Man of Steel, DC, and Marvel's Movie Universe

I haven't seen Man of Steel yet. Hey, we've got a 16-week old baby at home, I've got a book to write, and going to the movies isn't a huge priority.  So I'm not here to address whether MoS is good or bad or whatever.  For my part, what I've read makes me believe it might be a good movie, just not a good Superman movie, if that distinction makes sense.

But, again, that's not what I wanted to write about.

What, then?

Man of Steel

Man of Steel

Well, MoS made a tidy bit of cash in its opening weekend -- $125 million if you count its Thursday shows -- so now Warner Bros. and, by extension, DC Comics, is carrying on about how they're going to use Superman's reboot to launch an entire cinematic universe.  A MoS sequel.  A Batman reboot.  A Justice League movie.  Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (minus Ryan Reynolds), the Flash . . . the works.

This is, in my humble opinion, a huge mistake.

DC seems set to ape what Marvel has already done.  The problems with this, if I might highlight what I see as two immediate issues, are: (1) Marvel already did it, and did it exceptionally well, and (2) audiences are aware that Marvel has already done this (and exceptionally well, at that).

In other words, if DC and Warner Bros. want to make a big, loud noise, they should make their own big, loud noise.  Copying Marvel's big, loud noise?

They're going to look like they're, well, copying.

And no one likes a copycat.

Now, I realize this is a very childlike way to look at things.  To that I will respond: neener neener.

No, seriously.

DC has been trailing Marvel for a while now.  Yes, they had Nolan's Dark Knight movies, but I'll argue those movies were less comic book movies and more crime movies which just happened to feature a few comic book characters.  Anyway, Bale and Nolan are done and DC was already talking about reboots before The Dark Knight Rises premiered.

Still, DC was kicking butt.  Batman Begins kicked off the Batman reboot for them, and The Dark Knight, though invalidated by Rises, was, at the time, an excellent Batman movie (side note: the whole point of TDK, I thought, was that Bruce Wayne finally understood what it would take to be Batman.  What he would need to sacrifice.  What he would have to become -- then Rises comes along and shows us that he didn't learn that at all.  I'm there there are other sequels that completely broke their forebearers -- Highlander springs to mind -- but there can't be many, can there?)

It would have been the most natural thing in the world for Marvel to simply ape DC's, Warner Bros.'s, and Nolan's Batman success.

Instead, Marvel went and made fun movies.  They gambled on what was, at the time, characters from their B-list.  It might be hard to believe now, but at the time, Iron Man was not Marvel's most popular character.  The Hulk?  Prior to The Avengers, I'd bet most folks think of the theme from the old Bill Bixby TV series from when I was a kid.  Captain America and Thor?  Please.  That these movies worked at all is a testament not to Marvel's dedication to building a cinematic universe, but to their dedication to letting each movie stand on its own.

Okay, Iron Man 2 was a bit S.H.I.E.L.D. heavy.  It happens.  We all stumble.

Also, there's something else Marvel gets that I don't think DC gets: most of Marvel's comic book movies aren't actually comic book movies.

Captain America is a World War II movie.

Thor is, well, Thor is basically a fish-out-of-water comedy.

Iron Man?  It's almost a Die Hard movie.  A sci-fi movie.

The Incredible Hulk?  A monster movie, told from the perspective of the monster.  Incidentally, this is what Joss Whedon got so right with the Hulk in The Avengers: when he's the bad guy, it's because he's under attack.  But the Hulk just wants to get along.  He's not looking for trouble.  And when Captain America includes him in the team, that's all Big Green could ever ask for.

We're just going to ignore the Ang Lee Hulk movie.  Moving on . . .

Iron Man 2, arguably the weakest of Marvel's movies, is a comic book movie.  Iron Man 3, conversely, is sort of an unofficial sequel to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, only with Val Kilmer's part played by a 15-year old boy.  The armor is the most important thing in IM2, but it's the least important thing in IM3.

Now DC's got a hit on their hands -- financially if not critically -- and they want to build on that.  Which is a good thing.  Really, it is.  But if they're going to build something, they should build their own thing.  Don't look at what's made Marvel and Disney more than two billion dollars and try to copy that.  You'll fail.  You will.  Partially because (as history shows, see also: Green Lantern) the success and/or quality of MoS is quite possibly a fluke.  Partially because a big part of the fun of what Marvel's done and is doing is the sheer novelty of it.

Also, for whatever it's worth, DC's comic universe has never felt as connected as Marvel's.  I was just reading today how the Wonder Woman in Justice League is almost a completely different character from the Wonder Woman in her own comic.  Why?  Allegedly because the writer of Wonder Woman had certain characters and elements he wanted to use, so he forbade the use of them in Justice League.

Would you see that in a Marvel book?  No, you really wouldn't.

Basically, I think DC should focus on walking before they try to run.  Or fly.  They've got one hit which could lead to bigger things.  They should focus on that.  In fact, if there's anything they should copy from Marvel, it's not the shared universe aspect of what Marvel is doing, but what I'd argue is the most important thing Marvel's done:

Hire interesting, passionate creators and let them do their things.

I mean, hiring Kenneth Branagh to direct a Thor movie?  That's brilliant.  That's freaking inspired.  I remember the day I read about it just shaking my head in wonder.

James Gunn to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that's going to star a talking tree and an alien who looks like an earth raccoon?  Holy crap.  My head is spinning.

DC's got Zack Snyder and David Goyer and Christopher Nolan.  Okie dokie.  Now spread the love around a little bit.  Find passionate, talented people with visions for your characters -- and yes, look at characters other than your main superstars.  I think it was David Goyer joking online today about making a Metamorpho movie, but you know what?  A Metamorpho movie, done by the right writer / director, could be AWESOME.  This is a character who can turn his body into any element on the periodic table of elements.  Basically, a walking, ugly-as-sin MacGyver.  Oh, and his alter ego, Rex Mason, is an archeologist.  So: a super-powered Indiana Jones movie.  You're welcome.

Writing about it now, I almost wish James Gunn wasn't doing Guardians so he could start plugging away tomorrow.

Listen: DC can follow Marvel and probably put out a couple good movies.  I mean, if MoS is the gold standard of the new DC movie universe, the spectacle might be there, but the quality doesn't seem to be.  Plus -- again, going from what I've read -- Snyder / Goyer / Nolan seem to be missing the gleaming core of the character they've just made a movie about (hint: it's not Kal El's alien nature which defines him; it's the essential humanity instilled in him by his adopted parents).

Or, DC can sharpen their pencils and, instead of trying to fit the DC universe into a Marvel-shaped box, do their own thing.  Work out what fits for DC.  It might be riskier, they might fail, but at least they'll be creating their own thing.

That's what it's all about, after all.  Creating your own thing.  Writing to find out what this story in your head will turn into on the page, on the screen, wherever.