I had grown a little frustrated with Marvel comics as of late. That’s not easy for me to admit, being an unabashed Marvel kid, but it was true. It started with the botching of Secret Empire, a series that started off as something daring and refreshing but ended with a generic Marvel crossover ending lacking any substance or consequence. The disappointment I felt was pretty real and was one of the first times I could remember being genuinely upset with the company. All things considered, I suppose you could count Civil War II as a letdown but it’s different. Civil War II never caught traction with me and was pretty much flat the entire run. Secret Empire… ugh, this book was so badass and just neutered itself before it ended.
I was willing to move beyond Secret Empire because the next movement, Marvel Legacy, seemed like Marvel’s answer to DC’s Rebirth. A way to hit the reset button and kind of move things in a more positive direction. A direction where heroes weren’t constantly fighting heroes, although I have no real beef with those type of storylines, bringing upon a more united front within the Marvel universe. I reluctantly bought Legacy because I knew it was going to be important, despite Marvel spoiling the book earlier in the week, and because of its price tag. DC has been working with readers to lower the costs of their books (most coming in at $2.99) while Marvel gives off the general aura of not caring how much you spend. Legacy came in at a hefty $4.99 and was “meh” at best. For a comic looking to usher in a new era for Marvel heroes, it certainly came across as more of the same. There was even a hero on hero fight. I rolled my eyes at the book as it did nothing to capture the feels of Rebirth.
I was pretty annoyed at this point and found myself reading more and more DC books. Dark Nights Metal had captured my interest pretty hard and ongoing books like The Flash, Mister Miracle, and Batman were putting out some quality stories. Suddenly I found myself shifting towards DC comics more than Marvel. I would get more excited when my pull list was full of DC books and this excitement sort of translated with my excitement towards upcoming movies. I found myself, reluctantly, getting more hyped for the release of Justice League than Thor: Ragnarok. I didn’t even know it was happening but I would watch these Justice League tv spots and see promise that wasn’t there. Ignoring DC’s cinematic history I started to root for them because they were the clear underdog. There was no question that Thor was going to be good, Marvel doesn’t allow itself to put out bad movies, but with Justice League, I just wanted to will it to be great.
Then I watched the films and my perspective changed.
There is a clear difference between Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok beyond the fact that Thor is a very good film and Justice League is not. It goes a bit deeper than that. Marvel has taken the time to build something with their cinematic universe. Each film plays as an expansion of previous films. It doesn’t matter if it’s Doctor Strange and Ant-Man or Iron Man and Captain America, whatever happens in these films has a ripple effect across the whole universe. Think back to Ant-Man when he shrunk himself entirely too small and ended up in the Quantum Realm. If you pay attention to Doctor Strange when he’s tripping out across the universe you can see the Quantum Realm in the background connecting the two films almost effortlessly and without major celebration. Just an acknowledgment that these two characters share the same space.
That right there is one of the major differences between the two cinematic universes. In the MCU things happen for a reason. In the DCEU they happen because they look cool and get people buzzing. The DCEU celebrates easter eggs more than the actual story and that’s a problem. There’s a scene in Ragnarok where Thor boards a quinjet and watches the replay of the Black Widow calling back the Hulk in an emotional impactful callback to Age of Ultron. The Hulk can’t deal with the emotional pain of the memory and transitions back into Bruce Banner. It’s a subtle moment but it helps connect the events of Ultron to why Hulk is no longer on earth. Calling back to a film that is now two years old. Justice League seemed to ignore DCEU continuity all together for reasons I can’t explain. At the end of BvS we see Superman’s coffin trembling as dirt raises in the air implying Superman is about to come busting out. Justice League completely ignores this scene and devises another, rather convoluted, way to resurrect the Man of Steel. It just gives the viewer the notion that the coffin scene in BvS is only in the film because it looks cool and holds no sway over the actual narrative of the DCEU. Same thing goes with the Flash, who basically uses the Justice League as a coming out party saying he hasn’t done much since he got his powers other than pushing bad guys. We know that’s not true though because of his small appearance in Suicide Squad where he arrests Captain Boomerang. Another small instance of DCEU just not caring about previous storytelling.
All of this is annoying and disrespectful to the viewer who comes into these movies with the idea of shared universes only to be given the impression that none of it matters. But this isn’t even the DCEU’s biggest sin. That comes in the form of character. Marvel takes pride in its ability to shape its heroes. In Ragnarok we watch as Thor grows from the braggadocious war hungry Asgardian from the first film to a genuine leader with a heart willing to make tough decisions and sacrifice in Ragnarok. Thor’s transformation is one of the best aspects of the film, not counting the humor, and shows that Marvel wants their characters to expand within their universe and not just remain the same. This could also be seen with Loki’s conflict of wanting to do what’s best for him while wrestling with the concept of actually caring for those around him. Hulk makes a tremendous transformation from the green monster in Avengers whose only job was to smash to becoming a conscious being who wants to be treated as a person, not as a monster. A being that feels the existence of Banner is just a constant reminder that he’s a beast that needs to be locked away. Character has always been one of the MCU’s strongest points. That’s why movies like Civil War work, we’re invested. The audience can be divided over who to choose because these characters are fleshed out enough where it’s easy to understand where they’re coming from. The DCEU doesn’t get this at all.
My biggest problem going into Justice League was the Flash (#notmyflash). Everything the trailers had depicted gave me the understanding that this wasn’t the Flash I had grown used to from the comics and CW show, but the DCEU’s attempt to match the magic of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. After watching the film that’s exactly what that was. Don’t get me wrong, Ezra Miller is fine in the role and one of the films shining points, the problem is he’s not playing the Flash. He’s attempting to play Spider-Man in a Flash costume. This falls on Zack Snyder, who I’ve said since BvS, doesn’t understand the characters he’s writing for.
There really is no character depth within Justice League. We, as the audience, are just supposed to except the fact that these heroes come together because the world is in trouble by a paper-thin villain and because… it looks cool. There was a deeper story to be told about Cyborg and his relationship with his father that is touched upon and then ignored. There is a deeper story to be told about Aquaman and why he’s spending so much time away from Atlantis that is ignored. There’s a deeper story of guilt and regret on why Batman is carrying out this cause that just gets the “he’s sad Superman is dead” treatment. The DCEU, and Snyder especially, seem afraid to give these characters a heart. Instead of being living breathing heroes on the screen, like a Captain America or Thor, they come across as flimsy recreations in super suits. Come on, ignore Batman’s kill count in the DCEU, Bruce Wayne pretty much tells everyone in this film he’s Batman. Are you kidding me?! Bruce Wayne? Tells people he’s Batman?! No. Just no. Affleck goes along for the ride, and does his best, but it’s clear he’s a lame duck Batman. He’s there because he wants to be but knows no one else really wants him to be in the role which leads to a pretty “meh” on-screen Batman. A character who should be the heart and soul of the film makes cheesy jokes and just seems tired.
That’s not to say that all of Justice League is bad. Don’t get me wrong, the film is a mess and suffers from a cut and paste directorial style, but the last half hour is kind of fun. Justice League is the best interpretation of Superman thus far, minus his strange reaction when he’s resurrected, and that’s something to be excited about. The post credit scenes were better than the entire film with the final shot making you wonder why that wasn’t the movie in the first place. There’s hope for the DCEU’s future within the Justice League but we have to start asking ourselves, are we really going to keep coming back for more? With one good film out of five, I think it’s time we start counting the DCEU as a failure and accept that changes need to be made. Removing Zack Snyder would be a solid start and maybe start building a universe that feels whole opposed to divided. And center that universe around Wonder Woman the clear shining star of the DCEU.
Marvel, on the other hand, continues to thrive. Thor balanced solid storytelling with humor and growth. Not to mention there were massive repercussions for the MCU. That ending for starters and where these characters go from here. Not to mention how Loki’s possible actions could directly lead into Avengers: Infinity War with the arrival of Thanos’s ship in the mid-credits scene. Marvel thrives on this shared universe and it’s characters and that’s why it far exceeds anything DC is doing cinematically right now. While Marvel comics may have had an off year, the films have not and things look to get even bigger in 2018 with the release of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. DC needs to take a step back and understand their ship is sinking. The proof is in the box office numbers after all. Fans are not buying what you’re selling. They deserve better. These characters deserve better. I think it’s about time that DC follows that Marvel mold and starts listening to the fan base. Marvel has been turning out massive hits since 2008… DC’s got one. Might be time for a change.