From blockbuster films to extended TV shows, comic book media is all we see nowadays. When asked about a superhero film, most people would probably think straight to big names like Infinity War or The Avengers: Marvel properties. Disney, Marvel’s proprietary company, has shaped Marvel into a piece of pop culture, propelling them to prominence in the industry. In the past twelve years, Marvel has made a killing pumping out blockbusters every year. People can't seem to get enough.
Meanwhile, DC can’t seem to get it together. Since the conclusion of The Dark Knight trilogy, DC’s films have been horribly received by both critics and fans alike.
This baffles me.
How does a franchise with this much potential fail so horribly?
The DC problem is rooted in their representation of characters. The essential piece of any comic book movie is its characters. Comic books are popular because they create characters beyond our imagination. Translating iconic heroes from the pages to the big screen in an exciting and believable way is what sets an excellent comic book film apart from a bad one.
This is where Marvel movies excel. Disney has a formula for creating stories that ride on their fleshed-out and likable characters. Disney understands these characters inside and out, and this translates on the big screen.
Tony Stark is the most likable character in the franchise because he is written correctly. In each installment where Iron Man appears, Tony’s character grows. He kicks off the Marvel universe as a greedy and self-absorbed billionaire. He is an arms dealer of all things, and the audience is supposed to hate him. But, as he progresses from film to film, Tony slowly evolves to become a leader. While Stark remains stubborn and arrogant, he stays true to his convictions. He changes and grows. He does what he thinks is right, even if it’s reckless and dangerous. For viewers, this dynamic is engaging, fun, and, most importantly, relatable. Superheroes are a disconnect from reality; they’re impossible, but if we can see ourselves in these characters, they are undeniably believable.
On the contrary, DC seems to miss the mark when creating their characters. Somehow these films manage to mess up Batman and Superman: two of the most iconic characters in pop culture!
Batman is absolutely horrendous in recent DC movies, which breaks my heart. My favorite films of all time are Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy. Those films are perfect. They create a grounded and interesting Batman story that builds on itself. It kills me to see my favorite character go from a masterpiece to the dumpster.
A lot of things are wrong about Snyder's Batman. Most importantly, Snyder manages to destroy Bruce Wayne's fundamentals by making him a cold-blooded killer.
In The Dark Knight, we see Bruce Wayne create the symbol of Batman. A symbol meant to redeem Gotham City, but with a strict code. Batman does whatever is necessary to protect Gotham, except kill. This is because it breaks down Bruce Wayne’s value system; he became Batman because of an unnecessary act of violence that resulted in his parent’s death. He became Batman to right the wrongs of society. The society that failed him and his parents. Batman doesn't cross that line because if he does, he’s no different from the criminals that plague Gotham.
But in Snyder’s universe, Batman is okay with being a serial killer because Bruce Wayne has no morals to begin with. He calls himself a criminal as a twisted “justification” to kill whoever stands in his way. For one, Batman isn't a criminal nor is he a violent machine. Yes, he’s troubled and angry, but that propels him to become a detective, leader, and guardian. What shapes Batman is his unrelenting dedication to his morals and his crusade. Not rage.
So it’s clear, Zack Snyder messed up Batman's core values. Fine. Call it a “new interpretation.” Could he have at least made him fun to watch?
Snyder can’t even make this off-brand Batman with twisted morals somewhat entertaining.
In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne's character is fascinating because of the duality between Bruce and Batman. Bruce Wayne becomes the mask as he is consumed by being Batman. While at the same time, Bruce Wayne struggles with the extent of the good he does as Batman. Christian Bale's performance is interesting for viewers as it brings forth themes of humanity and identity.
Ben Affleck is an incredible actor too and is beyond capable of making something of the Batman mantle. However, with what the studio gives him, he has no room to explore or develop anything original. It feels like Snyder's Batman is only on-screen to punch stuff. I can't lie, there are some really fun action sequences, but it gets old quick.
Compare Batman to a successful character, like Tony Stark. He doesn't experience a grand arc like Tony. Batman is cynical and angry, and he remains that way. Tony Stark shines in other heroes’ presence, but when others surround Batman, he fades to the background.
Overall, nobody is to blame for Batman’s failure except Zack Snyder’s horrible execution and interpretation of the Caped Crusader.
You would think you could only mess up a character this severely once. The tragedy of the Snyder films is that nobody is safe. Like Batman, Snyder doesn't understand what makes Superman a likable character. Simply put, he writes Superman like a demi-god. His character consists of him being "all-powerful" and everybody being afraid of him. Snyder's attempt to make an "edgy" Superman translates into a boring husk of a character.
In representations that work, like the Justice League Animated Series, Superman has a personality. He’s a boy scout; he’s innocent, generous, and a friend to just about anyone, even the supervillains. Superman isn't a hero because he’s powerful. He’s heroic because of his compassion and unwavering moral compass. Superman is an interesting character because, despite his abilities, on the inside, he is like everyone else, and that's where viewers can relate.
While Superman doesn't necessarily lack a moral compass in these new films, he is void of humanity. He’s dead and boring to watch. He doesn't have a love for people that an accurate Superman representation should. He destroys an entire city in Man of Steel and feels nothing. He witnesses a crowd full of people die in a courthouse, and he seems to feel nothing. So when Superman's life is in danger how do you expect viewers to feel anything?
On the contrary, Tony Stark’s humanity and morals won’t allow him to ignore the Avengers’ damages. He cannot live with himself knowing that innocents died while the Avengers were “kickin’ ass.” While Tony cares about regular people, Superman sees them as an afterthought. This is a crucial piece that disconnects Superman from the audience.
It’s incredible how something as simple as developing characters can set a titan like the Marvel franchise apart from Zack Snyder’s train wreck. The frustrating part is that the general consumer thinks this is how DC characters “should be” because this is all they have seen. As someone who has grown up living and breathing all things comic books, I know that DC can make something better of their films.
The one exception to this mess is Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is full of love, and viewers can see that. It starts with Diana's charisma as the main character; she's naive yet brave, which translates to a relatable and fun performance. The story rides the charm she brings, and the film works.
There need to be more movies like Wonder Woman and less like Batman V Superman. DC movies need more characters that are relatable and charming, like Wonder Woman. DC films can be good!
Unfortunately, the abundant failures on-screen have convinced casual movie-goers otherwise. I’m afraid the damage has been done. I am afraid that new DC films, full of promise like Joker and The Batman, are weighed down by DC’s reputation for mediocrity.
I am afraid DC is comfortable with just being ok.