The following discussion of the superhero genre of fiction may have some information that spoils one or more stories. I’ve tried to avoid any specifics, but I can’t know what you don’t know. You have been warned.
I begin by acknowledging Warner Bros./DC Comics will make money on their film franchises. “Batman v Superman” is going to gross close to one billion dollars, which is more than adequate to spawn more DC movies. However…I enjoy the Marvel movies much more than the DC movies and I want to outline some of the reasons why.
One of the reasons is not the “tone” of the DC movies. Yes, they are more serious than the Marvel movies. But, that’s not a bad thing and could work. Also, the Marvel films are not exactly fluff pieces. It is not the darker, more serious tone of the DC films that bother me. But Marvel is significantly eating DC’s lunch in a few other areas…
Marvel has struck gold with this, starting way back in 2000 with the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. He’s so fitted to the role that Fox has recast the entire school of X-Men for their prequel series, but keep shoehorning Jackman in because no one else can play Wolverine. And when Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans decide to finally stop making superhero films, Marvel is going to have to kill off Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. They are that linked.
And there are more that have really elevated their characters so it would be difficult to replace them: Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (it only took one movie and he’s the definitive Wade Wilson), Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange (yes, I’m calling it seven months before the movie comes out, I mean, just look at this!)
DC…well, on TV, Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist certainly shine as Flash and Supergirl, but on the big screen…Meh. Any of the big three from the recently released BvS are replaceable and nobody will really care. Maybe we’ll get a better feel for Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in her feature, and one of the other three (Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Ezra Miller as Flash, and Ray Fisher as Cyborg) could really hit. But, so far, DCs best actor-to-character fit is Heath Ledger as Joker, and…sigh.
I don’t know if this is scripting, good casting directors, or what, but Marvel keeps nailing the characterization of their superheroes and DC…well, just doesn’t.
Marvel has gone all-in weaving their movie, television, and comic franchises together. DC is deliberately keeping them all separate. A connected universe is far more interesting, and pulls people to your other properties. I can’t imagine Marvel having one version of a hero on TV and a completely different version of the same hero in the movies, but DC is going to do just that with The Flash. sigh
Marvel is also keying comic story arcs to the movies, with a second (albeit not the same story) Civil War run hitting comic books this summer along with their movie. DC is, at least, releasing some comic book series that are based on their TV franchises, so that’s something.
This isn’t about the pacing of individual movies, but the franchises as a whole. Marvel has spent ten years and twelve movies setting up Civil War. We KNOW these characters. We’ve seen them fight side-by-side. Yes, it has taken a long time (not that Marvel has suffered financially), but it’s been well-worth the wait. Marvel is already setting up Infinity War with more solo films as part of “Phase Three.”
DC wanted to go straight to where Marvel is at so they throw Batman and Superman at each other with no investment in backstory or growth of character, and then they’ll jump immediately to Justice League where they’ll introduce a bunch of new characters who we’ve only seen on surveillance footage for a minute each.
Even though I recognize the DC heroes and have read a few of their series, I don’t actually care about their movie versions. I haven’t gotten to know them or been given a reason to like them. So, meh.
A hero isn’t truly a hero without a good villain. OK, Marvel has had a few insipid villains (Whiplash, whoever that was Ben Kingsley was playing), but they have, at least, tried to stretch themselves. We’ve had space tyrants, Nazis, out-of-control AI, alien invaders, Cold War hangovers, etc.
DC gives us the Joker; if not in person, in spirit. It’s not funny.
Marvel draws strong parallels between events in their movies and the real world. Current hot topics in the real world are represented in the films; for example, the link between mutant/hero registration and gun registration. Their films, despite their fantastic nature, thus feel grounded.
Batman v Superman gave us mommy issues.
What DC Needs Now
DC needs to stop associating a violent, dark “tone” with maturity and actually grow up. They need to slow down, pace their franchises, and spend time developing their heroes and getting actors that truly inhabit the roles.
They also need to get Superman to lighten up. He’s the Big Blue Boy Scout, not the Big Blue Brooding Scowler.
 Most people throw in “more mature” with this, as though being serious is equal to being mature. Pfui.
 See Luthor, Jr. in Batman v Superman.
Within the first several minutes of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the camera follows Bruce Wayne as he careens his SUV through Metropolis city streets during the catastrophic battle between Superman and General Zod that served as the climax to 2013’s “Man of Steel.” The streets are nearly empty, which is strange considering the cataclysmic events taking place. Eventually, he rounds a corner and is forced to halt by a throng of onlookers. As he stops, a couple of firemen walk up behind his car. The camera switches to a front view as Wayne gets out of the car, which is now surrounded by more throngs of people, boxing him in.
Where did these people come from? They weren’t in the streets just seconds before. They certainly were not running along behind him, considering how fast he was driving. They aren’t the people in front of him, because he stopped before driving in among them.
It’s a rookie mistake. Zack Snyder wanted Bruce Wayne to be surrounded by people, so they will fill the screen from every angle, so…people are there. This is one of two central problems with BvS. There may have been a plot here, it might even have been a good one, but it is lost as Snyder doesn’t shoot movies with plots. He creates artistically designed vignettes, and then strings them together and calls it a film. If you have arresting characters and interesting dialogue, this works. Unfortunately, BvS has average characters and completely inane dialogue.
There’s a good movie here, but it is buried under Snyder’s auteur sensibility that wants to stage every scene in some grand manner—whether it makes sense or not. It also doesn’t help the entire movie takes place at night. Can DC superheroes not operate in daylight? Are they all closet vampires, or something? It’s depressing; especially when it lasts over two hours.
The second major problem with BvS is Lex Luthor. Excuse me, Alexander Luthor, Jr. The “real” Luthor’s son. It’s a shame. Lex Luthor is to Superman as Joker is to Batman. He is the iconic nemesis to the Big Blue Boy Scout. And he’s replaced here by a sniveling madman who is basically Joker without the makeup. Maybe the point was to mix both Batman and Superman’s main villains into one character?
Sorry. Didn’t work. Eisenberg’s Luthor is pitiful, not predatory. He’s not even terribly frightening, which is why they had to release the big bad of Doomsday at the end. It only serves to exacerbate the overall mediocrity of the movie.
And that, perhaps, is the biggest problem with BvS. It’s just an OK movie. It has enough big action sequences to thrill the audience, but they’re empty set pieces, just like the rest of the film. I hope WB/DC can step up their game with the individual movies, or Justice League is going to fall quite flat.