There is no doubt that there are plenty of differences between the movies that Marvel continues to pump out and the movies that WB/DC continues to give audiences. One of the biggest differneces, of course, is the tone of these movies. While Marvel loves to give fans some laughs with their superhero action, DC prefers to keep things a bit darker, and for the most part any laughs that come from the audience are almost ironic in response to what’s going on in the film itself (“Want to see a magic trick?”). If you follow the comic books released from each of the publishers, you may even believe you understand why. A new rumor, however, may give us a better answer to why the DC Cinematic Universe seems so depressing.
In a recent story from HitFix, it was revealed that several unnamed sources have confirmed that Warner Bros., the studio behind the DCU, has initiated a “no joke” mandate throughout their movies. If this seems a bit strange, take into account DC’s uneven past on screen. Movies with more than just a touch of humor, such as Superman IV, Batman & Robin, Superman Returns, and Jonah Hex, to name a few, have been failures, both critically and financially. Not to mention, not even fans of the respective franchises could stand behind these movies. However, the movie that may have truly changed DC’s course was the 2011 bomb, The Green Lantern.
By all accounts, The Green Lantern should have been a hit. There was a wonderful leading man in the role of Hal Jordan, and while Ryan Reynolds is widely known for his comedies, the dramatic chops that he showcased in movies like Smokin’ Aces, Buried, and even Amityville Horror, gave fans hope that he could keep things on the serious side. After all, The Green Lantern isn’t the most humorous of properties. Unfortunately, what audiences received was DC’s attempt at turning one of their properties into a Marvel movie. Green Lantern should have been darker and even a bit tragic, just as many DC properties tend to lean. The movie had a production budget of about $200mil, with an additional $100mil or so for marketing but wound up grossing only $219.8mil worldwide. Many feared that this would be the end of any DC superhero movie that didn’t star Superman or Batman. Honestly, after the failure of Lantern and the success of The Dark Knight trilogy and even Man of Steel, WB would have to be insane to keep trying to produce DC movies using the Marvel model, so a change in thinking was very necessary. They are completely different companies with completely different backgrounds that should each concentrate on doing what they do best.
The DC/Marvel comic book rivalry has brewed for decades and since Marvel Studios threw down the gauntlet with 2008’s Iron Man, they have sat back, counting their piles of cash while DC tried to find their footing and their place in the superhero game. Instead of trying to beat Marvel at their own game, i.e. lots of laughs with those punches, DC needs to focus on what it does best – tell the audience dramatic stories and give them solid acting, with a director that can handle the property. When you look at the successful movies based on DC comics, even those without Supes or The Bat, it is easy to see that they all have an iron spine that is dark but holds up even after years of rewatches. Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, and even V for Vendetta were all wonderful movies that were successful both critically and financially and all are based on DC properties. When DC gets it right, they really get it right. As a matter of fact, not even Joss Whedon, one of the men holding the strings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has a bad thing to say about DC movies that are done right. During one of Nerd HQ’s Conversations for a Cause this year, Joss (via Facetime), was asked how he would tell WB/DC to step up their game, and his response was perfect.
“I don’t think I would say that,” he said moderately. “I think that would be a little presumptuous of me. I think that both studios have kind of different agendas, different ways of approaching the superhero genre, and the ethos of the thing, and the esthetic. They go very dark and serious and sometimes it works amazingly, and Marvel tends to be a little lighter. Both have movies that I adore, and both have movies that I’m like… (Whedon gives an aggravated facial expression), including bits of my own. I would not want them to do what Marvel does. I like what they do when they get it right. When you get a Heath Ledger [performance], and Batman Begins, and those things that really grip you. That’s something nobody else is doing, and I like it. I want them to do what they’re doing.”
Now, while this “no joke” rule seems like it may be accurate and even reasonable, it is important to remember that “confirmed by unnamed sources” should really read “we heard a rumor and want to pass it on”. However, given the tone that the DCU seems to be going for, it may just be one of those weird but true pieces of information that people in the know have held on to.
If the rumored Shazam movie truly becomes reality and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson actually is holding the title role, it will really let the audience know if this humorless rumor is true. At this point, though, we just hope that enough attention is given to making Batman v. Superman one of the best comic book movies ever. Okay, that’s a bit ambitious. Instead, let’s just hope that BvS is better than Green Lantern. Yes, that seems more reasonable an expectation.