It is the fifth day since Marvel’s Avengers : Infinity Wars opened to the global audience. As we speak, the record-breaking juggernaut has amassed more than $630 million and is well on its way to crossing the magic billion in the first week itself. Infinity Wars had stopped being just another sequel from the moment the first trailer had dropped. You knew the stakes were infinitely higher than ever when all of your favourite superheroes were being pulled into a single epic crossover that would not only decide the fate of the universe but would also redefine how superhero films will be made in the foreseeable future. Kevin Feige’s decade-long vision, which started with Director Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008, has finally culminated into this mega-blockbuster that has upped the ante like never before.
It is tough being a DC fan these days. Every time I enjoy a Marvel film, I come out of the theatre feeling guilty as if I had cheated on DC. On one hand where I am not always a big fan of the comedic nature of Marvel, it behooves me to appreciate the spectacle as your every day movie-buff. Rome was not built in a day. MCU wasn’t either. Every single character was assembled painstakingly, piece by piece, into a larger universe. Doing this consistently for ten years is no joke for any production house where the audience is constantly changing, your rivals are constantly evolving and your actors are all A-listers who would like to have their own projects without being tied up with a comic-book franchise forever.
After Joel Schumacher’s magnum opus debacle of one of the most intriguing superheroes ever made, Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was like a second chance handed down to DC on a silver platter. Far removed from the earlier constructs of DC films, the trilogy earned no less than $2.5 billion worldwide. Despite being hesitant about directing a superhero franchise, Batman no less, Nolan had understood the essence of what he stood for. He wiped away the caricature treatment of the Dark Knight and gave us the most realistic version of a billionaire who had plunged himself into the dark underbelly of Gotham to fight crime. For the first time, DC had embraced the inherent tonality of one of its characters and done justice to it. This encouraged Warner bros. to bring about the reboot of the single-most loved character in any universe – Superman, as well. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) took a page out of Nolan and portrayed the demigod as a man from earth who had inadvertently been born with superpowers. It was not just about lifting cars and flying around the planet saving people. It was about his struggle in coming to terms with the fact that he was responsible for the planet. Not the most ideal situation for a twenty-something young man who just wanted to live a normal life like everybody else.
Meanwhile, by the year 2013, Marvel had established a rich universe of its own with three Iron Man films, the first Avengers film and two Thor films, not to mention a Spiderman and an X-Men franchise reboot. The pressure on DC was palpable and Warner bros. decided to play catch up. With just three movies to establish DCEU, DC’s Justice League fell flat on an audience who had expected a story-rich, grand spectacle that would bow their heads off. Instead they got a half-baked, wannabe Marvel film that was a testament to the fact that DC had lost its way.
So, here are some quick fixes from a die-hard DC fan that should help restore DCEU’s former glory:
Embrace the tonality
While the much awaited Justice League was being shot, word got out that significant portions of the film were being re-shot so as to make them more appealing to the larger audience. This included dialogue-rewrites to make them lighter and funny, changes in the overall color palette and scene-cuts. Even though it might all make sense from an economic perspective, you cannot forget that it is a creative process after all. Changing the original vision of a director, as talented as Zack Snyder (who also directed Watchmen), would imperatively mean that the film would lose its consistency. And that is what happened with both Justice League and Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice before it. Its time that DC embraced that its characters reside in a universe that is darker in tone. There is a huge legacy of comic book lore that needs to be factored in before a movie is made and that essence needs to be kept alive. Simple aping Marvel’s marketing methods would not bode well for DCEU.
Take a chill-pill
We know Marvel has had a steady run and is earning shitloads of money but that’s okay. Every universe has its own history and needs to grow at its own pace. Instead of scrambling to establish a brand new universe on a wobbly foundation, it would make more sense for DC to write great characters, one at a time. Give some time to the audience to develop a sense of entitlement for your heroes. Make them care so much that they are deeply invested into every single one of them. Marvel could have made Infinity Wars years ago. Instead they took the path of delayed gratification. They made their audience invest into the characters, so much so that they cannot bear if anything happened to them (*wink*). The film would not have gotten half the response had it been released four years back. For DC, it time to focus on the evolution of individual character arcs before the next chapter of Justice League is made. There are some great cannons and stories made by legendary artists like Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Monetize them by converting the plethora of animation films into live-action. The Killing Joke, Batman Bad Blood, Flashpoint Paradox, etc., are fantastic story-arcs that can establish a rich universe.
Expand the superhero family
This is another great strategy that Marvel has flawlessly executed. By bringing in lesser know characters like Ant-man, Black Panther and Doctor Strange into the fold, Marvel has not only increased its armory but also made brand new fan-bases that weren’t there. DC needs to stop confining itself to milking the big names only. There are several smaller but intriguing characters that can be cameoed in the films as well. Characters like Robin, Red Hood, NightWing, etc., are great additions and can actually start showing up in upcoming films. Nolan successfully tried this out with a character reboot of Cat-Woman played by the talented and gorgeous Anne Hathaway. By giving her a small part in the overall plot, Nolan made us invested in her character, enough that I would love to watch a solo Cat-Woman film with Hathaway in it. Individual story arcs provide a lot of liberty to directors to play around with new characters, helping the universe as a whole.
Create a Universe of Super-Villains
Besides the repertoire of great heroes, DC holds an edge over MCU through its cathartic villains like The Joker, General Zod, The Riddler, Reverse Flash, etc. Why should heroes have all the fun ? It’s time to make anti-hero films as well. Suicide Squad did not work out well but at least it was a step in the right direction. I would love to watch a Joker origin film or a Dead-shot origin film. It would be a challenge to establish an end-game in such films as the audience expects them to be defeated by a hero ultimately but there’s a remedy to that. Humanize them to a point that the audience empathizes with them and then subvert that empathy into hatred. I would love to be manipulated like that. For example, in The Killing Joke, the Joker is shown to be a struggling stand-up comedian with a wife and a kid in a mafia-ridden America during the Great Depression era. To earn more money, he winds up with bad company and ends up falling into a vat of chemicals during a run. Fate turns a good, honest man into a monster. Sold yet ?
There you have it. A four-step plan that DC and Warner bros. can take into consideration while pondering over the future of the DC Extended Universe. Bring in young creative-artists if you have to. Explore new visions and story-arcs. Infinity Wars had a particular comic story-board like quality which added to its appeal. Maybe this is something that can be utilized as a screenplay device. All said and done, treat every story on its own merit without comparing it with Marvel or even bogging it down with how it should fit into the larger universe. The universe is not pre-designed. Make the current film great and the rest would take care of itself !
Here’s a quote from The Dark Knight that I leave you with:
JOKER: You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! I just do things. The mob has plans. The cops have plans. Gordon’s got plans. Y’know they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know I’m telling the truth. It’s the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and, uh, look where that got you.