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It’s a well-known fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has done exceptionally better than the Detective Comics Extended Universe (DCEU). Why is this? Many people have suggested different reasons as to why DC have done so poorly, such as bad actors, bad directors, money, terrible writing, and many other reasons. Here is just another reason to add on to the list, which goes straight down to basics. Time.
The MCU started in 2008 with the massive hit Iron Man. It was a massive success in theatres and excelled at the box office. Even with such a great start, not many people would have imagined the remarkable success Marvel would gain after that. Marvel chose to start off with the Iron Man narrative, which was evidently a brilliant choice due to the reaction. Audiences fell in love with the self-obsessed yet heroic character. Marvel then moved onto bringing Hulk into the universe with The Incredible Hulk. This, however, didn’t do as well as Iron Man, but was still a necessary part in the story Marvel wanted to tell.
In 2010, we were hit with the sequel in Iron Man 2; this again did not do as well as the first, but still generated enough to satisfy fans with the film. Here we were able to see the character development of each character from the first Iron Man film, and also the impact of having Iron Man in the world and the outcomes of that.
2011 brought us Thor, which was another success to add onto Marvel’s list. Here we are taken out of our own world and brought into a new one. Introducing us to fun, engaging, and thrilling characters, we have a new story to fall in love with and obsess about. The film was able to take its time in introducing us to the new world of Asgard along with the planet’s inhabitants. Not only were we taken to an unfamiliar place, but we were also brought back to a place we know. This made for some great comical moments as seeing an Asgardian adapting to our planet was a breath of fresh air for the MCU.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) secured the plans of the MCU to fans. Here we got the heroic story of the beloved Captain America with an impactful ending which sets off the plan to bring together the Avengers. By this time, audiences have been introduced to four of the Avengers: Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. Each character with their own film and own backstory to give the audience enough knowledge to see them in the first Avengers film.
Marvel’s The Avengers released in 2012, five years after Iron Man. The reason this film worked is because we already knew each of the Avengers. In each film, we were informed of their backstory, their power/abilities, and what sort of person they are. So, when it came to seeing them all in one film, the focus was simply on the narrative rather than introducing the characters. This also gave the opportunity to see how each of the main characters (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America) all react with one another. Therefore, creating character developments instead of character setup.
After the first Avengers film, Marvel was able to move forward with more character developments and new characters to add into their universe. Phase two brought us Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Ant-Man (2015). Again, as with each Marvel film that is new to us, we could see the whole story of the heroes we love. These films help inform the audience of the personality of the characters and how they came to their powers/abilities.
Within phase two of the MCU, Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) came out, where we can see our loved superheroes together again. Similarly, with the first Avengers film, this film is able to focus more on the narrative as all main characters have been thoroughly established at this point. Having said that the smart thing which was done here was weaving this narrative to subtly introduce another Avenger, Scarlet Witch. Again, with this introduction, we saw her backstory (which linked to the Avengers), how she received her powers and her main character traits. This worked well as her story was relevant to the plot and to the characters within the story.
Scarlet Witch’s character was developed in Captain America: Civil War (2016). This film, like Avengers: Age of Ultron, also introduced us to new characters which were relevant to the narrative of the film, Spider-Man and Black Panther. Spider-Man is a character we know a lot about, due to the 2002 trilogy with Tobey Maguire, then the unsuccessful franchise of The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) with Andrew Garfield. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the Spider-Man origin story has been told, giving Marvel a second chance to perfect the character in the cinematic universe without having to go in depth with his backstory. Black Panther’s origin was quite ambiguous in Civil War, however, this didn’t affect the film, as that information was not relevant and the character had feasible reasons for his role in the film. Also, at this point everyone was well aware that Marvel will inevitably be making an origin film for Black Panther, so this was more a tease, and the same can be said for Spider-Man’s appearance.
Within phase three of the MCU, we are introduced to Doctor Strange (2016), with his own movie that explains his origin. This worked perfectly well as we were able to see him again in Thor: Ragnarok (2017) letting him be the perfect fit in the part he played. By the time Avengers: Infinity War (2018) came about audiences were well informed of each character including the villain Thanos, due to Marvel taking their time to introduce us to the characters which make up the Avengers.
In the 10 years of the MCU, we did not only gain a brilliant understanding of each character, but the arch of Thanos and the Infinity Stones were set up in the same way as the characters have been. We were slowly shown the infinity stones throughout the Marvel films, whether they were set on Earth or on other planets, we were able to see them and understand their powers. The set up for Thanos had been playing out since the very first Avengers film, creating a fantastic and thrilling buildup to Infinity War and now to Avengers: Endgame.
The DCEU has rushed their story and rushed their character development forcing audiences to naturally be put off the films. In 2013, DCEU released Man of Steel, the film was well-constructed on a character which we already know a lot about and worked well to set off the DCEU. Then we jump straight to Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice (2016), which did horrendously with fans and with critics. DC jumped in too quick to bring in two characters to create this pointless story arch. Batman is another superhero which we know a lot about, so it’s understandable to see the reason as to why he was not given an origin film. However, as DC was setting out to create an extended universe and reinventing our loved superheroes, having a film purely for Batman, whether that was an origin film or just another Batman narrative would have benefitted DC. This is because audiences could not see a strong enough reason for the hate between Superman and Batman. If a Batman film was made before Superman vs. Batman, DC could have weaved in a plot to set this hatred off, just as Marvel subtly showed major personality clashes with Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America).
Superman vs. Batman was a failure not only for the reason just stated, but for the weak narrative too, unlike Marvel, DC rushed into this narrative not giving audiences or even the characters enough time to develop. At the end of the film, we’re introduced to Wonder Woman who comes out of nowhere to help save the day.
After this DC produced Suicide Squad (2016), which had a mixed review of likes and dislikes. The film was able to introduce us to some new characters and reboot old ones, such as the Joker. Suicide Squad is a film that was not as big as the others and often is overshadowed.
Wonder Woman (2017) was a long-needed success for DC, having a strong narrative creating a lovely origin for the character. This success was soon ruined by Justice League (2017), which attempted to cram way too much into a film and leaving very little focus on the actual narrative. If we go back to Marvel, by the time they released Avengers all four of the main characters had their origin stories and were well established, however, DC failed to do this. Superman and Wonder Woman were the only character standalone films DC had which focused on informing audiences of their story. Batman, even though he’s a well-known character, was just left with nothing to go on. The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg were new characters to the DCEU and to the mass audience. These characters had not been fleshed out enough for the audience to care about them. DC attempted to show glimpses of each character’s origin story, but failed as this took up the majority of the film and left very little for the actual plot to be constructed well.
The Aquaman origin film realised in December 2018 had a phenomenal response from fans and critics. However, if this had been realised before Justice League it could have potentially helped DC’s reputation and would have changed the Justice League film for the better.
What DC can learn from Marvel is to take their time to develop their characters and their narratives. Marvel now coming on 11 years, has had great success as their audience know the main characters inside out and have gained strong relationships with their characters. The story of Thanos has been weaved so well throughout the films, that by the time it came to Infinity War fans were thrilled by his character without having seen much of him. Whereas, with DC the audience lacked information about characters such as the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, that it took away from the narrative of a film where we were meant to see our favourite superheroes work together, instead, we saw superheroes meet each other.
So, that’s another reason to add onto the list as to why the MCU has done much better than the DCEU. However, with the success of Aquaman, things may change for DC if they continue to bring that success to their next films, but it will take some time for DC to become as successful as Marvel has been.