Yes, I know, I’m doing a second negative DC article in the space of a week. For what it’s worth, it’s not like I want to. I don’t want to end up sounding like a broken record, and I certainly don’t want to invite backlash from maladjusted fans who can’t handle people criticising their favourite toys. Most of all, I’m passionate about the superhero genre in general (hence why I write about it) and it doesn’t feel particularly good for me to keep calling one of its biggest players out for being terrible.
However, with the back to back release of the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke (covered last week) and the live-action Suicide Squad, there’s no getting round the fact that they are the biggest story in the entertainment sphere right now. Like it or not, I’m going to keep talking about them for as long as they keep themselves in the news and for as long as I feel like I have something constructive to say, and my opinion of them will stop being negative the moment they start being good at what they do. Deal?
So yes, Suicide Squad has managed to do what I thought was impossible and divide opinion even more than its predecessor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie so overwrought and po-faced that you know pretty much all you need to know about it once you find out the title isn’t being sarcastic. I don’t have the space here to give a rundown of all the touted criticisms of the movie, but regardless of what you or I think of it, the fact remains that we’re now three films deep into DC’s attempt to follow in rival Marvel Studios’ footsteps (building a continuity between their individual films and their characters, as comics have done for decades) and we’re still yet to see a real crowd pleaser from them.
Of course, the film is not without its defenders (or Avengers, if you will ). Suicide Squad has smashed box office records on its opening weekend, though it’s likely that, just like Batman v Superman, that success will not be reflected globally, and will drop off sharply as the negative word of mouth gains momentum. In the meantime, critics have been accused of unfairly giving the film a raw deal due to bias towards the more consistently liked Marvel Studios films. Some disgruntled DC fans have gone so far as to petition for the shutting down of ratings aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, an idea so breathlessly thick and pointless I could dedicate a whole other article to mocking them for it.
Of course, I could end my article right here just by telling everyone to calm the hell down, to stop being so insecure about things you like when they come under criticism, and to stop baselessly assuming that everyone who disagrees with your taste in films is doing so out of some kind of agenda to a competing corporation that they have no tangible ties to. Most of all, I’d dearly love to tell supposedly ‘ordinary’ viewers to stop holding up box-office figures, especially opening weekend ones, like they’re a metric that is supposed to matter to anyone but the corporate accountants at Disney and Warner Brothers, who don’t give a damn about the films they make and give even less of a damn about you!
However, if the internet was capable of being rational about anything, I wouldn’t have a job, so fine. While we might all take this competition far too seriously at times, it is a competition, objectively. What’s more, competition is a good thing in almost any industry. Despite my low opinion of it so far, I take no pleasure in the idea that DC’s cinematic universe experiment is, by any measure, being ‘defeated’ by Marvel. I don’t want it to go away, I want it to get better. So, the question is, how?
DC is often accused of being too ‘dark’ in comparison to Marvel’s more preppy, family friendly approach. In practice, I’m not sure I agree. Oh, there’s no denying their films have consistently aimed for a gloomier, more serious tone, but the accusation implies both that Marvel haven’t also explored darker themes in some of their films (they have) and that being more serious is an inherently bad thing. This doesn’t quite add up when you consider a big part of Suicide Squad’s problem is that Warner Brothers pulled their punches with director David Ayer’s original cut, over fears the film would look too depraved next to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy . If DC wants to continually strike a different tone to Marvel in its cinematic universe, then it should absolutely go and do that, regardless of my own tastes. God knows Hollywood needs more variety wherever it can be found.
Regardless of whether or not it always pulls it off though, DC definitely wants to position itself as an ‘edgier’, not-for-kids alternative to Marvel in the genre. That much is obvious in everything from Ayer apparently yelling “F*ck Marvel!” at the Suicide Squad premier (classy), to half the characters in said movie dressing like they were grabbed by the nostrils and bowled over-arm through a Hot Topic. Oh, and let’s not forget that image of Aqua-Man in the Justice League trailer, chugging bourbon from the bottle as ocean spray crashes behind him, like he’s advertising a new Diesel fragrance.
You know what all this posturing reminds me off, just a little bit?
Back in the 90’s, in video-game land, there was another tale of two entertainment juggernauts vying for the hearts and minds of a generation of youngsters. One had an endearing roster of sincere, timelessly designed mascot characters, and the other sought to combat this with attitude, to convince all the kids that, if they bought Sonic instead of Mario, then they’d be on the ‘cool’ side of the playground.
DC would do well to give modern SEGA a call and ask how that worked out for them.
It’s not having ‘attitude’ that’s the problem, although when you pander like that, you always run the risk of dating yourself as horribly as SEGA did. No, the problem is it comes across as hollow and pathetic to base your entire strategy around reacting to your principle competition like that. The only reason DC is trying to build its own cinematic universe is because Marvel proved it was possible, and every move they’ve made since then has been, one way or another, chasing Marvel’s tail. Batman v Superman was framed as a more ‘adult’ alternative to cross-continuity, but was panned for being ponderous and miserable. So, DC tried to make Suicide Squad more ‘fun’ halfway through production, and produced a complete mess. Now critics are slamming Suicide Squad, I hate to think what they’re going to try and do to the other films already shooting.
Just like the adolescents who have become so taken with this image, DC’s projection is masking a core of insecurity. There seems to be no plan, no steady hand on the creative tiller, no soul. I can’t tell the powers that be at DC and Warner Brothers what to be, but if they don’t really know what they want to be, you don’t need me to tell you that’s a problem. They should probably be assured though, that their experiment stumbling is not the end of the world. After all, the MCU didn’t really figure out how to be good until Thor.
Next up for DC is Wonder Woman, which might just be the saving grace both they, and I, are looking for. So far at least, it looks really damn good, with a consistent and appropriate mood, brave and gorgeous visual design, interesting premise, and we already know that Gal Gadot is a good fit for the role. Best of all, nothing that I’ve seen so far is being framed as an ‘answer’ to anything Marvel has done lately. I don’t care which brand you normally prefer; a Wonder Woman film being a financial and critical success will be the best thing that’s happened to the genre since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, at least.
If I’m right, and if Wonder Woman turns out to be a good film that’s perfectly comfortable in its own skin, then it might be that the trick to ‘competing’ with Marvel is just to stop trying so hard.
…That was this week’s OpinionatedDavid article!!! Check back tomorrow for a new BearSleuth Spoiler Free Comic Book Bundle!!!