Tuesday, November 28, 2017

DC vs. Marvel: response to Charles

[NB: this is in answer to Charles's comment here. This began as a response in the comment thread, then became a blog post in its own right, which is why I'm publishing it in this form.]

It's no contest between "Justice League" and "Thor: Ragnarok." TR is so, so much better. It brings the trademark Marvel sense of fun, and it benefits from superior scriptwriting (even though both the MCU and the DCEU generally suffer from poorly written villains).

Before I say more, though, I should note here that I'm an absolute newbie when it comes to the world of comics lore and its fanboy following. I have a coworker who lives and breathes this stuff; he has an encyclopedic knowledge of American comics that extends back to their beginnings—knowledge not just of the stories themselves, but also of the writers and artists involved in their creation. I've told my coworker several times that he should make a YouTube channel devoted to comics-nerd commentary (along the lines of Emergency Awesome or New Rockstars), but I think he's too lazy to take me up on this.

With that as the preface, let's talk DC versus Marvel, keeping in mind that I'm still over 99% ignorant of the matter. The so-called "DCEU" (DC Extended Universe) era started up, I think, after Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, so even though Nolan's films are part of the DC brand, they're not part of the DCEU (see the list of DCEU films here). DCEU is the direct competitor with Marvel's MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), which had a head start on its stories, despite many of DC's stories being older in terms of dead-tree comics. (Example: Darkseid, one of DC's cosmic big bads, came before Marvel's Thanos, but because of the movies, the non-fanboy public has gotten to know Thanos first, so now Darkseid is going to seem like the copycat.)

The DCEU's other problem is that it's become closely associated with director Zack Snyder, who seems to have the opposite of the Midas touch when it comes to making anything other than "300." Snyder's films showcase his interesting stylistic sensibility, but aside from that aesthetic, the director doesn't seem to bring much else to the table. If he's not slavishly following someone else's (e.g., Frank Miller's) story template, he's prone to wandering into quagmires of his own making. "Sucker Punch," an enormous turd of a film, is an example of what happens when Snyder gets complete creative control: great imagery, suck-ass story. Partially following a template isn't much better: "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is a good example of that. Like Nolan, Snyder borrows heavily from moments found in Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, but he botches the execution in his reinterpretation. People also complained about "Man of Steel" for similar reasons, and they're making the same complaints about "Justice League." The nightmare continues.

Along comes Patty Jenkins, director of "Wonder Woman." Jenkins did much to rescue the DCEU brand, but "Justice League" has yanked the brand back down under the water (per the Hollywood wisdom: you're only as good as your most recent movie, so thanks to Snyder, DC is in the doghouse again). There's grumbling, in the movie/fanboy world, about having Jenkins take a more prominent place in making DCEU films while putting Snyder on the back burner. I'd be strongly in favor of this. Snyder may think of himself as a comics lover, but I don't think he actually respects the original material the way he should. There's a certain unimaginative literalism in his approach: he's rendering images, not interpreting stories for the screen. He's also as bad at writing dialogue as George Lucas is.

Marvel, meanwhile, has hinged its strategy on finding fresh, new directors who aren't globally known until they have the chance to direct a Marvel hit. Tim Miller is a perfect example: "Deadpool" was his first-ever major film, and he hit a home run. (A shame he's been sidelined and isn't directing "Deadpool 2.") Taika Waititi, who did "Thor: Ragnarok," had done small-scale comedies and dramas before Marvel snapped him up. As long as Marvel's studio keeps finding this level of talent (and this may be the only time you ever hear me praise studio execs for anything), they'll keep clobbering the DCEU.*

So all in all, I look forward to Marvel films, but I sort of cringe whenever I hear a new DC film is out. That said, hope springs eternal, so I'll keep spending money on DC films, even if I don't enjoy them nearly as much.

*Marvel works under several umbrellas, e.g., Disney Marvel, Fox Marvel, Sony Marvel, etc., and some branches of Marvel are far more successful than others. Fox Marvel, which controls the X-Men property, has been hit-or-miss with its X-men films ("Logan" and "Deadpool" are high points). Fox also controls the Fantastic Four property, and all three of those films (2005, 2007, 2015) have been abject misfires, so it's not true that all of Marvel is riding high.


Charles said...

Wow, an entire post in reply!

I've only seen two films in the DCEU: Man of Steel and Wonder Woman. The former left me cold, but I thought that latter was quite good. But I haven't been motivated to see much more of the universe. Did you see Snyder's take on Watchmen? Unlike many other comic book films, I actually was very familiar with the source material for that one (I think I'm mostly like you in not being familiar with comics--possibly more so, since you were the one to introduce me to Batman DKR). There were things that I liked about it, but I also think that Snyder did a very poor job of adapting the story to the screen (although, in fairness, the source material is very problematic in many ways when it comes to adaptation). I enjoyed 300 for what it was, but I think you are spot on when you say that Snyder renders images rather than interprets stories.

On the other hand, films like the Guardians of the Galaxy series and T:R are pretty much exactly what I want in my comic book films. They're not perfect, of course, but they leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. I agree that Marvel hasn't always hit home runs, but even the more lackluster efforts (and I'm thinking more of the "mainstream" MCU films, not the Fox films, which I haven't really seen that much of) are still enjoyable. So when we have new films coming out left and right and I have a choice between a DCEU film and a MCU film, I'm probably going to go with the latter.

Kevin Kim said...

"Did you see Snyder's take on Watchmen?"

I'm kicking myself for never having written a review of that movie, which I own and have seen several times. I've read the graphic novel two or three times, so I'm fairly familiar with it; with the film version, it was a disappointment to see a major subplot excised and a new ending tacked on instead of the original ending from the novel. While the new ending made a certain dramatic sense, it also felt like a lazy attempt to avoid what would have been some spectacular special effects. All that being said, "Watchmen" wasn't the worst of Snyder's movies; that honor probably goes to "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice." Or to "Sucker Punch."

Charles said...

Agreed on the switched ending. I was very confused by that.