Tell me if you heard this one before. Clark Kent and Tony Stark walk into a bar. A drunk yells out “heyyy, it’s IRON MAN 2 and QUEST FOR PEACE!” Confused, Clark Kent asks, “why not Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN and the first IRON MAN?” The wise guy yells back “’cause if I liked either of you guys, I’d be calling you X-MEN 2 or THE DARK KNIGHT!”
All right. Simmer down. I am getting somewhere with this.
When it comes to franchise flicks, specifically those adapted from a beloved comic property, there tends to be a shrill response often drowning out the saner observations being made once these things are in production. It’s kind of like dealing with two proud parents claiming their kid is the more talented at sports, when in actuality one child might suck at baseball but is great at hockey while the other is better at soccer than lacrosse. But that doesn’t stop the parents from pitting their children against each other in a sport like football (or something like that). In other words it proves nothing. And yet, there is an opinion made up of a majority of keyboard critics decreeing what should be liked or disliked depending on their attachment to a specific source. This is where logic goes out the window. While its okay to look forward to a particular movie because you’re a fan of the property, it’s borderline delusional to think it’s going to be the greatest thing ever simply because you’re a fan of that property. Especially when it comes to ignoring the factors that differentiate one franchise from another. Factors that have nothing to do with Bruce Wayne looking just like his counterpart in Dark Knight Returns or in how the chosen director will absolutely hit this one out of the park because he made an awesome fan boy film before this. So getting back to that analogy: just because your kid is a great soccer player, doesn’t mean he’ll be a great quarterback. Or, you know… for a guy who directed MAN OF STEEL, he made a pretty good DAWN OF THE DEAD.
Two days ago, the Hollywood Reporter posted this piece investigating Warner’s attempt to build a DC cinematic universe. Apparently the studio is hitting against some rocky terrain. Although it cites sources that wish to remain anonymous, the basic gist of the article is not all that surprising to me nor should it be to anyone else. But before I go any further, I am absolutely not approaching this as a fan of either DC or Marvel. Simply, I am an appreciator of film. I don’t care how faithful one permutation is to its source. Preferring one publisher over another has no meaning to me. I just want to see a good movie, period. And this is an important point to make, a point a lot of fans seem to loose sight of. The DC vs. Marvel thing is ludicrous because it was never about that to begin with. It’s a Warner Bros. versus Disney thing.
Name some of your favorite superhero movies. Here, I’ll play: SUPERMAN (dir. Richard Donner), THE DARK KNIGHT (dir. Christopher Nolan), SPIDER-MAN 2 (dir. Sam Raimi), X-MEN 2 (dir. Brian Singer), IRON MAN (dir. Jon Favreau), THE ROCKETEER (dir. Joe Johnston). Now that list doesn’t even include the great films adapted from comic books that aren’t superhero stories like GHOST WORLD, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, DANGER: DIABOLIK, OLD BOY, etc. If you had to list your own, I doubt it would be made up of just Marvel or just DC titles. Unless you’re seriously – like seriously – obsessed to the point that requires some kind of psychological intervention.
Now list some of your least favorite. Maybe titles like DAREDEVIL, Albert Pyun’s CAPTAIN AMERICA, GREEN LANTERN and BATMAN & ROBIN come to mind. Again, these titles are not strictly Marvel or DC. So the quality of a superhero movie (and our enjoyment of them) does not hinge on whether that character was created by DC or Marvel. It never did. Ergo, the idea that this should be a Marvel vs. DC thing is (pardon my French) horse merde.
So let’s get back to that Hollywood Reporter article. It talks about how Warner is rushing to compete against Disney’s Marvel franchise yet struggling to do so without a clear plan. Evidence of this is suggested by the studio’s strategy to have five hired writers compete against each other just to come up with one WONDER WOMAN script. In terms of AQUAMAN, three more scribes were given directives only to have them changed or put on hold because Warner is having trouble figuring out the kind of universe they want depicted on the screen. The article quotes a writer’s rep, “they just haven’t been thorough about their whole world and how each character fits and how to get the most out of each writer’s time by giving them direction.” Yet here comes the capper to that person’s quote: “Obviously Marvel’s very good at that.” Well, of course it’s obvious. Disney-Marvel is good at it because they’re already eleven movies ahead of Warner in their universe building whereas Warner has only produced one. Disney-Marvel didn’t even have a plan to “universe build” not until after they saw the commercial potential in IRON MAN. And what plan they came up with then wasn’t fully formed yet. Remember: Edgar Wright was still in the picture to helm ANT-MAN. His vision had yet to clash with team Disney. Even though Thunderbolt Ross met Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark in INCREDIBLE HULK it seems like that character has now ceased to exist in this dojo. In fact, I think one can argue that the idea of a shared universe did not feel complete until CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, the fifth film in the series.
Yes, you can argue that if it took time for Disney to get their franchise into a fully formed and fully organized direction, then it would only be fair to give Warner the benefit of the doubt by giving them the time to get their DC properties in order as well. But herein lies the rub: it’s not the same thing. WB wants to hit the pavement running with this because of Disney’s success and not in spite of it. Let’s not forget how not too long ago plans were announced for both a Wolfgang Peterson directed BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN project and a George Miller directed Justice League tentatively titled WORLD’S FINEST. Heck, the JLA project was not only green lit, it was almost completely cast. But cold feet prevailed as they pulled the plug on both projects. Then came Nolan’s BATMAN trilogy which almost single handedly changed how we should view superhero movies. But that series existed in its own contained universe. Other than that we had GREEN LANTERN. And the less said about that the better.
So please, please, please let me be clear on this. I am absolutely not saying Marvel is “better” than DC. What I am saying is Disney has this better worked out than Warner Bros. And as of now, it certainly seems like the WB is floundering. Just. A. Little. Bit.
But all of this could be rendered moot depending on how BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE turns out. Great films have definitely resulted from cluster f**k situations and BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN might not be an exception to that possibility. But what if it does fail? Now, it’s entirely possible that it is “fail proof” from a financial standpoint because everyone including their uncle and their goat (yeah, I don’t know either) will see the movie anyway. But what if the pre-buzz and early reviews on the completed film address how disappointing it actually is? MAN OF STEEL was certainly successful but it was also divisive among fans and not really all that well liked among critics. So if the follow up gets an even less favorable response than the first, might a “fool me once” mentality go into effect? Thus possibly ruining Warner’s chances at continuing a franchise much like AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 put the kibosh on Sony’s attempt at world building? Good-bye Sony’s SINISTER SIX… but hello Disney’s INFINITY WARS!
You see, with Disney it hit the ball out of the park with IRON MAN. So it could afford the occasional set back like IRON MAN 2 and possibly THE INCREDIBLE HULK (I personally prefer Ang Lee’s version. There, I said it). While MAN OF STEEL… It didn’t win everyone over. It made money, yes. But so did IRON MAN 2. And so did AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (the first or rather the one before AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 which is, again, the flick that killed that attempt at universe building). So it should be very interesting to see how things work out for Warner Bros.
But where does this leave studios like Sony and Fox? Sony is sharing the SPIDER-MAN property with Kevin Feige and his Disney peeps while the curtains are drawing to a close on Fox’s X-MEN series. So that leaves the upcoming FANTASTIC FOUR to possibly, maybe compete against the other guys. So I guess this will not be just a WB vs. Disney thing. But a WB vs. Disney vs. Fox thing.
The facts regarding the development of these properties seem lost on the growing cacophony of whiney comic book fans. And the arguments are baffling. Largely because those voices are motivated by the need to defend their beloved properties without understanding the differences in how each studio has approached their universe building. The only common denominator (outside of how they will all be comic book movies) is the desire to make money off of those fans and the film going public at large. Like, tons of money.
Critics (professional and amateur) aren’t helping the discussion all that much. Arguments are broken down to overly simplistic sound bites. Of course we shouldn’t harsh on a film based on an initial teaser yet at the same time we shouldn’t be getting our panties wet if the teaser shows us nothing about the film. Just because Batman looks exactly like the character as illustrated by Jim Lee in issue blah of series blah-blah-blah does not mean it’s going to be a great movie, nor does it mean the suit will function effectively within the medium of film. Who cares if Tony Stark created Ultron in the new AVENGERS when it was all Hank Pym’s fault in the comics? What you should care about is whether the filmmakers can approach their particular vision with conviction. We can laugh all we want at Darren Aronofsky’s proposed Year One inspired Batman project because he reconceived the mythos by turning Bruce Wayne into an auto mechanic and Alfred his Afro-American co-worker. But that doesn’t mean Aronofsky couldn’t have pulled it off. On paper, Nolan’s Batman trilogy was a complete reimagining. But it worked. A popular criticism leveled at MAN OF STEEL focused on how the Superman presented in that film is not our Superman. Which then begged the question of just what or who should your Superman be? But no one seemed to want to examine the flaws in the script and half-assed presentation of MAN OF STEEL’s ideas and themes. The fans for the film gave it a pass because it displayed the best flying sequences ever. The critics against hated it because Superman put a whole city in danger during the film’s almost apocalyptic climax. Only few people were interested in examining how MAN OF STEEL functioned as a movie.
To make matters worse, to bolster their arguments the critics point to the failed titles within the franchises without acknowledging their creative successes. And then a short-term memory loss prevails. The DC fan forgets he absolutely loved Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN whereas the Marvel fan forgets he adored THE DARK KNIGHT. Hence the poorly conceived pun that served to introduce this piece. We don’t need to respond to each studio announcement like drunken blowhards. Let’s have our opinions based on being appreciators of film.