Mandatory Movie Battles: Marvel vs. DC (Now That Marvel Is Into Phase 4 and DC Has Flipped the Script)
The Capulets and the Montagues. McDonald’s and Burger King. Marvel and DC; some rivalries stand the test of time. The latter has dominated the comic book industry for decades. Their characters and storied competition made the jump from panel to screen almost immediately. The contemporary era of superhero films arguably began with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, evolved with Fox/Marvel’s X-Men franchise and Sony’s Spider-Man trilogy, again with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and then crescendo-ed when Marvel Studios launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. Like a match between two heavyweights, each studio has made move after countermove. It’s only a matter of time before somebody loses an ear or drinks poison to be with their “dead” lover.
Regardless of your preference, there’s no denying the fact that Marvel has been winning the battle on the big screen in recent years. The audience, critics, and money have been on their side. DC all but admitted the DC Extended Universe’s defeat after Joss Whedon’s dumpster fire that was Justice League. That said, it’s now fully committed to what it’s done best in the past: solo films and one-offs.
Given recent announcements (The Snyder Cut, Michael Keaton, multiverse, etc.), it would appear that DC is back in the game. Of course, it might only seem this way because COVID-19 has all but shut Marvel up. However, the MCU is still the MCU. Phases One-Three were not only critically acclaimed, they achieved something that was previously only thought possible on the page: a massive, coherent, and shared universe. Plus, it has “Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters” on their side…kind of. (They need to rework that name.) Now that Marvel is into Phase Four and DC has flipped the script, who looks poised to win the next (live-action) round?
Cover Photo: Disney+/Warner Bros.
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DC is well-known for its dark and brooding tone. Wake Wilson aka Deadpool even makes a joke about this to Cable in Deadpool 2: “Are you sure you’re not from the DC Universe?” Marvel Studios, on the other hand, is often lighter and much funnier; however, these two distinctions are not set in stone. Fox’s X-Men franchise was overtly serious at times and the Studios’ talent-swapping continues to blur this line (i.e. James Gunn bringing his Guardians of the Galaxy vibe to the upcoming The Suicide Squad). Still, Warner Bros. and DC’s proclivity for darkness allows it to make haunting characters studies like Joker, transcending its genre. Besides, 2020 has made cynicism the new black.
Marvel Cinematic Universe vs. DC Extended Universe (More Established)
Before Marvel Studios released Iron Man in 2008 (essentially launching the MCU), an argument can be made that DC was winning this debate. Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy officially made superheroes movies legit; The Dark Knight, in particular, being more a crime saga than about some dude wearing tights. In recent years, Marvel has demolished the box office both with Fox and Sony’s movies as well as the MCU—which, like The Dark Knight, changed everything.
Whether by luck or meticulous planning, Marvel executives laid a good road map for the MCU. Each film leads into the next; even the "standalones" are very aware of the other films within their universe. Marvel Studios was a smaller studio at first, lacking Spider-Man and the X-Men, but they had the Avengers. By capitalizing on Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark, Kevin Feige and company have attracted top-tier talent both in front of and behind the camera. The MCU is established and coasting at this point. The DCEU, well, Man of Steel tried to adapted Nolan’s “grounded” feel, and Snyder had a plan, it just didn’t work out. Twenty-three MCU films have been released. There are only eight in the DCEU (arguably five).
You Snooze You Lose
Imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery. Sometimes it’s pathetic. Remember when Burger King spit in the face of the Big Mac and came out with the “Big King?” This also happens in the comic book industry as Marvel and DC have been ripping off/mocking each other's characters for years.
To keep up, DC Films copied Marvel Studios. Big time. The second Marvel movies started putting credits scenes everywhere and anywhere (teasing their universe/upcoming films), DC panicked. Like an onside kick, it threw together a universe. That same hollow philosophy is the reason Batman v Superman and Justice League suck: currency over creative vision. It's certainly improved in that department, but we have to dock DC a point for being such a poser.
Characters (Present and Future)
Avengers: Endgame brought to a close the arcs of the MCU’s “Big Two”: Iron Man and Captain America. There is still a boatload of established characters in the MCU; brilliantly depicted and developed. The MCU will most likely be fine without them. However, the DCEU's (or whatever they’re calling it now) legacy characters -- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn (surprised to see her mentioned here? You shouldn't be) -- are still in play. While those characters haven’t been utilized they way people have wanted, Batman is still fricking Batman and the Joker is still Joaquin Phoenix (probably). How many acting Oscars does Marvel have? There’s soooo much potential for character development now that DC has given itself a fresh slate. Yes, they risk fatiguing these characters, but they will always be household names. Plus, Batman’s rogues' gallery is stacked—DC has always had better villains and the caped crusader looks to be getting one hell of a reboot. Throw in Black Adam, the Justice Society of America, Green Lantern, and it’s a done deal (as long as DC doesn’t shit the bed again).
Excluding Sony’s films, Marvel has Black Widow (2020), Eternals (2021), Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (2021), Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 (2021), Thor: Love And Thunder (2022), Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness (2022), Captain Marvel 2 (2022). DC has Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), The Suicide Squad (2021), The Batman (2021), Black Adam (2021), Shazam 2 (2022), Aquaman (2022), and The Flash (2022).
Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness (and WandaVision) and The Flash are set to open the door to the multiverse for their respective franchises. It’s unclear how Marvel will apply this concept to the MCU, but DC has made its future clear at DC Fandome: everything is valid. From Tim Burton’s Batman to the CW’s The Flash, any iteration of a DC character can show up in future films. For example, both Batfleck and Michael Keaton’s caped crusader are going to be in The Flash. On top of this, Black Adam and The Batman appear to be launching franchises/universes separate from the previous DCEU. Again, Marvel has been pretty quiet in 2020, probably because they have pocket aces. Regardless, anticipation/hype is definitely on DC’s side at the moment (marketing is half the battle).
Upcoming TV Shows
Aside from Zack Snyder’s Justice League being a four-part mini-series, Titans, Doom Patrol, the Arrowverse, and the upcoming The Batman spinoff series, DC’s antics on the small screen pales in comparison to what Marvel has in store. Marvel Studios is taking the MCU to Disney +, legitimately. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, Hawkeye, and She-Hulk will not only take place in the MCU but actively influence it. Marvel is extending its dominance across all platforms because the MCU is running out of room on the big screen. DC/the DCEU isn’t even remotely in a position to imitate this.
The Multiverse Blueprint
Yes, DC’s whole multiverse announcement is exciting and will probably be entertaining. That said, that reveal came well after everyone already knew Marvel was going to explore the multiverse. Avengers: Endgame opened the time travel door and alluded to the existence of alternate realities (as did Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: Far From Home), and now Doctor Strange, with the help of Scarlet Witch (presumably), is going to knock it wide open. Marvel has been working towards this for a while.
In the same way that DC haphazardly hopped on the universe train, they're diving into the multiverse. It’s worse than that. By saying that every film and television show is valid within their multiverse, they're erasing all of their mistakes (or trying to). It’s a brilliant marketing ploy, but it’s transparent. Marvel isn’t going to jump around and revisit old characters just to sell tickets, they have an actual game plan inspired by the comics—one that will see baddies like Kang the Conqueror, Galactus, and Doctor Doom introduced. DC is making noise about its thesis while Marvel has already wrote its conclusion.
It’s not even close. DC’s future is filled with opportunity, but it’s going to be difficult to achieve the type of success Marvel saw in its first three phases of the MCU. It doesn’t have the MCU nor the other Marvel projects in the works at Sony (a la Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Morbius) that could very well cross over into the MCU. If you’re a gambler, it’s safe to drop dough on Marvel in Phase Four. It’ll take a few more phases and major missteps on the part of Marvel Studios for DC Films to even wipe Thor’s ass.
Overall Winner: Marvel (duh)
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