The DCEU is the worst thing that ever happened to superhero movies or at least that’s what some fans would have you believe. Meanwhile, those same fans believe that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best thing that ever happened to superhero movies. Late to the extended universe party, the DCEU gets shunned as a lesser DC version of the MCU, a wannabe, despite the MCU’s Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four, and X-Men–shaped holes, hordes of continuity errors, bad writing, condescending press events, uninteresting visuals, last-minute production changes, and dozens of other glaring flaws.
Upon closer inspection, however, the DCEU is actually the superior of the modern superhero universes. In just four movies, the DCEU proved itself to be better realized, more memorable, better looking and sharper sounding than the MCU. With Justice League, The Flash, Aquaman, Shazam, Wonder Woman 2 and a host of other titles yet to come, the DCEU might still crash and burn. Likewise, with Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Avengers: Infinity War on the way, there is still hope for the MCU. As it stands, though, the DCEU comes out on top. Here’s why…
15. BORING SET DESIGN
By-and-large, Marvel’s set design is a bait-and-switch, with grand establishing shots and boring sets. The Incredible Hulk shows a great flyover of a favela in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, only to spend most of its time in a boring bottling plant. The Pym Technologies building in Ant-Man looks interesting from the outside, but the interior set is just a bunch of glass surfaces, office equipment, and those silly glass room dividers that only exist in buildings where a fight is about to break out.
Furthermore, Marvel could have done whatever it wanted with the design of Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron. There is no pre-MCU Sokovia in the comics. Marvel’s designers could’ve gone wild. So why doesn’t Sokovia’s capital city have a single memorable landmark? Meanwhile, in the DCEU, Gotham, Metropolis and Midway City look like different cities, and the Batcave has sleek, high-tech design.
14. LESS VIBRANT COLORS
Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman share a few defining visual characteristics. They’re darker than typical action movies, with heavy contrast and intensely saturated colors. As Southgate Media Group points out, every movie in the DCEU (thus far) makes use of a distinct metallic gray tint.
By the looks of the trailer for Justice League, metallic gray tint will remain a visual aspect of the DCEU. There is no MCU equivalent of this standard visual direction. On the contrary, Marvel’s hallmarks are formulaic scenes of exposition, over-edited fight scenes, passionless romances and Stan Lee cameos. This one, ostensibly subtle visual thread helps tie things together aesthetically for the DCEU in a way that may often be derided, but is distinct.
13. NO MCU WONDER WOMAN EQUIVALENT
Seven MCU movies were released before the first DCEU movie, Man of Steel, hit theaters in 2013. Marvel had seven opportunities to be first to make a movie exclusively about a superheroine, and for whatever reason, it passed on every one of those opportunities. Fifteen MCU movies hit theaters before DC’s Wonder Woman broke the box office trend of male domination. With its fourth movie, the DCEU defied long outdated “industry wisdom,” when it gave Gal Gadot her own movie.
Marvel had the opportunities and the franchises to beat DC to the punch. In the right hands and with Scarlett Johansson’s name on the poster, a Black Widow movie could have been really awesome. (It could still be really awesome.) Netflix’s excellent Marvel series Jessica Jones could have been made, instead, as a big budget film for theaters. Marvel fans will have to wait until 2018’s Captain Marvel for a superheroine-exclusive movie. That’s a bad look for Marvel.
12. NO PATTY, NO MORE JOSS
Producers (most of whom are men) typically see female directors as a financial liabilities. According to San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, in 2016, just seven percent of the 250 top grossing films were directed by women. Marvel signed future Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins to direct Thor 2. Jenkins wanted to make a “a grand [movie] based on Romeo and Juliet… a war between the gods and the earthlings, and Thor saves the day and ends up saving Earth.” Two months later, she left the project, citing creative differences, and signed with DC.
Joss Whedon, writer-director of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, was a major force in the development of the MCU. DC enlisted Whedon to finish Justice League for Zack Snyder. He will receive a co-writing credit for his work. He will also serve as writer, director, and producer of the upcoming DCEU film Batgirl. DC stole Marvel’s thunder.
11. (UN)SPECIAL EFFECTS
The accidental destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel is really impressive. In Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman’s battle with Lex Luthor’s monster was a long time coming but it was worth the wait. Wonder Woman‘s visual effects are some of the best ever, made greater by fantastic fight choreography, careful editing and appropriately thunderous sound design.
Over in the MCU, though, the special effects are neither horrible nor great. Making matters worse, Marvel loves smash cuts. The mechanical, prismatic visuals of Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange, the space frenzy of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and the web-slinging thrills of Spider-Man: Homecoming all devolve into over-edited headaches in their respective third acts. The entire MCU suffers from an addiction to breakneck over-editing and unnecessary cutaways.
10. FORGETTABLE VILLAINS
Marvel’s villains seem like a bunch of DC wannabes. Ultron, Malekith, Yellowjacket, the Chitauri and Ronan The Accuser lack the name recognition of someone like Lex Luthor. The Kree have been turned into one-dimensional grumblers, with their Supreme Intelligence becoming an afterthought. Marvel has even turned Thanos into a dull, throne-sitting despot.
In several Marvel films, the villain is simply an evil version of the hero. It seems to be a conscious decision on Marvel’s part, going back to Phase 1. In Iron Man, Iron Monger is Bad Iron Man. In The Incredible Hulk, the second MCU movie, Marvel had an opportunity to correct Iron Man‘s missteps with the Abomination, a grotesque reptilian character in the comics. Instead, Marvel redesigned the Abomination make him look more human, more like an evil version of the Hulk. The best villains, like the Winter Soldier, turn into heroes and fade into the background. Marvel can’t get enough of good guys turning bad and baddies turning good.
9. WEAKER WOMEN
You already know how awesome Wonder Woman is, so let’s talk about another awesome woman in the DCEU. In DC’s Suicide Squad, nobody crosses Amanda Waller. To those outside of her inner circle, Waller is a professional with real clout who commands respect. As Deadshot knows, she will not hesitate to kill innocents — including low-rung FBI agents — in order to protect her top-secret Task Force X.
Jump universes over to the MCU. Pepper Potts is occasionally bossy, but she is always the subordinate in a toxic workplace romance. Amanda Waller is a bonafide boss. Maria Hill answers to Nick Fury. Scarlet Witch is obsessed with her relationships, be it to her brother Quicksilver or to Vision. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Widow’s side plot is all about how sad she is that she can’t have kids. Standard superhero concerns, right?
8. FEWER BIG-SCREEN ANTIHEROES
DC has done a great job of bringing antiheroes to the big screen. When you think of superheroes, you probably don’t picture a really skilled hitman, a guilt-ridden pyromaniacal gangster, a guy with a boomerang blade, a sewer-dwelling crocodile-man, and a brainwashed psychiatrist with a murderous streak. Amanda Waller’s Task Force X is a suicide squad of low-rung antiheroic convicts with nothing to lose, and she treats them as such.
This gray area in-between good and evil is where Marvel’s big screen heroes get tripped up. Marvel’s antiheroes include the murderous Punisher, Deadpool (who admittedly isn’t in the MCU, but is still a Marvel property), and, well, that’s about it. Some would include Iron Man on that list, but Avengers-era Tony Stark is a snarky do-gooder. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, his most recent appearance, the one-time loose cannon is now a slick-talking wise old man with a thing for Aunt May. You’ve lost your edge, Stark.
7. POOR TEAMBUILDING
In Phase 1 of the MCU, Nick Fury showed up out of nowhere to do the recruitment thing for the Avengers Initiative. His criteria for selecting new Avengers are never made clear. He just emerges from the ether, knowing everything he needs to know. Once the team is assembled, he fades into the background as the Avengers argue amongst themselves. You call that leadership?
Back in the DCEU, teams are put together methodically. At the end of Batman v. Superman, Bruce Wayne sets about finding “others like [Wonder Woman],” using the data from Lexcorp as a guide. Likewise, in Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller has the criminal histories of the homicidal miscreants. The explosive injections in their necks ensure that she holds all the cards. Why don’t the Avengers have such safeguards for new recruits? Because they’re heroes? Right.
6. FEWER NOTEWORTHY SUPPORTING PERFORMANCES
Jeremy Irons, Robin Wright, Viola Davis, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter, Connie Nielsen, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishburne, Chris Pine, Jared Leto and Kevin Costner are just some of the big name actors who appear in supporting roles in the DCEU. Aside from what some feel was Leto’s misinterpretation of the Joker, they’re all great performances.
The MCU does have a few solid supporting performances. Samuel L. Jackson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Michael Pena and Michael Douglas in Ant-Man, Jeff Bridges in Iron Man, Marisa Tomei in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and William Hurt in The Incredible Hulk come to mind. But for the most part, MCU’s supporting characters fail to make an impression. It isn’t a casting problem. It’s a writing problem. Supporting characters are just room-filler in the already overcrowded MCU.
5. MARVEL PLAYS IT SAFE
Marvel kills villains, not heroes. Innocent casualties are kept to absurd minimums. DC does it differently. It takes risks, ramping up the stakes, and killing innocents left and right. Despite Cara Delevingne’s limited acting range, the Enchantress becomes an apocalyptic force. Her trippy magical light show destroys a top secret government facility, levels skyscrapers, cuts an aircraft carrier in half, and racks up a serious kill count.
The character design of the Joker and Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad marked another departure from fans’ expectations. In the comics, Batman’s rule is that he goes out of his way not to kill. In fact, that’s the whole basis of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. In Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman uses deadly force with abandon. It was a dangerous move. Some fans were put off by the dramatic change to Bruce Wayne’s character and ethos, but it was a risk worth taking.
4. UNDERDEVELOPED IDEAS
Marvel brings up ideas and then abandons them. For instance, in The Incredible Hulk, the army wants to turn Bruce Banner into a weapon. He flees to Brazil to avoid being weaponized and to find a cure for his condition. Later, he effectively becomes the weapon he never wanted to be, only this time it’s on his terms, so it’s fine. Then the movie barrels into another action-packed finale.
Over in the DCEU, ideas matter. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman presents the Amazons of Themyscira as a fully realized society, separate from patriarchal gender roles and seen as its own wonderland, ripe to explore and contrast against our own. Likewise, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, however muddled, tangles with powerful themes about crime, punishment, and the limits of redemption.
3. UNINSPIRED SCORES AND SOUNDTRACKS
With the exception of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies’ soundtrack, the MCU’s scores and soundtracks are mediocre, generic, and forgettable. Marvel’s most memorable soundtrack is Deadpool by Junkie XL. Interestingly, Junkie XL contributed to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the upcoming Justice League.
Over in the DCEU, the scores of all four movies sound unique yet interrelated. Hans Zimmer composed the scores for Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Suicide Squad‘s music is a collaboration between Zimmer’s protege Steven Price and Junkie XL. Likewise, Wonder Woman is scored by Rupert Gregson-Williams, who got his start in Zimmer’s Remote Control studio. The trailer for the upcoming Justice League, scored by Zimmer, features a piano melody that directly references a theme from Man of Steel‘s score. Musically, the DCEU shows no sign of unraveling.
2. TIMELINE WOES
The official MCU timeline is, let’s be real, kind of a joke. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is supposed to be a world-building enterprise. Two key elements of world-building are a sense of space and a sense of time. We need to know where and when the action is happening in the larger framework. Otherwise, a movie might be awesome on its own, but the larger operation fails.
As it stands, believing in the MCU is an act of faith. We’re all told it exists but has anyone actually seen it? Avengers: Infinity War promises to bring together an insane amount of characters. That said, how will Marvel juggle the dozens of potentially conflicting storylines, not to mention all of those characters? Meanwhile, over at DC, the timeline still makes a reasonable degree of sense.
1. LESS CREATIVE FREEDOM
The MCU’s movies are all standard PG-13 fare and so are the DCEU’s. So what’s the difference? In a word, it’s a matter of maturity. More than two dozen films in, the MCU refuses to grow up. Marvel Entertainment has been rehashing the same formula since 2008. Filmmakers who can’t tow the line get pushed out, along with all the new ideas and fresh spins they could’ve brought with them.
In a September 2017 interview with the Toronto Sun, Patty Jenkins applauded DC for being “super supportive” of her vision. Considering how much behind the scenes drama went down during the making of Suicide Squad, it’s hard to imagine a less supportive environment than the one that David Ayer endured. We never said the DCEU was perfect, it’s just better than the alternative… for now. Once Black Panther hits theaters, we might change our tune.
Which universe do you think is doing a better job of telling its stories, the MCU or the DCEU? Let us know in the comments!
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