Clearly DC have a lot of catching up to do. First arriving on our screens in the form of 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel movie universe has been going strong for the best part of eight years now, and will enter Phase Three with this year’s release of Captain America: Civil War. This hasn’t happened by accident. Instead it’s been a carefully stage-managed process in which, over the course of 13 films, the studio has painstakingly introduced new elements of the universe to film fans.
Contrast that with DC who are instead thrusting audiences head first into their shared cinematic universe before reverse-engineering a procession of spin off movies and origin stories. As a result, there’s a very real danger that the end product will feel a little rushed. After all there’s only so much origin story that you can squeeze into Batman v Superman’s 151 minute running time, which means that characters such as Wonder Woman and Aquaman have only a few minutes to do what Thor and Captain America have done over the course of a few movies.
Marvel also benefitted from something of a clean slate when it came to their ensemble adventure. Characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor were relatively unknown to mainstream audiences, and so offered the studio a blank canvas on which to work. Compare that to Warner Bros. / DC who are dealing with the ghosts of blockbusters past when it comes to their biggest hitting heroes.
Warner Bros. / DC who are dealing with the ghosts of blockbusters past when it comes to their biggest hitting heroes
In Henry Cavill it looks like they may have finally found their Man of Steel, but the spectre of Christopher Reeve still looms large with modern moviegoers, as does the forgettable flop served up by Brandon Routh. Though it should prove to be inspired casting, Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight is no less problematic, not least because of the legacy of Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed trilogy, which not only gave us Christian Bale’s Batman, but also key supporting players like Alfred, Commissioner Gordon alongside villains like Bane, the Joker and Ra's al Ghul.
The spectre of Christopher Reeve still looms large with modern moviegoers
These are performances that are still fresh in film fans’ memories, cinematic shadows that will loom large over the fledgling DC universe and damn it before it’s even got off of the ground.
On paper DC has everything it needs to make it’s shared cinematic universe a success at the multiplex. For starters the comic book publisher’s back catalogue is crammed full of iconic heroes, characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman who are instantly recognizable to audiences across the globe. Sure Marvel is well stocked too. But despite their popularity on the big screen, the likes of Iron Man, Ant-Man and Thor are anything but A-list. That’s something we may see become more of an issue as we move into Phase Three where it remains to be seen if offbeat heroes like Doctor Strange, Black Panther and the Inhumans can capture audiences’ imaginations in quite the same way that the Avengers have. And that’s even before we even start to try and integrate the sillier end of the Marvel spectrum served up by Guardians of the Galaxy and intergalactic menace Thanos.
While Marvel’s movie universe might look on the surface like a well-oiled machine, behind the scenes it is anything but
It’s also important to remember that while Marvel’s movie universe might look on the surface like a well-oiled machine, behind the scenes it is anything but. In fact, the publisher doesn’t actually own the cinematic rights to all of their spandex-clad stars. Whilst they may have wrestled control of Spider-man away from Sony, icons like the X-Men and Fantastic Four are still owned by other studios. That not only handicaps Marvel’s efforts, but it can also confuse the casual cinemagoer who doesn’t have the time to unravel the complexities of which character fits into which universe.
Ironically perhaps, the biggest reason why DC can catch up to their rival’s cinematic dominance comes courtesy of the success of a Marvel character. We are of course talking about 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool, which took a $700 million bite out of the box office earlier this year. Deadpool proved that there’s an appetite for adult-orientated comic book heroes, and DC are perfectly situated to satisfy it. After all they already have previous experience in the form of Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, while Man of Steel was hardly a Saturday morning cartoon either. Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice also looks like it’s firmly aimed towards the older end of the audience spectrum, especially if talk of a special R Rated ultimate edition is to be believed.
So, while Marvel have already shown their hand with their PG-friendly primary-coloured protagonists, DC is perfectly placed to pitch their fare towards the adult market. And perhaps therein lies the comic book publisher’s trump card. After all as the old saying goes “slow and steady wins the race” and despite years of procrastination if DC can take advantage of the current trend in comic book movies they might finally catch up to their illustrious counterpart.
Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is released in UK cinemas on Friday 25th March
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