The MCU vs. the DCEU

Originally posted on January 16th, 2017.

Warning: There be spoilers ahead! The films Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad are discussed at length! Many of the films in the MCU are discussed in more general ways as well. Continue at your own risk!

Which do you like better?

I want to like what DC is doing better, but it’s pretty obvious that Marvel is doing the better job with its characters.  Honestly I wish Marvel had chosen a different set of characters to follow rather than the Avengers.  I get that there’s a lot of legal shit tangled up with all that, but it doesn’t change that I don’t see heroes like Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, etc. as superstar heroes.  I think the X-Men would’ve been the strongest starting point – and for the record I’m not the biggest fan of the existing X-Men movies or the mega-focus on Wolverine.  However, I think the modern MCU approach towards the X-Men might’ve worked out alright.

Before we really get into it I guess I should clue you in as to my level of “experience.”  Throughout this entry I am talking purely about films – those that are official a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe.  I realize that Marvel’s TV shows take place in the same universe, but I haven’t seriously watched any of them so they’re excluded.  DC’s TV shows take place in an entirely separate universe (do they all even exist in the same one?) so obviously they’ll be left out of these talks as well.

I’ve seen all 3 DCEU films and I’ve seen them multiple times; I’d say I know them pretty well.  When it comes to the MCU though, I’m a little more in the dark.  I’ve seen Avengers 1 & 2 several times along with Civil War.  I’ve also watched all 3 Iron Man’s, Hulk, the first Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy.  I know, I’ve missed a lot, but I do feel like I’ve seen enough of the earlier films to say what I want to say here.  Feel free to disagree or tell me where a movie directly contradicts something I’ve said, I’m cool with it.  Honestly I wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of the MCU movies just to see them, but most of them are still $20 and I’m not ready to shell out a couple hundred bucks for movies that I know I probably won’t love.

I would safely say that it’s difficult to discuss this “Golden Age” of superhero movies without at least acknowledging what came before.  I’m familiar with a lot of the older stuff, such as the first 4 Batman films, the first 4 Superman films, and Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, plus other random oddities like Spawn, Steel, Blade, and probably others I can’t remember. My knowledge is patchy when it comes to those early years of superhero movies where all kinds of shit was cranked out: Daredevil, Elektra, those couple of Punisher flicks, Hellboy, Raimi’s Spider-Man’s, Sony’s Spider-Man’s, all those damn X-Men and Wolverine movies, Green Lantern, Green Hornet, the Fantastic Four movies, Catwoman, the Ghost Rider movies, and what might’ve been the best of all of them, Superman Returns.  I’ve actually seen a fair number of these in passing, and truthfully, it kind of turned me off to superhero movies by the time Marvel started figuring out what went right and what went wrong and started something new.

When it comes to the DC guys, I like a lot of the heroes they’ve chose to focus on better.  I mean you’ve got Batman and Superman, heroes who Marvel is hard-pressed to compete with.  I also like the idea of getting into Wonder Woman’s story.  Beyond that we’ve got a rich Bat-family which, if handled correctly, could be great to see onscreen: characters like Robin, Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl, Red Robin, the Outsiders, etc.  When it comes to potential, I think DC has a slight edge.  Now when it comes to actual execution, well, DC could learn a thing or two or three or four from the MCU.

A big reason why the MCU is so successful is because it started out slow, making easily digestible, standalone movies that basically anyone could sit down and follow from start to finish.  They didn’t rely on the viewer’s extant knowledge of the source material, they didn’t over-extend themselves with complicated plot lines, and they weren’t too heavy-handed with placing references to future films.  Most of them are also fairly light-hearted and don’t take themselves too seriously, further increasing their appeal across multiple demographics.

The plots of these early movies have never been anything stunning; instead, the focus of the films has been largely on characterization.  I will admit that, for the most part, the various writers and directors have done a pretty good job at achieving this goal.  By the time the first ensemble film rolls around we’ve developed a decent rapport with most of the characters…there’s some unevenness that’s not beyond criticism, but the intent is clear and by the time everyone is on screen together it feels more or less natural.

Moving back over to the DCEU for a minute, they haven’t done anything close to the MCU’s approach, except for possibly Man of Steel, although it was tonally different than the standalone(ish) MCU movies (we’ll get to that soon). In defense of the DCEU, I’ve heard some say, “well they don’t have to do it like Marvel does!”  Obviously they don’t have to, but the problem is that DC is so blatantly and desperately trying to get themselves where the MCU already is minus a dozen or so films.

Let’s break it down real quick: Man of Steel was a pretty good flick in my opinion.  I’d probably say it’s the best Superman film so far.  Say what you want about the old Donner films, but they’ve become quite dated over the years and the bar for superhero movies has risen well above spandex and Hackman’s cartoonish version of Lex Luthor.  The movie is a little too long and structured oddly, but it’s one of those things that makes a lot more sense the second time around.  Unfortunately, as the beginning of the DCEU, it shouldn’t take repeated viewings to “get it.”  

Already Man of Steel is a) not easily digestible, b) over-extending itself, and c) not light-hearted at all.  Personally I think some of the “Clark Kent wanders the earth” scenes should’ve been cut, and the rest of them should’ve been put in order to give us a more linear experience.  As it is, apart from the spectacular intro sequence, the first half of the movie jumps between present day and some random point in Superman’s past as a child / teen / young adult on earth.  I think it’s actually a pretty good origin story, it’s just too jumpy to get into and the non-linear format is going to be a huge turn off to most moviegoers.  Normally I don’t give a shit about what appeals to “most moviegoers,” but the problem is that this format doesn’t seem to be done for any real reason.  I think it would be more interesting to watch Superman grow into his powers over the years and go through these changes with him rather than the scattershot backstory we’re given.

It’s not all bad though.  MoS differs from the MCU in one important way: the darker tone.  I said that the MCU could attribute part of its success to the lighter flavor of their films and I still believe that, but for me personally, I like the darker and more serious feel of Man of Steel.  Call me crazy, but if it was up to me, all this shit would be straight up R-rated, no holds barred, balls-to-the-wall crazy shit.  I know it would destroy the commercial viability of the films, this is just what I’d prefer from a purely artistic standpoint.  Anyway, the DCEU has caught criticism for not being as “fun” as the MCU, but I see this as a good thing.  I just don’t care for all the wisecracks and one-liners from Tony Stark or the fish-out-of-water giggles courtesy of Captain America, or the Sam Jackson-ization of Nick Fury…I know a lot of folks eat this shit up but it isn’t for me.  I don’t mind some subtle humor or the insertion of an honest to God good joke, but lightening the mood just to, well, lighten the mood, feels like pandering to all the wrong fans.

Man of Steel is a somber film.  Superman is genuinely confused about his place in the world.  He watches his adoptive father die.  He deals with surviving Kryptonians who attempt to embrace him only to find that he doesn’t share their ideals, yet earth isn’t ready to accept him either.  We get a lot of inner conflict from this guy who’s basically invincible.  If you can forgive or at least look past the missteps in pacing and structure, there’s a very human story at the movie’s core about acceptance and identity.  And this is where the serious tone makes all the difference.  When the film takes itself seriously, I take it seriously.  In the MCU, it’s hard for me to truly accept that the end of the world is on the way when we’re being treated to sarcastic quips and sight gags involving Iron Man’s armor.

Until now, I’ve only addressed the first half of MoS.  The second half is well worth the wait and one of the most worthy climaxes of any superhero film to date.  I love that Superman is up against a real threat – Zod turns out to be Superman’s equal; his inexperience with earth’s environment is compensated by his tremendous combat skills and military training.  Some have criticized the battle as overly long, but I think it’s awesome.  I also think it’s clearer and less muddled than some of the big MCU fights, namely those in Avengers and Avengers 2.  The way these 2 titans decimate Metropolis is spectacular.

A lot of people criticize Superman’s killing of General Zod, saying stuff like, “why didn’t he just cover Zod’s eyes,” or a number of other things.  I hopped on this bandwagon for a while, but then I got to thinking, and I think the point of the gesture was to show that nothing short of death was going to stop the General.  Whether it was today or tomorrow or in 200 years, Zod was a zealot who would never, ever stop.  Maybe Superman didn’t have to kill Zod right that second, but I think that in that moment, Superman realized there was no other way for this to end, especially after the already monumental loss of life.  Alternatively, maybe the DCEU Superman is OK with killing in some circumstances…I don’t know that we’re ever treated to a scene where Superman vows never to take a life.  Batman’s behavior in BvS lends some possible credence to this theory, as he very plainly takes the lives of some of the thugs in the car chase.

Besides the increased seriousness over the MCU, another plus in the Man of Steel column is the presence of a strong villain who drives the plot.  General Zod was a fantastic villain precisely because he didn’t see himself as a “bad guy.”  He saw himself as a visionary, a pioneer, the savior of an extinct race, the one avenue of possibility that his people had of living on.  And can we really blame him?  Would the last (or one of the last) humans simply shrug their shoulders in resignation about the death of their species, culture, society, everything?  If there was any possibility, wouldn’t they at least entertain the thought?  What if the last human landed on a planet full of ants and could potentially bring back the human race at the cost of all the ants’ lives?  What if it was a planet full of dogs?  Gorillas?  Homo erectus?  Where do you draw the line?

In some ways Zod’s arc was one of tragedy, aside from what could be considered treason back on Krypton.  (Although sometimes there is a very fine line between sedition and patriotism.)  General Zod didn’t fight for himself, or for power, or for material gain, he fought for the rebirth of his people.  Sure, he didn’t mind killing all of earth’s population to do so, but this was just a side-effect of terraforming; I don’t think it’s necessarily a case of Zod being hellbent on destroying humanity just for the hell of it.

Now Man of Steel doesn’t exactly go out of its way to portray General Zod as a sympathetic character, and I guess that’s OK…I think the most important thing to take away from the film is that the writers actually spent some time on General Zod.  They took the time to develop him and give him some depth.  Movies in the MCU have very deliberately chosen to not focus on the villains except as a means to an end.  Loki is the closest thing we’ve ever really had to a well-developed antagonist.  If you look at the other bad guys – Whiplash, Ultron, Ronan, Abomination, Mandarin (ugh) – they’re as flimsy as a wet noodle and twice as forgettable.  I’m not saying we necessarily have to care about the villains, but the core conflict between hero and villain should be adequately explored.  Instead, the MCU seems more content to use bad guys as a way to tell us more about the good guys.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that it seems like that’s all the villains are good for.

I even remember reading a statement from one of the directors or producers or some big-wig over at Marvel Studios where they said that these films weren’t about the villains, but that they were about the heroes.  Is this really the right way to go?  Could this be why the MCU films feel a little less than awesome to me?  I don’t need a film specifically about Whiplash or Ultron or whoever, but I do want the film to center on the conflict between hero and villain, and not on some other situation whereby the villain basically ends up being a consequence of whatever else is going on.  Marvel should know as well as anyone that heroes and villains do a lot to define each other, and I think they’re making a huge mistake by giving such unequal focus to the 2 parties.

This may also have something to do with Marvel’s picks not having the most memorable of villains.  One of their biggest cards – Thanos – has been teased for the last 8 years or so and everyone else has been sort of bleh.  (Though that’s not really an excuse; the MCU could make them not-bleh if they tried.)  Iron Man doesn’t have a Joker to go up against, Captain America doesn’t have an Apocalypse, etc.  I’d really like to see MCU change this as time goes on.  Sure, maybe we don’t know as much about these bad guys, but that’s precisely why Marvel should spend some time introducing these villains and fleshing them out.

Let’s shift back to DCEU’s shortcomings as we get into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I don’t really know where to start with this one.  I appreciate the film’s ambition and scope, but the story is so choppy and muddled plus DC made a really weird decision to adapt this particular story/stories this early in their timeline.

Marvel quietly did its thing with the standalone flicks and established not only its characters but also the world in which they live.  The DCEU barely got started on this with MoS.  BvS picks up 18 months later and throws us smack into a whirlwind of plot threads where the only thing capable of keeping the viewer afloat is previous knowledge of the comics.  One thing I found 100% bizarre was that the entire film was predicated on the loss of life resulting from the battle between Superman and Zod.  What I don’t understand is how anyone can hold Superman responsible.  Yes, a shit ton of people died, but if Superman hadn’t done anything, it’s highly probable that everyone on the fucking planet would’ve died.  Even if some other random heroes came out of left field to stop Zod, he’d probably at least level Metropolis before they made any progress.  How can anyone even begin to blame Superman for the loss of life?  If Superman hadn’t done anything, all those same people would’ve died any damn way as Zod’s World Engine thoroughly raped the shit out of Metropolis.  Why the fuck does this point seem to be lost on every fucking person in BvS, especially Senator Finch and damn Batman!!??

Aside from the aforementioned stupidity, I can understand Batman’s trepidation about Superman.  He’s super powerful, we don’t really know much about him, and even though he basically saved the world, it’s still difficult to predict his future intentions or actions.  The film had some interesting subject matter to work with, but it’s really hard to put together a coherent story out of what’s going on.  We’re always jumping from one setting to another, maybe with different characters, we’ve got no clue how much time is passing, and we don’t really get any quality time with any of our characters.  It’s extremely hard to make an emotional connection with anyone in this film.

This next point hits at the DCEU on a deeper level, but it’s a point worth making.  Excuse my French, but quite frankly, DC blew its load way way way too damn early.  I guess I can understand DC’s decision not to want to produce the second Batman origin story inside of 10 or 11 years, but they didn’t have to jump forward 20 years into Batman’s career.  We’ve got 2 huge DC events wrapped into one here: The Dark Knight Returns / Batman vs. Superman, and the Death of Superman.  

Of all things, Ben Affleck as an older, hardened, more weathered Batman / Bruce Wayne actually works fairly well.  The problem is that he spends a lot more time as Bruce Wayne and we don’t get to know much about his whole Batman side.  Hell, we don’t even really spend any time in the Batman mythos – we’re fully steeped in Superman mythos and Batman is just sort of a “guest.”  The actual fight between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel is viscerally satisfying, but the problem is that we don’t have any emotional investment in either of the characters.  Yeah, we’ve sortta bonded with Cavill’s version of Superman, and yeah, the film works very hard to make sure we understand Batman’s perception of Superman (even though we know he’s not the problem) so there’s some emotional resonance there, but it doesn’t achieve nearly what it could 4 or 5 years down the road and with a little more DCEU context to draw from.  Think about it: the stakes would be so much higher if we were 10 or 20 films deep and the possibility of Batman or Superman dying was more real.  But the death of such a giant so soon?  Not even.

Furthermore, we know that neither Batman or Superman is going to die (nor is one going to be responsible for the death of the other) this early in the DCEU, so in many ways the fight is predictable.  I mean I love Batman’s preparation and I love his ingenuity and I really dig that he basically won the fight, it just bugs me that there was so much more potential that’s ultimately been squandered forever.  However, we did get one amazing quote out of the whole thing and Affleck actually delivered it perfectly:  “Breathe in.  That’s fear.  You’re not brave.  Men are brave.  I bet your parents taught you that you mean something, that you’re here for a reason.  My parents taught me a different lesson, dying in the gutter, for no reason at all.  They taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to.  You were never a god.  You were never even a man.”

Then of course we have the big battle with Doomsday (who’s never quite named, Luthor simply introduces it to Superman as “your doomsday”), the stuff with Wonder Woman, the kryptonite spear blah blah blah and Superman apparently dies.  We all know damn well Superman isn’t dead (especially with the announcement of a Justice League film for God’s sake) so what the fuck is the point?  Why have him “die” when we know it isn’t real?  There’s no emotional impact.  It feels like nothing more than setup for another movie.  I mean seriously, the death of Superman could’ve been a big deal.  It could’ve been a major turning point in the DCEU…but instead, it’s just a wasted gesture.  The first time I saw BvS I sat there and thought why are they even including this!?  It’s not even like we think he’s not dead, or he’s probably not dead, or maybe he’ll come back one day…we straight up know that he’s not dead!  C’mon DCEU.  Seriously.

We’ve also glossed over a good deal of Batman’s backstory, which is why we really should’ve had some sort of DCEU Batman film to introduce him.  We know that the Joker has come and gone and we also know that Batman has become a little less idyllic and a little more disillusioned and less principled than the version we typically think of.  It’s very obvious that he’s already spent a long time fighting crime and that what he’s seen and done has had a profound effect on him.  This is not Batman in his prime.  This is Batman in his golden years.  Nothing wrong with that, but it just seems like a really strange way to introduce a character.  Of course the films can play with time and we can certainly have movies that take place earlier, but this could potentially make for a very messy shared universe.

The relationship between Batman and Alfred was also pretty lousy.  Batman was too old and Alfred was too young; there was no father-son chemistry between the two, it was more like Alfred was Batman’s hacker-sidekick.  Batman at his best is a lone wolf, and it’s through Alfred that we often learn a lot about who “Bruce Wayne” / Batman truly is.  The relationship here was poorly, poorly handled.

Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor was the casting travesty that we all thought Affleck as Batman was going to be.  He’s squirrely, twitchy, nervous and neurotic…nothing like the charismatic business man that Luthor was.  Luthor was always a super-nerd underneath, but on the exterior he was smooth and debonair…this version is unlikeable to the core and worst of all, way too young.  The role itself was interesting enough and fit into the film appropriately; the problem is that the role just wasn’t Lex Luthor.

Forever ago I said that the early MCU films were good about not dropping too many setups and whatnot for future films.  Well in their desperation, DC filled BvS with this crap.  We get the whole Wonder Woman / Flash / Aquaman / Cyborg montage which was basically pointless. we get Wayne’s dream-sequence with Flash (durr huh?) and most egregious of all, every single scene with Wonder Woman.  I appreciate seeing Wonder Woman on screen as much as anyone, and I think she has great potential as the focus of a movie, but there is just no reason in the world for her to be involved in the events of BvS.  It’d be nice if we at least had some kind of bullshit reason why she got involved, but we don’t.  She’s just there for the audience to get familiar with and to do 99% of the Doomsday asskicking.  I mean she looked great and I enjoyed watching her hold her own against Doomsday, but that doesn’t change that she just didn’t really belong in the film.

The movie is better with repeated viewings, but it’s not as good as Man of Steel.  I still want to know why why why DC chose to inject some of its biggest moments into the DCEU so early.  Let’s get on to number 3…

DC chose to go in a really weird direction for its third outing.  Forget Batman and Superman, let’s take a bunch of third and fourth rate villains and make them the protagonists of the movie! Why oh why was this a starting point for…anything!?  We could’ve had a Batman movie dealing with the Joker and Harley; instead we have Harley’s introduction, but since Harley can’t really exist without the Joker, we have the Joker and Harley’s backstory sortta forcefully wedged into all this Suicide Squad stuff….even though the Joker has nothing to do with the Suicide Squad.  Had this been done correctly, we’d already know who Harley was, have no need for the Joker, and more time could’ve been spent on Suicide Squad’s simultaneously confusing and inept plot – maybe we could’ve even delved into the romance between Harley and Deadshot…?

It’s hard to give a shit about most of these people.  Captain Boomerang (I feel goofy just typing that) could’ve been introduced in a Flash movie.  Maybe we could’ve gotten a sort of “Bat-family” movie where we see Katana as a member of the outsiders and another Bat-villain like Deadshot or Killer Croc.  I feel like we should’ve been somewhat familiar with at least half the squad, and very familiar with at least 2 of ‘em.  Trying to mix origin stories and “team: assemble” plots is too much for a typical movie to handle.

The good news is that Suicide Squad starts off as something different and quirky.  We have the goofy intros, Amanda Waller’s ball-busting dialog, and an overall interesting perspective on the average superhero movie.  Oooh a watching a bunch of bad guys is gonna be fun but how are they gonna make us care about them?  Turns out that the movie has a hard time answering this question.  We had a pretty good movie on our hands up until the (first) helicopter crash and we spend 15 minutes watching everyone walk down 37 alleyways and talk to everyone else.  

Once the real fighting starts things become a little formulaic.  Deadshot and Flagg form some kinda insta-bond over God-knows-what with Deadshot saying shit like, “I gotcha back!”  Katana sides with the criminals despite professing that she isn’t one.  Harley, believing that the Joker is dead, decides the best place for her is the squad, despite being 100% free to go (since Joker disabled her neck explosive nanite thingy).  Croc says something that could almost be considered selfless and heroic when it’s time to plant the underwater bomb.  Seriously, we have all these hardened criminals who suddenly begin talking utter nonsense and copious amounts of cheese.  This total shit is laughably epitomized when Diablo, seconds before his self-sacrifice, says, “I already lost one family, I ain’t losin’ another!”  BWAHAHAHAHA what?

The movie skips straight from “expendable thugs” to “mildly heroic individuals, all capable of redemption” and skips the middle.  Suicide Squad really needed to break with convention to stay true to itself, and although it held for a while, unfortunately it slipped straight into the conventions that make this type of movie unsuccessful.  I can understand having one character capable of or in search of redemption – El Diablo – and one totally bad seed who just doesn’t get it – seems to be Boomerang judging by the ending – but this little mission doesn’t cure Harley of crazy, or diminish Deadshot’s capacity for killing strangers for money, or undo the lifetime of mistreatment that turned Croc to “Killer.”  It’s not just hokey, it’s bad writing.  And it’s made even worse after what was a largely successful first act.

Even if you push all that aside, we’re still left with DC’s penchant for crafting nonsensical plots.  Do we ever really get any explanation for all this shit with the Enchantress?  Waller keeps her heart in a box to control her but it doesn’t control her but she still needs it to destroy the world even though she’s already summoned her “brother” who seems perfectly capable of destroying the world himself.  Huh?  And why was what’s-his-name included?  Slipknot, that’s right…just to prove the nanite bombs work?  Just to prove that Waller and Flagg are basically just as sick, twisted, and cold-hearted as their team full of criminals?

And then there’s that scene when they “complete” their first mission, just to find Waller in a room surveilling…something.  What the hell did any of that even mean?  And then Waller just executes like 4 or 5 government employees for what reason?  I mean I just don’t understand any of that shit.  It doesn’t really bode well for the squad either, as it basically just pushes them all away – well, until Flagg somehow inspires them to be a team and get shit done – or what the fuck ever.

The showdown with Enchantress and her bro isn’t as dazzling as it should be.  First of all, from what we’ve seen of the pair and what they’re capable of, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t have been able to wipe the floor with at least half of the Suicide Squad before they even blinked.  Diablo’s Aztec-God Kotal Khan form was pretty damn convincing as a worthy adversary for the duo, but Harley and her baseball bat…?  Boomerang and some boomerangs?  Flagg and a gun?  What the fuck are they even doing here?  The Suicide Squad really should’ve gone up against something a little more human for their first outing.  Most of them are basically normal – crazy, but physiologically normal.  Croc has his strength, Katana has no inherent powers but she does have a somewhat mystic sword, Diablo of course has “real powers,” but the rest of them are just highly skilled at whatever.  And we’re supposed to buy that they went up against this 6,000 year old witch and prevailed with a few dead government red shirts and a couple of scratches?

I’m also not sure how much I agree with how the whole “Suicide Squad” concept is handled.  The whole point was that a bunch of ho-hum villains were thrown together to pull off crazy jobs for the government and that it didn’t really matter if they died because a) they’re bad guys, and b) they’re fairly insignificant bad guys.  We don’t really get a “real” death in the movie, at least not one that’s caused by the “dangerous mission” at hand.  Slipknot dies, but it’s just because he’s an idiot and because climbing / grappling is a stupid “power.”  Diablo also bites the dust, but it’s an act of self-sacrifice.  This goes back to what I just said in the previous paragraph, but couldn’t the Enchantress take a least one of them out in the heat of battle?  A quick blade through the chest?  Maybe one of those weird molten-metal-Matrix-tree-branch appendages from her brother?  Deadshot and Harley have too much star power to go down – I’ll accept that.  Boomerang is perhaps too worthless to matter, but what about Croc?  Isn’t he sort of a pained, tragic character?  Or what about Katana, crying at her sword-imprisoned-husband before battle?  Oooh ooh or how about Flagg? Then we could have another stupid moment where we find out how much the team respected him or some shit.  Really, I just wish someone had gotten the axe because right then, right there, on that day, Enchantress (or her bro) got the better of them.

Suicide Squad is full of logic holes and blatantly pathetic writing.  It’s one of those films where I want it to be better than it is, but if I’m honest with myself I know it just can’t get there.  This might be one of the coolest concepts so far in either the MCU or DCEU, and it’s a shame it couldn’t be any more fun and original than it was.  This is a movie that really needs a foundation to build off of, and the DCEU hasn’t yet laid any of the necessary groundwork.  And like BvS, we get odd little clues to a universe as-yet-to-be-revealed to us, such as during Harley’s intro where we’re flat out told that Robin has been murdered, presumably by the Joker, with Harley as an accomplice.  DC!  Why you do this!?  You could make a fantastic, poignant, widely discussed film where Robin freakin’ dies!!!  Will we get that?  Who the hell knows.  But even if we do, the surprise is already ruined, because we know that at some point, in this universe, at least one iteration of Robin dies.  See what I mean about DC blowing their load too early?

I think – assuming DC was just hell-fucking-bent on an ensemble “assemble” flick – they should’ve given us the Teen Titans.  I know the Titans have some unfamiliar faces, but not any worse than the Suicide Squad I would think.  Anyway, a Teen Titans movie would‘ve been a great intro to Robin (wherever the hell he fits in…), and since the other members are a little more unfamiliar, the movie could’ve simply introduced them without the audience feeling like complicated backstories full of exposition via flashbacks were necessary.  It would also introduce us to Cyborg, which can only be a good thing going into the upcoming Justice League film without much information on anyone.  With a Teen Titans film in place, maybe DC would push the Justice League film back a couple of years (to keep from being repetitive) and in the meantime we could get proper standalone films for Batman, Flash, and Aquaman, as well as perhaps a proper follow-up to BvS (all in addition to the upcoming scheduled Wonder Woman movie).  These films could’ve also introduced – at the very least – Deadshot, Harley (and Mr. J), and Captain Boomerang (and at the most Katana and Croc as well), which would then provide an appropriate segue into a Suicide Squad film!  Ta-da!  Ain’t that plan grand?

Ahh…now we get to this part.  I think most Batman fans and cinephiles alike were just holding their breath until the inevitable next Joker.  Ok, maybe it wasn’t as urgent as actual breath-holding, but damn near everyone was blown away by Ledger’s performance and they knew that one day, sooner or later, someone else would don the white face paint.  Whether you creamed your pants over Ledger’s version of the Joker is pretty much irrelevant at this point – the point is that Ledger’s Joker has become the de facto standard for the character, almost instantaneously influencing the Joker’s portrayal in video games, comics, cartoons / animated features, and beyond.  Ledger took the character from “weird clown guy” to a dark and dirty place, filled with chaos and mystery.  And whether or not the next Joker would be “better” or “worse” than Ledger, one thing was for sure: it was going to be different.

And lo, Jared Leto, who you might remember from Requiem for a Dream or My So-Called Life or maybe even the crazy-ass Mr. Nobody (or the band 30 Seconds to Mars), ended up with the green hair and purple suit. [Sighs]  I don’t know what I think of this version, and I’ll tell you why.  First of all, it’s difficult to label him as an essential piece of Suicide Squad, and a big character like this hanging around on the outskirts leaves the audience feeling one of two ways: a) we should be seeing a lot more of him, or b) why the hell is here in the first place?  More often than not I find myself leaning towards Option B.  It doesn’t really have anything to do with the performance; rather, it has to do with his scenes feeling forced into a movie just so the movie can say, “look, it’s the Joker!”  On some level I get that we “needed” Harley’s backstory, but on the other hand, we weren’t treated to the same level of backstory when it came to Deadshot or K.C. or Captain fucking Boomerang.  

The other fundamental with Leto’s Joker as he exists right this moment is that he has virtually no connection with Batman.  The whole point of the Joker is to act as the antithesis to Batman – Batman is the hero who looks like a villain, Joker is the villain who looks, at the very least, like an innocent clown (I know, not really, but if we weren’t so heavily inundated with Joker’s appearance, the connection between “clown” and “innocence” would be more obvious) – Batman is meticulous and methodical and exacting, the Joker is reckless, wild, and impulsive – and then what really worries Batman is that part of him likes beating the shit out of bad guys, and part of him knows that “Bruce Wayne” is the real mask, and he sees those aspects of himself in the Joker, and it’s immensely threatening for him to think of himself as so close to a line that he considers the Joker to have already crossed.  Alright that was long-winded and poorly structured but the point is that Batman and Joker are peas in a pod, and it’s difficult to enjoy / understand the Joker without viewing it through his conflict with Batman.  I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying that we need to be properly introduced to the Joker via Batman before we start trying to follow Joker sans Batman.

And last but not least we move on to Leto’s actual portrayal and interpretation of the Joker.  From what I’ve seen so far, I have some really mixed feelings about it.  Remember the conversation in Tropic Thunder about “going full retard?”  If not, go YouTube it and watch the scene – it’s a quick scene where one actor explains to another that he’s never going to win an Oscar by “going full retard” and then uses examples from actual cinema, his advice ultimately being that, even when playing a “retarded person,” you can’t go “full retard.”  My explanation is not a substitute; go watch the scene!  Replace “retard” with “crazy” and you’re approaching what I think about Leto’s Joker.  So far, it feels like Leto is going “full crazy” which just ain’t gonna work.  We’ve got to have something to latch onto besides all out batshit crazy (pun intended).  For instance Ledger’s Joker was devious and, whether he was completely conscious of it or not, he had an excellent understanding of human emotion and behavior.  Need proof?  How about his manipulation of others with his ever-changing and equally disturbing “origin” stories?  Or forcing Batman to choose between Rachel and Dent?  Or switching the detonators on the boats?  Or his little pep-talk with Dent where Two-Face was basically birthed?  In some ways he’s got that whole “insane-genius” thing going on…but I’m really, really not seeing that spark of “genius,” however heinous and depraved as it may be, in Leto’s iteration of the character.

I will reserve full judgement until we’re able to see more of the character, but so far it just seems like we’re getting Leto’s personal version of “weird” and while distinctive and memorable, I’m not sure if it’s enough to carry this version of the character to greatness.  Another point of contention is the new Joker’s apparent penchant for stereotypically gang-like activities.  I mean he’s hanging out in the club, all blinged out, driving the (alleged) Lambo…for all intents and purposes he’s a street thug.  Maybe a totally bizarre street thug, but still a street thug.  Maybe this approach could’ve worked prior to Ledger’s Joker but now…well now I think the audience expects more, much more.  Having a materialistic and vain Joker just doesn’t feel right nowadays.  Granted Suicide Squad doesn’t show us much and there could be several other explanations behind the club scene besides the Joker acting as some sort of Godfather (which is kinda what it looks like), but it’s still hard to imagine our current Joker looking like part of a hip-hop entourage while our previous Joker burns gigantic piles of money.

Man, ok, I know I flew the hell off topic there with Suicide Squad…I guess I had more to say about it than I thought.  Like I said though, I want so badly for it to be a better movie than it really is.

I guess by pointing out all these issues with Suicide Squad I’ve by default discussed why and how the DCEU is so far behind the MCU.  To sort of start wrapping things up here, I think DCEU is in a lot of trouble.  While I can 100% appreciate the ambition behind all 3 of their in-universe films, they’re full of systemic issues that Marvel has gotten around by simply taking their time and building something from the ground up.  DC seems to be doing too much from the top down, and I fear that the upcoming Justice League movie will be just as problematic; sure, we’ll know Wonder Woman better by then, but we still won’t know much more about Batman or Superman and we’ll have at least 3 other characters to juggle for the first time (Cyborg, Aquaman, Flash) if not more.

If you’ve read this far, then I’m positive you’re aware that both Marvel and DC have a lot of TV shows on the air as well as many others planned.  Marvel has smartly decided that their TV shows will also take place in the MCU.  This is great – it leaves the door wide open…if each and everything little thing doesn’t connect, that’s ok, because that’s how universes work.  However, if the situation permits, they’ve got an assload of material to work with should they choose to do something epic and massively rewarding for fans.  DC, well, DC is just being a dumbass about it all.  They’ve got lots of shows – Gotham, Supergirl, Arrow, Flash, probably more on the way (something based around the “Birds of Prey” I think?  or is that already a thing…?).  DC has a perfect, golden opportunity to play catch-up within this medium, but what do the do?  Drop the fucking ball.  They’ve said conclusively that the TV shows do not take place in the same universe as the films; furthermore, they seem to be on the fence or downright confused as to whether or not all of the TV shows are happening in the same universe.  If I remember correctly, there was some sort of Flash / Supergirl crossover but instead of treating it as a full-fledged crossover, the pulled some comic book trickery and said some shit about one show existing within “Earth-2,” implying that the visiting show was outside the “normal” continuity of the home show.  How fucked up is that?  And why?  Wouldn’t it actually be easier to sit down and work out the connections from the beginning rather than doing what the fuck ever year after year and completely destroying what could be a built in fan base for all DC-related / inspired media…?

As painful as it is to watch DC dig this hole, I’m equally interested in how the MCU is going to grow and evolve in the next couple of years, particularly as this “first generation” of heroes gives way to a new group.  Now in a comic book the writers can keep on cranking out Iron Man stories one after the other for years on end, but somehow I don’t think the MCU will work out this way.  The simple fact is that we’re not going to be following Iron Man and Cap and Thor and Hulk and whoever else indefinitely.  Maybe one of these days these sorts of franchises will become so incredibly lucrative that these companies will “breed” and groom actors to play a certain role indefinitely, but I think I can comfortably assert that reasonably well known actors like Downey Jr. and Evans and Hemsworth and Jackson don’t want to be associated with these characters for the rest of their careers.  I’m sure the paycheck is nice, but from an artistic perspective, these guys and gals are going to want to move on at some point, whether it’s 3 or 9 or 16 movies down the road.  

I sincerely hope the MCU can keep the momentum going but I do have some doubts…after all, our A-team (both actors and heroes) of Iron Man, Thor, Cap, and Hulk got knocked back a few notches between Age of Ultron and Civil War – compare the previous cast the the “new” team of Avengers: Cap, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon.  

I guess you can count Hawkeye and Black Widow in there somewhere, but honestly, I’ve got 3 words for those 2 characters: dead fucking weight.  And really, Johansson is way too damn hot to be thrown in the background set on “dual-wield” while Hulk runs up buildings and Thor obliterates giant bio-organic floating skeleton creatures with a hammer and Stark whizzes around popping off plasma bolts and Cap sets his shield to physics = null.  C’mon Marvel, she’s freakin‘ gorgeous and all you can do is put her in dumb scenes with the Hulk, who is easily the least interesting Avenger outside of battle.

I digress.  For the record Margot Robbie was insanely hot in Suicide Squad – 50% of that is just ‘cause she’s a good looking chick, but the other 50% that really sets my loins aflame is the whole kinderwhore-inspired look.  (For the record, she also played Jordan Belford’s (Leo DiCaprio) wife in Wolf of Wall Street and she was pretty damn hot there as well (I didn’t know that was her until I specifically looked up what else she’d been in)…but the kinderwhore-ish look just pushed her into a whole other realm of fucking sexy.)  But then of course you get into that whole “2-kinds-of-hot” thing…Robbie, Suicide Squad version, is hot in that, “agh I want to fuck that right now” sort of way, whereas Johansson – although most absolutely definitely fuckable – also has that sort of classic beauty about her.  In addition to being very sexually attractive, she’s just pleasant to look at.  A chick can definitely be of the former variety without possessing qualities of the latter, but I’m not sure I can think of any time where the latter doesn’t also possess the sex appeal aspect…it may not be as urgent or immediate, but it’s still there.

Still digressing.  Most of this post is one big digression.  I apologize and applaud anyone who’s made it this far.

Let’s finish this up, shall we?  I’ve been writing this for days upon days and I got other cool toy shit I want to hurry up and write about before I forget it.

In summation, I will continue to keep faith in the DCEU, at least for another couple years worth of movies.  I like what Marvel is doing and I think they’ve landed on a workable formula, the problem is that I’m just not tripping over myself to see films about Ant-Man or Doctor Strange or even guys like Iron Man and Thor, simply because I’ve never really been that interested in them.  I mean I guess it depends on who you are and what you were exposed to, but as a kid I was interested in other heroes and really, even the big shots like Iron Man, were more or less just characters I knew of in passing.  Perhaps the MCU isn’t doing enough to make these characters interesting – perhaps these characters just don’t have the same built-in appeal as Spider-Man or Batman, etc.

When these MCU films start dropping in price and I can start loading up on 3 – 5 movies for $7.50 – $12 at Walmart, I‘ll be glad to give them a fair shake in the comfort of my living room, but as long as we’re at $20 a pop I’m sorry, I just don’t have $20 worth of give-a-damn when it comes to the Winter Soldier (holy shit a metal arm (I know, I know, everyone says it’s a great friggin’ movie)) or damn Ant-Man (I know I know, everyone says it’s a great friggin’ movie).  And in my defense, there were lots of really, really crappy superhero movies that came beforehand.

Bottom line:  DC, I love your characters, but you need to get your shit together.  Take it slow.  You don’t have to one-up the MCU just yet, and you’re on the road to potentially ruining what may be the greatest hero of our times, Batman.  And please, do something about your godawful TV situation.  To Marvel: I think you’ve got a lot of stuff figured out, but I think your entire universe would benefit from injecting a little more dirt and grime into your films.  They’re a little too light and a little too popcorn friendly.  Don’t go down DC’s road and make incomprehensible crap that masquerades as complexity – don’t do that shit – but man, let’s get a film with some gravitas, with some balls.

So, what in the hell do you think about the quality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe versus the DC Extended Universe?  Lay it on me!  Did I nail it down pretty good or am I way off base?  Should I keep my mouth shut until I’ve dredged through the whole of the MCU…?  Is Ant-Man really that fucking good?  Was the tie in with Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really as brilliant as the rest of the internet seems to believe?  And while we’re at it, is anything in the DC TV-verse (what the fuck do we call it?) worth watching, or am I in the clear by being as dismissive as everyone else?  Tell me tell me tell me!

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One thought on “The MCU vs. the DCEU

  1. You want gravitas? Watch the last episode Agents of Shield released. Watch Civil War. Watch The Winter Soldier. Nobody can convince me that there isn’t gravitas in it.
    The thing with the MCU is that it takes it time to built up…and built up…and built up….but the pay off is nearly always worth it. The DCEU tends to jump through the pay off with no built up at all, and no real consequences (and yes, I know that is something some people like to claim about the MCU, the lack of consequences, but that is BS, you don’t have to kill off your characters in order to have consequences).

    The killing of Zod shows that better than anything else. At no point we really established how Superman feels about killing, so when he does it, it is just another action after he already destroyed half a city and after it happens, it is never addressed again.

    Like

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