I think we can all agree that comic book movies in recent years have left a massive influence in pop culture. The excitement and buzz whenever a trailer of an adaptation starts trending on social media is an emphatic feeling that we all share to a certain extent.
Regardless of how the superhero genre has evolved over the years, when it comes to delivering sheer, blockbuster entertainment on the big screen nobody does it better than DC and Marvel.
But that also raises the question as to who has the edge when it comes to their respective media franchise?
While Marvel Studios is known for their decade-long cinematic universe interconnected with a cohesive storyline, their rival DC Films attained their success by releasing stand-alone adaptations that left their own legacies. The Dark Knight Trilogy, Watchmen and Superman being a few notable examples.
Establishing a cinematic universe takes time, patience and thoughtful planning, something which Marvel figured out early on.
The swift introduction of the Justice League via e-mail in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice indicated that DC wasn’t willing to go that way.
Unlike Marvel’s Avengers where the heroes crossed paths after going through phases of character development in their respective solo films.
In all fairness, although DC did make an attempt to flesh out their characters by giving them a backstory to grow like in 2013’s Man of Steel, they were still struggling to find a consistent tone in subsequent DCEU instalments. Only exemplified by the commercial and critical failure of Suicide Squad – A movie that was disappointing on so many levels that even Oscar winner Jared Leto couldn’t salvage with his brief appearance.
Individuality: DC’s stronghold
However not everything is doom and gloom as it looks. The enormous success of solo films such as Wonder Woman,Aquaman and Shazam! prove that there’s still much anticipation and promise in the DC Extended Universe. It could even be a sign encouraging DC to go back to playing to their strengths. Which is, crafting individual stories with a strong focus on character development and exploration of intimate themes.
DC’s latest project this year is the highly anticipated Joker starring the versatile Joaquin Phoenix. The film could be seen as a turning point for the company as it’s intended to launch DC Black, a line of DC-based comic book films separate from the DCEU with darker and more experimental material.
In hindsight, DC is at their creative best when they stick to their roots instead of taking notes from its rivals. Although the future of the DCEU is uncertain Todd Phillip’s Joker and Joaquin Phoenix’s interpretation of the iconic role could be the “revival” DC has been looking for.
The concept of a shared cinematic universe where a series of movies would be connected with each other with its own individual plot and an overall arching story that would lead to big pay off in another movie down the line was created by Marvel Studios with the after credits of 2008’s Iron Man.
This paid dividends for the then fledgling and now the juggernaut in the Cinematic World.
With success comes a host of competitors that will try to give a shot at the successful idea.
However other than Marvel and in a much smaller capacity The Conjuring movie series, no one has been able to crack the code for a successful cinematic universe.
Whether due to sheer incompetence, greed, not understanding the strength and weakness of the properties and just not having a plan, there are a number of factors studios can cause for a studio’s cinematic universe to crash and burn even before it lifts off the ground.
Overestimating your strengths
One of the fundamental reasons why a cinematic universe blows up is because most studios do not evaluate whether or not their properties, for example, can be adapted into a cinematic universe format.
The properties must have enough depth and characters that could be organically be stretched out into multiple movies without feeling forced. Marvel, DC and even Star Wars can pull this off because there are numerous stories written about those characters from many different writers in many formats, that the studios can simply pick and choose which one to go for.
For most studios they don’t have that luxury and instead of creating a traditional good first movie and then follow up with great sequels, they announce a cinematic universe with whatever IPs they have. The biggest example being the Universal Monster Dark Universe Cinematic Universe that was poorly thought out and it crashed and burn with only one movie in its slate. The 2017 reboot of The Mummy starring Tom Cruise.
Time will tell whether the planned WB Godzilla Kaiju Universe, Hasbro Transformers and their other toy line up universe will meet the same fate.
Not having a plan or direction
One of the most baffling events that came out of the entertainment world is the DCEU or as it is now known Worlds of DC in general.
From hiring directors and them leaving midway through production, from Zack Snyder’s total control of it and then the Execs of WB taking control from him, from various movies being announced that no one asked for and then getting cancelled these developments clearly shows that WB never had a solid game plan for their cinematic universe and that indecision clearly shows in their movies as well.
With the exception of Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam, all the Worlds of DC branded movies either underperformed in terms of critically and commercially or both and generally they are seen as inferior to the MCU.
The planning and the logistic behind the MCU is something that most studios don’t take any heed to it. That is one of the core reason why cinematic universes crash and burn even without getting a chance to fully form because the studios expect to land on the moon first before properly figuring it out how to get out of earth’s orbit in the first place.
Pacing and patience
For the all the talk about the MCU success most fail to see the one crucial step they took that no one up to now did. They never announced from the get-go that the First Iron Man movie was gonna be the start of their cinematic universe. They focused on making a great movie that can stand on its own first and then gave the small teaser of their plans in the end credit scene.
This was done so that they can create goodwill at first with the general audience and then in the subsequent movies slowly start to reveal their master plan cumulating in the First Avengers Movie and now their phase four.
Compare this with DCEU BVS which was tasked the monumental task of Introducing Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor and the entire Justice League in one sitting and also other numerous Easter eggs that were supposed to lead into other movies.
Sadly what resulted is a bloated mess of a movie that didn’t have any direction and character motivations and some scenes were done purely to tease the other future movies which created a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie that lacks focus.
Not exploring alternate options
This article already talked a great length about the MCU when it comes to cinematic universes, however, there is another name that can be added to that list, The Conjuring Universe.
Rather than making the mistakes above they simply went on a different direction than all of the rest of the Marvel Imitators. They simply made one good movie and then created a sequel and based on the audience reaction on the sequels secondary villains or tertiary characters they made spinoffs about it and slowly in a matter of years created a cinematic universe of their own.
While the Conjuring Universe cannot be compared to Marvel in terms of financial and critical and cultural significance, at least that cinematic universe is done right.
The Lesson that can be taken from the conjuring universe is that other than the previous lessons above is sometimes a cinematic universe from the onset is not a must. You can simply create a good movie, have goodwill and slowly from there through sequels or spin-offs or prequels organically have a cinematic universe.
Not every series of movies need to have all the characters team up, in the end, to fight a big bad in the ultimate team-up movie.
First, they tried too hard to not be Marvel. Then they tried too hard to be Marvel. Turns out all they had to do was say the magic word. The DC Extended Universe finally gets it all right with “Shazam!”.
A refreshing break from the bleakness
For a long time the consensus was that the DC movies are to be significantly more dark and bleak than contemporary superhero films. The darkness was supposed to inspire a more realistic outlook. If done right, that could have turned out well. But it wasn’t executed right. So the DCEU tried to move on to a more cheerful theme, evident in the Justice League movie. Unfortunately that also didn’t turn out great, as perhaps the most awaited film ever had measly returns from the box office.
With Aquaman, the DCEU showed signs of vitality. And they have finally perfected the formula with Shazam. The most family friendly movie from the DCEU so far, Shazam attempts to inspire every adult to embrace the child in them. And every child to unfold the hero in them. The DCEU displays it’s knack for consistency, comedy and timing in this exhilarating Boy-of-Steel film.
A well told origin story
The most difficult part of a Superhero story told on the big screen is often the origin. Origin stories are a dime a dozen, and many of them are as good as one would imagine can get. While Shazam isn’t innovative, it is near perfect in execution. The film tells the story of 14-year old Billy Batson gaining the powers of the “Seven Elders” and his subsequent adventures in a simple and carefree fashion.
While it is easy to assume from the trailers or this review that the film is specifically kid-friendly, such is not the case. It explores dark aspects of the regular lives of people with straightforward realism. But unlike many contemporaries, the film attempts to teach the audience to deal with life’s many problems with a smile.
A genuinely good time
At its core, Shazam is a cheerful superhero tale, told with remarkable simplicity and style. It doesn’t try too hard to be something it is not. And that sets it apart from many of its contemporaries. Instead of pushing an overreaching theme or straining to set up some elaborate tale (it does that quite naturally), Shazam just offers its audience a good time at the theater. All the actors involved perform perfectly on their roles, especially the younger actors and Zachary Levi. Mark Strong’s acting is as strong as ever. Most importantly, everyone seems in touch with their characters.
So go watch Shazam in the STAR Cineplex. And let the magic entangle you for a good time.
Black Panther has also been nominated for six other categories, such as Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song and Best Production Design.
“The only way we ever wanted to do this project was the right way and that meant finding a filmmaker who had something personal to say, who had a vision and could take this character into another arena and showcase the power of representation on a canvas of this size,”
Said Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios.
“We’re very, very proud of what this film has done. The movie has made a cultural impact that is just humbling and gratifying to see. And we’re very grateful to the Academy for this recognition.”