There is a scene in the latest DC movie, ‘Suicide Squad’, which has stuck with me long after I left the theater. Amanda Waller is preparing to evacuate her office, her three staffers at their console deleting the last bit of data in their computers while Rick Flagg and Deadshot watch. Amanda asks her staff if they are finished and ready to go and one of the young women says, ‘Yes’. Amanda then calmly pulls out a pistol and shoots all three of the staffers in the back of the head. Flagg and Deadshot are standing there shocked and Waller asks Flagg, ‘Is there a problem?’ Flagg takes a moment to compose himself and then says, ‘No, I have buried a few mistakes myself’.
Suicide Squad isn’t a terrible movie but it isn’t really good – it never lives up to the anarchic and subversive material or even the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ fueled trailer which got everyone excited earlier this year. But that one scene was amazing. It was as if it came from a better albeit dark and grim movie.
It also made me realize why the new DCEU movies are failing compared to Disney’s Marvel movies.
It is no secret that the new DC movies aren’t catching on and that Marvel is eating their lunch critically and financially. My theory is that DC is trying to ape Marvel’s style. Marvel’s flicks are larger than life mythology stories played out on a grand canvas, full of daring-do and funny quips. Captain America’s ‘Winter Soldier’ played with a dark theme but ultimately all of the movies –including ‘Winter Soldier’ are good clean fun where the good guys are going to win – but do it with crowd pleasing action sequences and one-liners. There is some variation thrown in to keep in interesting, the wildly entertaining and anarchic ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is a good example but otherwise they stay pretty tightly to the formula.
DC can’t match it. There is no iconic personality which dominates in their universe aka Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (who is pretty much Tony Stark all the time nowadays) – apologies but Ben Affleck isn’t Batman, he is Ben Affleck playing Batman. There storylines seem incongruous as well. Superman is a character which hasn’t aged well into the modern era, Batman is a dark character which doesn’t play well with others, and the Suicide Squad is walking alienation. The characters in the DC universe don’t match well with Marvel’s formula and all attempts to wedge them in there are doomed to fail.
But then again, why follow Marvel’s formula? In 2004, DC put out a limited series called ‘Identity Crisis’ – part of the ongoing DC storyline which led the breakup of the Justice League of America. It dealt with the rape/murder of the wife of one of the heroes and their subsequent efforts to hunt down the assailant. The series was controversial, praised and reviled in equal measure. But it was dark and grim and didn’t shy away from the ugliness. You are dealing with people with superpowers – full of human virtues and wickedness and ‘Identity Crisis’ didn’t shy away from it.
I think the answer lies somewhere in there for DC. Stop trying to be Marvel and start being DC and embrace the darkness in your stories. I want to see more of Amanda Waller executing innocent people for the ‘greater good’. I want to see Superman, surrounded by the rapturous worship of people he saved, succumb to it and embrace the inevitable fascism. I want to see the Suicide Squad get shit-faced in a bar before wading into some horrible situation screaming like Viking Berserkers. I want to see Wonder Women walk into an alley on a woman getting ready to be assaulted and see her gut the attacker with her sword – why would an Amazonian warrior handle that situation any other way?
Marvel has been so successful with their formula that any attempts to copy it aren’t going to amount to much box-office or critical success. DC needs to be different and personally I feel that the movie population is ready to see the change. The Christopher Nolan Batman movies embraced the darkness, were wildly successful, and made a ton of money. The market is there. Start making superhero movies for adults and get paid – or keep making movies for kids and keep losing to Marvel.