Remember when Iron Man came out? It was a fun, summer superhero flick with a post-credits sequence about something called “the Avengers initiative” that gave everyone a sense that something big and exciting was on the way. The Incredible Hulk teased a little bit after that. Then subsequent movies Iron Man 2 and Thor really shaped the expanding universe into what these were all moving towards. Soon after Captain America dropped, we got the big blockbuster hit of 2012, The Avengers, and even that turned out to be a prelude to a far bigger story than we ever thought possible for movies. For better or worse, Marvel Studios has finally earned its status as the creator of a cinematic universe that stretches far beyond a single movie.
Remember when Man of Steel came out? It was a mediocre, pretentious Superman adaptation that presented an incredibly unsympathetic hero who couldn’t care less whether his adopted home planet lived or died. It easily could have stood on its own as another bland superhero movie.
Now, with a DC cinematic universe (DCCU) about to emerge, the franchise has opted to reverse Marvel’s formula by selling the crossover as early as they can and leaving its few setup films in the dust before they even come out.
When Man of Steel first premiered, I was incredibly curious to see where a DCCU would go, even with a lukewarm reaction to a Superman movie shot with a bleak sepia tone where the “righteous hero” snaps his adversary’s neck. I would have been excited to see him square off against Batman and team up with the likes of Wonder Woman and Aquaman to beat up bad guys in the eventual Justice League movie. But even back then, I already knew that the bar had been set too high. Whereas Marvel Studios waited a good number of films to present a threat large enough to level Manhattan, DC showed off two tiny guys destroying the entire city of Metropolis in their first movie alone. The next movie would have to top that already-unwieldy level of action, because that’s how sequels tend to work.
With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice on the horizon, DC and Snyder have spared no expense in trying to hype up moviegoers and comic fans alike. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor drives a lot of that hype in advertising, with his character often making grandiose statements that can be translated to “look at this movie and how big and amazing it will be”, ie., calling their conflict “the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world,” and warning Bruce Wayne to “not pick a fight with [Clark Kent].” It already seemed a little shaky that the DCCU was kicking off from such a subpar movie. Likely sensing that unease, DC felt the need to restore anticipation in their impending universe in the only way they apparently know how: by giving us everything they think we want already.
One of the trailers for BvS made the controversial move of showing off Doomsday, a classic DC villain and the reason the two heroes (and Wonder Woman) team up. While it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Dark Knight and Caped Crusader were going to team up anyway, spoiling the third act of such a highly-anticipated movie would be enough to knock down any hype that people may have generated. Unfortunately, that poorly conceived trailer portended a string of bad decisions in an already troubling lead-up to this universe.
With the reveal being poorly received by fans, the studio responded by assuring them that Doomsday was not the biggest threat in the movie by eventually revealing what is likely Darkseid’s debut in the movie. In other words, they tried covering up their spoiler by teasing with yet another spoiler that only further discounts any lingering excitement people might have still had for the movie. Snyder has even stated that people should start thinking of the “bigger world” outside of BvS, already telling us to look past this movie and towards Justice League. It’s a truly desperate move to get people excited when a director tells people not to look forward to his own film so they can anticipate another.
Suicide Squad, set to release in August, while looking marginally more exciting than BvS, still makes me nervous. What is clearly DC’s answer to Marvel’s surprise hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, the villains-as-heroes movie shoehorns every DC baddie the layman has never heard of and prays that shallow interpretations of the Joker, played by Jared Leto, and Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie, can drive the movie home. What peeves me about Suicide Squad is that Marvel, through years of careful film-making that gradually established a faithful audience, earned their right to take a chance on a group of unknown characters and make a movie out of them. DC is only riding on the coattails of Guardians’ success,without even proving that they’re good enough to do so.
The mad rush to show us everything that the DCCU has to offer is only proving that it really can’t have much to begin with. I’m not saying that because I prefer DC over Marvel. I like DC , which is why this upcoming cinematic universe is making me angry. We have directors discrediting their own movies so they can hype up next year’s model, and a studio that thinks it can copy other comic adaptation formulas that have done well without appreciating the work that goes into actually making them good. DC’s hectic movie schedule is upsetting enough while barely having started, and I can only hope against all hope that any of these movies will be enjoyable. (Fingers crossed for Wonder Woman killing it.)