Marvel Studios has another huge hit on their hands with the release of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR May 6. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is currently at a stellar 91%, and its first day box office pulled in close to $76 million. Moreover, it helps cement the studio’s fortunes both with critics and audiences alike, and again gives it an advantage over the movies based on material from DC Comics being made with Warner Bros. Their recent tentpole feature BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, directed by Zack Snyder, has made over $800 million worldwide, but the critical drubbing it received (just 28% at Rotten Tomatoes) has called into question whether DC can truly compete on the big screen with the continual Marvel juggernaut.
There's room for both empires, obviously, but it would behoove DC to copy a few pages from the Marvel playbook to ensure that their feature efforts succeed as thoroughly. Interestingly, DC seems to have no problem on the small screen with its terrific series likes SUPERGIRL on CBS and THE FLASH on the CW. Perhaps the longer form helps them tell their tales. No matter, to compete better on the big screen, DC needs to do things a lot better. Here are eight pages from the Marvel playbook that would behoove them to copy:
DON'T RUSH THINGS
This lesson may be too late to learn, as DC is producing their JUSTICE LEAGUE movie without setting up half the roster of superhero characters through the benefit of starring in their own movie first. Marvel did, and their Avengers have succeeded so spectacularly because we know the characters going in. DC will have their work cut out for them trying to tell a big ensemble story while still tasked with introducing Aquaman, Cyborg and the big screen version of Flash. Still, they're already behind Marvel on number of franchises, including their ensembles, so it would be best for DC to slow down and make good movies instead of rushing mediocre ones into the marketplace
REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN
Both BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR have plots that deal with registering superheroes whose powers have gone unchecked, with plenty of collateral damage and death to prove it. Still, the former treats the issue as if it's September 11th, whereas the latter treats it seriously, but no too much to the point of forgetting it's a fantasy movie. The DC effort seemed as dour as “War and Peace” at times. Who wants that in a comic book movie? Marvel always remembers to keep it fun and fairly light, even with their characters like Captain America who tend to veer more toward the serious side.
LIGHT UP THE SCREEN
Speaking of light, most of the action in Marvel movies takes place during daylight hours. That way, it never gets too noir or glum. Granted, Batman is a creature of the night, but why did Snyder trap Superman in the nighttime constantly, especially when it's his sequel? Couldn't the Man of Steel have drawn Batman out in broad daylight to make him fight on his terms? It certainly would've been more in character, as well as added levity to the setting.
KEEP CHARACTERS LIKABLE
Sure, the Dark Knight is going to be morose. He's avenging his parents, after all, and that’s not exactly the most upbeat of motivations, but why did Snyder turn the sunny Superman into such a constipated clown raining on everyone’s parade? Henry Cavill is an able actor, but he was directed to be so introspective and moody, he might as well have been playing Batman. Gal Gadot made Wonder Woman very likable, with only a handful of scenes, and seemed to understand the material is popcorn. Marvel always does the same, investing even pissy characters like Nick Fury with a gruff fun. When Amy Adams comes off as a down-at-the-mouth Lois Lane for DC and WB, you know they're doing something very, very wrong.
ENSURE CHARACTERS DRIVE ACTION
Marvel does an extraordinary job of ensuring character drives the action. When the two sides of superheroes battle in the middle of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, their fighting styles are less about pugilism and more about personalities. Hawkeye and Black Widow pull their punches with each other because they’re friends. Ant-Man sneaks into Iron Man’s suit and creates comedic havoc by pulling out Stark’s wiring. And Captain America fights defensively, only to slow the others down, not kill them. Superman could kill Batman easily with one punch so why would he fight at all? It’s the central anomaly that ruined that film. Each character's battles should reflect their personality, and that includes every punch thrown.
USE EXISTING STORIES
Where does Marvel get most of the material for their movies? Why, directly from specific comic book stories that have been told on the pages first, that’s where. DC, on the other hand, has let its directors and screenwriters make stories up whole cloth for the most part, with only nodding tributes to previous material. That has has hurt their efforts because such filmmakers don’t know the universe nearly as well as those who’ve created it for years, even decades. Almost every Marvel movie can be attributed back to a comic book that told the same story first. DC should start making that a hard rule in their approach.
KEEP FRESHENING THE VILLAINS
Who was the bad guy in BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE? Lex Luthor. Again. Granted, he’s Superman’s biggest rival, but he’s now been the bad guy in five out of six DC Superman movies. There are so many other villains that Supes could fight so why not bring in Brainiac, Mr. Mxysptlk, Bizarro, or the host of others at their disposal? SUPER GIRL did it. THE FLASH does it. The villain in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a new one by the name of Baron Zemo, and he came directly from the Captain America comic books. DC needs to stop revisiting Luthor, or the Joker, for that matter. They actually have a better roster of villains so why not start exploiting such an advantage?
HIRE OTHER DIRECTORS
Why did DC invest so much in Snyder, giving him two Superman movies and the Justice League films to direct? Based on his track record, the only film he helmed that truly rang the bell at the box office and with critics was 300. WATCHMEN wasn’t a success, so DC’s faith in him seems misplaced, especially when his vision seems merely to maintain the darkness established by the Christopher Nolan Batman features. DC could benefit from the takes of others. A lot of others.
Perhaps WONDER WOMAN will be exemplary. Maybe SUICIDE SQUAD will be nasty fun. And it’s possible that the JUSTICE LEAGUE may make up for lost time against Marvel’s Avengers. But with re-shoots being ordered for SUICIDE SQUAD months before its release, the worry is that DC is headed down a number of wrong paths. They’re a legendary comic book empire with incredible characters and their fans and critics alike want them to succeed. By paying more attention to what their top rivals are doing will help DC and WB make better films and franchises. If they borrow some pages from their playbook, we tool will marvel at their big screen efforts once again.