The MCU kickstarted the modern era of comic book movies with Iron Man in 2008 and everything is now coming to a head with the Mad Titan Thanos heading to Earth for his Infinity Stones in Avengers: Infinity War. The DCEU, on the other hand, had to wait until 2013 with Man of Steel to get their house in order. It’s been a long, trial-and-error process, but Wonder Woman indicates they’ve finally gotten things right — amid directorial controversies, scripting issues and how to set their films’ tones.
In that time though, the MCU has become formulaic and is all about rinsing and repeating. Barring the Russos and James Gunn, there’s just too much levity packed into movies which in turn feel somewhat predictable. No one’s knocking the MCU’s success but the DCEU has now found its launching point, ironically in the form of Diana Prince, which punctuates that their movies are more ambitious and adventurous a la comic book events. If Marvel Studios is to achieve this same sense of epic scope and craft stories that paint their characters as something other than stagnant, then the cruise control switch needs to be flicked off. CBR decided to look at 15 reasons why the MCU’s actually lost ground and is now behind the DCEU!
SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the MCU and DCEU movies
15. WEAKER VILLAINS
We’re yet to see a truly intimidating MCU villain, apart from a brainwashed Winter Soldier. Ronan came close but he was quickly reduced to a lackey while Zemo was more of a cerebral assassin. No villains from the Iron Man or Thor movies, which can be considered the linchpins of the MCU, stand out as well, and even the likes of Red Skull, Ultron and Ego felt underwhelming.
While we wait for Thanos to make his mark, the DCEU have built on what came before with Christopher Nolan’s Joker and Bane, carving out a treacherous Zod, a maniacal Lex Luthor and a rampaging Doomsday. Suicide Squad fell a bit short of the mark, but Wonder Woman once more upped the ante with Doctor Poison and Ares proving to be a deadly combo of brains and brawn.
14. UNDERPLAYS ITS WOMAN POWER
The MCU hasn’t capitalized ‘woman power’ at all; ergo why fans are still waiting on a Black Widow film, as well as for Wasp in the Ant-Man sequel. Sure, Sharon Carter and Scarlet Witch are big names, but they feel so peripheral, offsetting the hard work done with Peggy Carter’s character.
The DCEU, however, laid the template with Wonder Woman, who was quickly made a key figure. Her solo film was a priority and it’s been a major success. They also made Lois Lane and Harley Quinn integral, while Patty Jenkins became the first female director in the rivalry between the two studios. The fact she was supposed to helm a Thor movie rubs salt in the wound. The MCU also treats Jane Foster and Pepper Potts like chess pieces, and delayed on Hela while the DCEU kicked on with Doctor Poison, Faora and Enchantress!
13. UNFORGETTABLE MUSICAL SCORES
Apart from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, the MCU is yet to deliver on a truly rousing musical score. And one that’s original as well, not just a collection of retro tracks. Hopes are high for Thor: Ragnarok, but it’s quite a shame that it’s their Netflix corner of the universe, namely Luke Cage, that’s made a sonic boom! Heck, even Fox stepped up audibly with Logan.
The DCEU remains king on this note though, with Hans Zimmer on Man of Steel updating Superman for a new generation brilliantly. He was joined by Junkie XL for Batman vs. Superman to continue this path and then came Wonder Woman. Rupert Gregson-Williams built on her theme from Snyder’s sequel and shaped something mystical, adventurous and very epic, raising the bar even higher for the MCU to reach in order to truly achieve some decibel grandeur.
12. THE ACTION’S NOT AS GOOD
The DCEU has a tendency for bigger climaxes while the MCU spreads it action throughout the entire film. Not a bad formula but with the MCU, the action sequences don’t give you that badass edge-of-your-seat comic book feel. The fights that Iron Man, Thor and especially Ant-Man, end up in are average at best. In fact, unless the Guardians get hooked into spaceship fights or the Avengers tangle with each other, a lot is left to be desired.
The DCEU may over-indulge on action and violence, but they do it pretty well. Superman battling the Kryptonians, especially Zod, and then squaring off with Batman, are remarkable examples. The same applies for when Wonder Woman joined them to battle Doomsday, when the Suicide Squad assaulted Enchantress, and recently, when Wonder Woman had to stop the Germans and Ares in World War I. Action done right!
11. HEROES NEED TO SHOW EMPATHY
The MCU’s heroes need to have more empathy. Civil War showed how badly this was lacking in their world — from Steve hiding the truth about Stark’s parents to Stark’s actions with the Accords. Thor shows some with Loki, but he lets brotherly love get in the way of common sense. Stark, though, doesn’t at all, because who would throw a high-schooler into battle? Seriously.
Batman and Superman came to an understanding, albeit a bit late, but Bruce did end up empathizing with the alien who was trying to find a place in our world. The DCEU’s most notable example of this though is Wonder Woman, who despite seeing mankind’s evil ways, still believes love will cure everything. In Suicide Squad, we even saw the team empathizing with Diablo’s family issues and Killer Croc, who didn’t want to be an outsider.
10. AFRAID OF DEATH
The MCU is afraid of meaningful death. They couldn’t kill off Agent Coulson in The Avengers, lumping him into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and then they chickened out with killing War Machine in Civil War. These were characters we felt connected to emotionally, so that would have impacted big time! Quicksilver was someone who didn’t feel as important, so we don’t really count his death. Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, or even Happy Hogan would also resonate if they died, but we’ll have to settle for Yondu.
The DCEU, however, showed that death happens in their bleak world of war and terror, just like in real life. Jonathan Kent, Zod and his army, Pa Kent, Jimmy Olsen, tons of innocent civilians and of course, Steve Trevor, are examples of how dire death gets there. If the MCU stepped up, maybe Loki wouldn’t be causing mischief all the time!
9. INCONSISTENT WITH VISUAL SPECTACLES
Comic book movies should be the best looking ones out in Hollywood today! The MCU isn’t playing its part though on delivering visual spectacles outside of the GotG movies. Ragnarok may fix this, but its prequels should have been on the scale of the Lord of the Rings franchise in terms of look and feel. The MCU has repeatedly missed out on making the next Avatar or Valerian.
The DCEU on the other hand has an iconic look to it. It’s a signature that focuses on gorgeous cinematography, as seen with Patty Jenkins’ Themyscira, but it also darkens its tones to match that of war when Snyder wants to unleash alien invasions and the Justice League going against Apokolips’ forces. The colors may get criticized but these movies have a distinct flair to them, as opposed to the bland look of the MCU.
8. DOESN’T TAKE MANY RISKS
The MCU is well-established by now but sadly, things are still being played safely. We already saw this with how the MCU treats death but other things come off as a bit conservative. We have to wait for Captain Marvel to come out to get their first female-fronted movie whereas the DCEU quickly placed Wonder Woman at the forefront.
The MCU also watered down how their heroes fought each other as opposed to Batman nearly killing Superman. They could learn how to take risk from the DCEU, who also boldly made Superman and Wonder Woman into killers for the greater good, chanced it with updating Joker’s look and feel, and threw Doomsday at fans right off the cuff. This is in stark contrast to Marvel Studios who took forever to bring Thanos into the fray of things. Such timid behavior needs to go!
7. HEROES DON’T LEARN FROM PAST MISTAKES
The MCU heroes don’t seem to learn from past mistakes at all. Tony Stark didn’t learn how to trust and embrace the concept of family, remaining the same as he felt that building suits was the answer to life. Cap didn’t learn from Tony’s Ultron schemes and his lust for control, which also saw Stark stupidly persist with extreme policing. Thor also never learned that Loki is irredeemable, allowing his brother to constantly wreak havoc.
Conversely to these examples, the DCEU has a learning curve that is being followed, as seen with Batman becoming more virtuous after Superman sacrificed himself. He wanted to heal the world more. Wonder Woman also learned how to combat otherworldly threats. Superman was also a student, learning that he needed to tone it down in battle in order to avoid scaring people or have them mistaking him for a god. The MCU should adopt this approach to allow heroes to flourish and develop properly.
6. ISN’T THAT LOYAL TO THE COMICS
The MCU stories subvert the source material a bit more and sometimes, there’s a disconnect. The DCEU stories feel more loyal to the comics, as seen with Superman fighting Zod, Doomsday, and the rivalry with Batman and Superman. Even with Wonder Woman fighting Ares and the antics of the Suicide Squad, everything feels like it’s from a comic event. So many books come to mind such as the Justice League and Superman: Birthright to name a few.
The MCU stories, as seen with Thor’s adventures, Iron Man’s dalliances, and of course, the Guardians’ sagas are more amalgamations than the DCEU’s. Even Civil War was assembled using different comic beats. This isn’t such a bad thing per se, but sometimes, sticking to the lore a bit more may help, as per that weak Ultron adaptation. Had this been done, who knows, maybe we’d be getting a proper Planet Hulk!
5. WAY TOO CAMPY
The MCU prides itself on being campy but it’s about time to break out of this mold as it’s stagnant. Thanos is coming and we need that sense of urgency which the Russo Bros. bring to the table to stand out more. Their Captain America sequels fractured the MCU but this sense of gravity works so well. Iron Man, Thor and the Guardians can only stretch campy that far, after all.
The DCEU lays the law down in how they display war and terror, which is very similar to the real world. We saw this in how Joss Whedon laid down his alien invasion in comparison to Snyder’s elite vision. That said, not being campy doesn’t mean you can’t still attract families. Wonder Woman showed this in its destruction and grim, gritty take on the world; and the wars that mankind etches out consistently.
4. TOO MUCH HUMOR
The MCU needs a more balanced tone of humor because they’re overdoing it. The GotG movies do it decently but then it gets out of hand when Iron Man goes off his rocker. That said, even Drax and Mantis got annoying, and the Thor movies also tried to slip in too much, as did Ant-Man. One can only imagine what Spider-Man: Homecoming has in store for us in terms of its wisecracking.
The DCEU has a better balance with its humor. Snyder was more subtle about it, but Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman re-calibrated things and struck a proper balance. Justice League is also looking poised to do the same. The MCU skews things a bit too lightheartedly but they’re not that far off from a middle ground. They have the actors, directors and tools in place to accomplish this easily.
3. THE HEROES AREN’T AS HEROIC
The DCEU heroes feel more heroic by far. We saw this with how Wonder Woman decided to believe in the best of mankind, and abandon the Amazons. The MCU heroes, however, such as Stark, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and Thor all had to go through a huge learning curve to just to stop being jerks, let alone heroic. This happened every time they were presented with the choice of doing something heroic instead of selfish.
The DCEU icons could teach them a thing or two as they were more earnest and ready to defend mankind as soon as they realized they were capable of doing so. Batman began this journey as soon as his parents died and Superman did the same when he found out who he really was and what his powers consisted of. The arrogant or redemptive MCU arcs are overdone, so let’s just get heroes off the bat please!
2. THE STAKES DON’T FEEL HIGH
In the MCU, the stakes never feel high. The Chitauri invasion didn’t feel like the world was ending and all other arcs, including Mandarin’s ruse, Ultron’s army and the Avengers breaking up, all feel so self-contained. Even Gunn’s last movie with the Guardians didn’t make it seem like the universe was facing impending doom.
When it comes to the DCEU though, the stakes feel higher, as each movie paints a scenario that feels like the world’s ending. Whether it’s unstoppable Kryptonians, an angry God of War or chemical terrorist or a behemoth like Doomsday, all bets are off with DC’s films. We also saw this in Bruce’s Darkseid-alluding dream sequence and Lex’s chat with Steppenwolf. If the MCU is to do this, it needs to be bigger than heists in one or two cities, or Thor getting trippy visions in a mystical jacuzzi. Maybe Thanos was needed sooner rather than later?
1. MEDIOCRE FINAL ACTS
The MCU movies have to improve on their final acts, drastically! Apart from The Winter Soldier and Civil War, huge climaxes were lacking, even though Whedon’s two outings with the Avengers tried to go out with a bang. The movies involving Thor, Iron Man and also, Ant-Man, went limp at the end big time too but the GotG movies seem to know how to end on a high, so Gunn can be sought for advice.
It’s not just about resolution, but about that mind-blowing and climactic piece of cinema that leaves you breathless as you exit the theater. Snyder’s two movies did this as you felt you just emerged from the battlefield in shock and awe. Jenkins followed suit as Diana Prince made you want to be a hero, kicking ass and learning to have faith in all humanity. The MCU finales have to peak in similar fashion if they want to leave a lasting impression.
Thoughts on our picks? Let us know in the comments if you also feel the MCU is behind the DCEU and what they need to fix!