinema for nearly fifteen years. The Marvel formula – two hours of quips, set-ups and CGI punch-ups – has sustained through twenty-seven films, but like all things in life, familiarity breeds apathy. For many, Avengers: Endgame was, without wishing to be trite, the endgame; a finale that concluded ten years of build-up in a way that seemed to say “that’s all folks!”. Comic book fans knew, of course, that the end is only the beginning – whether this principle would translate to a film-going audience was the big question.
The post-Endgame offerings from Marvel (Phase 4, if you’re keeping track) have been varied, with a plethora of new films and shows eliciting responses ranging from pleasant surprise to sneering derision. Slightly more high-concept and inventive fare such as Loki and Eternals rubbed shoulders with Black Widow and Falcon And The Winter Soldier, which were content to play the familiar hits. What stood out about audience responses to these shows was the degree to which the Marvel formula seemed to rankle – Eternals was particularly derided as a failed attempt to mix a Marvel film with the stylings of Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao and remains Marvel’s worst-rated film to date, with many critics labelling it (unfairly, in my opinion) the end of Marvel’s golden run.
One of the principal takeaways from the response to Eternals is how the Marvel formula appears tosuffocate a director’s artistic voice – this is particularly notable when the MCU is considered in contrast to the DCEU. For good or for ill, Zack Snyder’s Justice League four-hour cut and the Internet furore around its release reflected a desire from comic book film fans to see a director’s vision on screen. Similarly, DC’s recent releases – The Suicide Squad and The Batman – are strikingly different films which reflect the creative drive behind them. Even if you thought The Suicide Squad was two hours of unremitting drudgery, vacuous ultraviolence and childish swearing instead of humour (talking shark was good though), it’s undeniable that it cut a distinct filmic character. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why there is a gentle but significant shift away from Marvel and towards DC, as fans seek something that feels fresh, and perhaps reflective of an artist’s vision rather than a corporate game-plan.
While these views are gaining their own traction, it’s worth bearing some counterpoints in mind: while Marvel’s formula might curtail its directors in some areas, it does not totally prevent them expressing their cinematic voice: James Gunn, Taika Waititi and the Russo Brothers have all been able to flourish under the banner of the MCU. Even with Marvel’s yoke apparently weighing down upon them, Phase 4 brings rejuvenating new ideas to bear: Shang-Chi combined a surface-level but compelling picture of first-generation immigrant lifestyles with loving tributes to Chinese folklore and martial arts culture, even pulling in legendary Hong Kong star Tony Leung to provide the franchise’s finest antagonist to date. Even the much derided Eternals can hardly be faulted for its creativity – its explorations of the wider cosmology of Marvel’s universe felt utterly unique relative to the rest of the franchise, and offered an exciting preview of its future.
Then there are the alternative Marvel film offerings tied to Sony: the Venom and Deadpool films can hardly be said to fit the MCU mould, with anarchic comedy and madcap action sequences more akin The Suicide Squad than anything at the centre of the MCU canon.
And of course, in terms of crowd-pleasing moments, the multiversal extravaganza of Spider-Man: No Way Home was a highpoint that for some might even have surpassed Endgame – as film critic Mark Kermode has noted, it was Spider-Man that saved an ailing box-office in 2021, surpassing the contributions of Bond, Nolan and more besides: so much for Marvel representing the death of cinema.
Marvel’s cinematic universe is ultimately popcorn entertainment, safe and familiar even when it flexes its creative muscles. But is that such a bad thing? As the titular character reflects at the end of Sullivan’s Travels, “there’s a lot to be said for making people laugh”. Sometimes even the most jaded film snob wants to leave the character studies for the arthouse, and just have a good time at the pictures.