DC’s Different Approach to Building a Universe

It’s been a while since the trailers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were released, and I like what I’ve seen so far. Before I go on further, I want to establish something first – I’m a Marvel Zombie, a Marvel fanboy, deep inside. I’d be very pleased to see Marvel films become more successful than DC films, but that doesn’t mean that I want to see DC fail.

When I saw both the trailers, my mind was going “DC looks like they’re finally going to give Marvel a run for their money” and I think that’s a good thing. Competition will drive Marvel to further improve the quality of their product so I’m glad to see DC stepping up to the plate. But what I’d like to commend DC for is for them following a different path to building their own cinematic universe. It’s easy to succeed following a tried-and-tested method and a totally different thing altogether to succeed in your own terms. How is DC’s approach to creating their shared universe all that different from what Marvel has done? Well, there are two clear differences in the two methods and I’m going to go through them today.

It's hard for me to admit this, but... this movie has the potential to be awesome.

It’s hard for me to admit this, but… this movie has the potential to be awesome.

Let’s take a look at what Marvel did first. Marvel took the slow approach in building their cinematic universe, using five movies in order to introduce each of their key Avengers characters before they could have a film about The Avengers. The approach was very successful – not only was The Avengers a critical success (it has a 92% rating over at Rotten Tomatoes) but it was very successful financially as well, raking in over a billion dollars worldwide. Going beyond the numbers, can anyone honestly claim that they did not feel the magic of seeing Marvel’s superheroes assemble in one movie? In my opinion, The Avengers would not be as magical and as awesome as it was if we didn’t see Marvel’s major characters get developed first in their own movies.

Is there anyone out there who didn't feel chills after seeing this scene for the first time?

Is there anyone out there who didn’t feel chills after seeing this scene for the first time?


Unlike Marvel, DC already has characters who have already established their place in pop culture, making them recognizable to the general public. Before Marvel’s Phase One films, people barely knew who Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man were. But almost everyone knows Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. And I’m glad DC knows that because they’re going to cross over as early as the second film. The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer is proof of this; we didn’t need to see a Ben Affleck Batman film to appreciate the badassery of him facing off against Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel. On the flipside, the Thor/Iron Man fight in The Avengers would have fallen flat if we didn’t see them in their own films first.

You don't need to read comics to know who Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman are.

You don’t need to read comics to know who Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman are.


Fast forwarding to a Batman/Superman crossover film spares us from having to sit through several different set up films. We’ve been through that before with Marvel’s Phase One. I’m not sure if audiences have the patience to go through that again, even if it’s for a different universe. 

Another big difference, and the two trailers confirm this, is how much darker and grittier DC’s films are going to be compared to Marvel’s films. I don’t know if this dark tone is going to be consistent throughout the DC films but both these trailers show that they’re going to walk the same gritty path that Man of Steel treaded, a path that’s very different from Marvel’s humor-infused approach to storytelling. Now let me just say this – Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was supposed to be darker than the Phase 1 movies, and yet I’ve always shared more than one collective chuckle with the audience in every single Marvel film to date. Humor has become Marvel’s signature, and they’ve been consistent in maintaining this tone in all of their films.

Whether I prefer DC’s darker direction or Marvel’s more humorous approach is a small concern compared to the growing issue of superhero burnout that audiences have started to show. Box office performance has yet to reflect this, but I’ve been reading more and more people worry about the general audience getting tired of the superhero genre. I’ve actually heard/read firsthand a few rants about how Spider-Man is getting rebooted again and how Ant-Man isn’t very interesting because it’s “just another superhero film”. We’ve already seen a lot of superhero movies and even more are set to be released in the next four years. If each and every one of these films become too similar to each other, it’s fair to expect the audiences to want something different at some point.

A dark and gritty experience is a different experience; if it doesn’t help address the potential audience burnout then the variety that it offers should at least delay it. Personally, I appreciate the variety of the experiences that I can get from the different offerings. Of course, if DC were to stick with this darker approach without making each film feel different somehow, it may turn audiences off against their films eventually. One of the positive feedback I’ve consistently seen about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that despite following the same consistent positive tone, each film still manages to stand out in their own way. From the espionage thriller that The Winter Soldier attempts to emulate, the space opera that Guardians of the Galaxy tried to be, and the comedic heist film that Ant-Man aimed for, the Marvel films still manage to feel “fresh” even if they’ve already had twelve movies already. DC doesn’t want to follow Marvel’s footsteps, but they should at least take this page from Marvel’s playbook and avoid making their films too similar from each other.

Enlisting bad guys as superheroes is definitely not something we've seen in a superhero film before.

Enlisting bad guys as superheroes is definitely not something we’ve seen in a superhero film before.

I’m glad to see DC not settling to copy Marvel’s tried-and-tested formula; they could’ve played it safe but they’ve opted for a riskier approach, and in the process of doing so got this Marvel Zombie interested in their two upcoming releases simply because these films are going to offer a superhero experience that’s different from what Marvel has been offering. It looks like 2016 is going to be another good year for fans of superhero movies.

What do you think about DC’s film-making approach? How do you feel about the upcoming Marvel vs DC big screen showdown? Drop us a line and let us know what you think!


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