5 Things the DC Universe Has to Do to Compete with Marvel

Batman v Superman Ben Affleck DC

Over the last few weeks, rumor sites across the Internet have been running stories of how Warner Bros. and DC’s cinematic universe is in trouble. It’s been perfect fodder for people who are in love with the way that Marvel has been doing things.

The major complaint seems to come with what is being called DC’s “filmmaker-based” approach. That’s a polite way of saying that the directors and producers of each film are working without an advisor steering the ship, like Kevin Feige does over at Marvel.

Each filmmaker has more influence over their projects at DC. David Ayer reportedly has a ton of creative control over the upcoming Suicide Squad. If he were working on a Thor movie, he’d have someone breathing down his neck the entire time.

There are five things that DC can and should do to really take the fight to Marvel.

1. Stronger Villains

The one thing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has sorely lacked is the presence of truly scary villains. As hyped as Ultron was, reviews of Avengers: Age of Ultron have described yet another underdeveloped bad guy. Rather than a truly intimidating threat, he’s just another trite obstacle to overcome.

It’s become so common in Marvel movies that it almost feels hacky to write about it. Throughout the universe, only Loki has come across as formidable, and that’s mainly because of the skill of actor Tom Hiddleston. Still, his initial motivation, to free humanity from freedom, is rather weak. Every other villain we’ve seen is a faceless, bland foe that’s merely a roadblock on the path for the heroes.

We can’t even blame bad casting! Christopher Eccleston, James Spader and Hugo Weaving are fantastic, adaptable actors. In the end, Marvel would rather shine more light on their heroes than focus time and energy on what could truly hurt them.

The greatest strength of the DC villains is that they’ve always mirrored the ugly sides of their heroes. Each future film should put up villains that show what the hero could become if they became evil, much like Man of Steel did with General Zod. The Joker, Lex Luthor and Harley Quinn are beloved by fans, and will need to be truly menacing to help elevate this new universe.

2. Limit the Origin Stories

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad appear to be dropping us into an established universe, where more experienced characters that have been doing their thing for years.

Some might think that more is needed to establish characters like Batman and Superman more before they duke it out. If DC is going to devote any length of time to origin stories, it should be for the characters that we haven’t seen on the big screen before, such as Aquaman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman. Since these heroes are going to be established characters in Batman v Superman, we’ll probably learn all we need to know through flashbacks.

When you first see a movie like Silence of the Lambs or Star Wars: A New Hope, you don’t need to be taken through the entire history of the bad guy. It’s obvious that Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader are evil, and would kill you without a second thought. That kind of presence is more than enough to get an audience on board.

3. A Stronger Focus on Characters

One thing Marvel doesn’t have is a lack of action. When the heroes aren’t slinging witty one-liners, they’re engaged in elaborately produced action sequences that dazzle audiences. However, you can only put in so much action before you start taking away from character development. Now, before Man of Steel haters start crying about the level of action that Zack Snyder likes to use, hear me out.

One of the reasons for the darker tone in Man of Steel was because of Kal-El’s back-story. It’s a pretty sad origin tale in today’s world. His parents sacrifice their lives to send him away from his dying home world. While raised by humans, Clark’s childhood is solitary, and often sad. He’s a subject of ridicule. He doesn’t fit in.

It’s harsh medicine for moviegoers who are used to comedy and bright colors. What do you think it will be like when we see Batman, who is more than comfortable beating criminals to a bloody pulp? It’s going to be dark, and it’s going to be real.

4. Being Faithful to the Source Material

Bruce Banner and Black Widow never had feelings for one other in the comics, but Superman did kill Zod in the comics. Just wanted to throw that in there. We as comic book fans have seen things softened for the big screen so that they would be easier for mainstream audiences (families and children) to digest. A lot of these comics contain violent imagery, and deal with adult issues.

I loved Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, but it was as far removed from the comics as you can get. As for those Richard Donner Superman movies that Man of Steel haters spoke so lovingly of? They were Donner’s take on Superman. Most of the pain and loneliness was filtered out.

Love him or hate him, Zack Syder does his homework, and swings for the fences. With fan favorites like The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke being borrowed from so heavily for the next two movies, it’s obvious we’re going to get real superhero movies. Whether or not they’re too superhero-y for mainstream audiences or not remains to be seen.

5. Telling the Story in Comic Book Form

DC decided to build its universe differently. Warner Bros. appears to be focusing on a linear form of storytelling where each movie may directly set up the next. This is inherently more difficult than having several individual stories that are tied up with post-credit scenes and a “payoff” movie like The Avengers.

It should be said that Marvel did not invent the shared universe. Star Trek was tying in movies and television together back in the 1990s. Marvel simply did it on a larger and grander scale than ever before. Still, there’s a reason that Marvel chose to unfold things the way they did. It’s easier.

One of the best things that DC should continue to do is to tell its story differently. Thankfully, this appears to be exactly what they’re doing. If they followed Marvel’s exact formula, we’d all be calling them rip-off artists. Who wants more of the same?

In order to be different, Warner Bros. chose to unfold their story in a manner that is similar to the way that things play out on the comic pages. Stand-alone tales will bleed into stories that require heroes to cross over.  It’s safe to assume that a lot of familiar faces will be making smaller appearances left and right, which is something that Marvel largely ignored in the first phase of their universe.

A singular weaving storyline is something comics have utilized for decades, and it’s a thrill to see it being attempted on the big screen.

And Finally…

Fans need to chill out. Putting together a cohesive shared-universe is extremely difficult, and Marvel experienced more than a few bumps along the way. (Whiplash, anyone?) Ranting this early on may get you a lot of upvotes on reddit, but it’s largely a moot point. Things are going to be rocky, especially when one doesn’t take the path of least resistance.

This time next year, a lot of people will be eating crow about the DCCU.

Jesse M

Jesse M

Jesse M is a lover of film, science fiction, and DC Comics. He currently works as a professional writer, and lives in frigid Upstate, NY.