What separates the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe? Many fans believe it's the tone. Marvel goes for lighthearted fun while DC goes for intense gravitas, and it would seem that audiences prefer to laugh over being depressed.
The MCU is wildly successful, in large (and under-appreciated) part, because of its comedy. Marvel has great stories and great special effects, but also great laughs. This element has made their most unknown properties into blockbusters.
Should The DCEU Just Copy The MCU's Comedic Tone?
While hardcore DC fans remain loyal to the studio's recent releases, Warner Bros. is trying to adapt to the mostly negative responses. Would the solution be as easy as hiring a few comedy writers to add quips?
The answer is no. Marvel's comedy came naturally to its characters and universe. Warner Bros. should follow what they already have: great source material. As messy as it was, #BatmanVSuperman posed great questions about morality, heroism and accusations. The question alone, “Must there be a Superman?” is a wonderful one, because it makes you look beyond the tropes of the superhero genre. It’s philosophical, and asks questions for us to contemplate along with the characters.
How Marvel Gets The Balance Right — And Occasionally Wrong
Looking at all the movies Marvel has released so far, they carry quite the light tone. It’s fun and it’s for the whole family, but sometimes drama needs to stand its ground.
#TheAvengers is a great example of striking the right balance. Joss Whedon’s fantastic writing, surrounding a great story, had wonderful interplay between comedy and drama. The heroes don't particularly like each other at first, and their banter is hilarious, but when Thor is punished by witnessing the (apparent) death of Agent Coulson, we are faced with a heavy moment that forces the Avengers to unite.
Many of Marvel's best sequences have no humor at all. In the climactic battle between Captain America and Bucky in #TheWinterSoldier, drama carried the entire scene. That tension was built since The First Avenger. When it's revealed that Bucky has a conscience, we see him pull out Captain America from the water. The scene was emotional, dramatic, and hopeful. The comedic tone was barely used, and it worked.
#GuardiansoftheGalaxy is a mixture of oddity and action, and it’s awesome. It has a great balance between its action and comedy. But one scene focused on comedy too much and drama too little. When Gamora was in the middle of space, Star-Lord risked his own life to save her. The scene was very emotional, until — when they’re safe and sound — Star-Lord makes a joke that ruins the entire dramatic moment.
Yes, it was funny, but Gamora would have cared for Star-Lord a whole lot more after the scene if drama, not comedy, had closed it. Instead Gamora goes from being annoyed by Star-Lord to...still being annoyed by him. In this scene, the smile went to Star-Lord when it really belonged to Gamora.
Another example of comedy over drama comes from #AntMan. When Hope finally confronts Hank about the death of her mother, the drama spills out as Hank tells the tragic, heartbreaking story. A troubling relationship between a father and his daughter is resolved. But Ant-Man steals the moment from them by making a quip about family bonding. If only that had been cut from the scene, the drama would have fully sank in.
Is The MCU About To Get Way More Serious?
#CaptainAmericaCivilWar brought something new to the MCU, which is Black Panther. In a universe that has jokesters like Iron Man, Star-Lord and Ant-Man, #BlackPanther's scenes in Civil War were a breath of fresh air, shutting everyone up with his serious nature. It’s what the MCU needed to bring balance back to its storytelling. Creed director Ryan Coogler stated that Black Panther will be his most personal film to date. It's safe to assume that drama will take precedence over comedy.
#AvengersInfinityWar promises a dark turn when Thanos finally shows up. To really depict that hefty threat we must see that he’s pure evil. He wants to destroy Earth, and is infatuated with death itself. That is some scary stuff.
Infinity War doesn’t have to go way too dark, like most DC projects, but if a movie promises a character as powerful as Thanos, there should be some dire moments that put audiences in the realm of uncertainty. #TheEmpireStrikesBack is a great example — it had us worry about our heroes until the next chapter, and things got better.
Comedy is crucial to the MCU. It makes Marvel's movies fun, which DC's have been lacking in. At times, however, the comedy outweighs dramatic tension, and it hurts the weight of the characters. Black Panther and Infinity War are promising adjustments to these issues — as much as we love Tony Stark's irreverence and Peter Parker's snark, when Thanos finally shows up it'll be no laughing matter.