The perfect time for DC Entertainment to create an expanded cinematic universe was in 2006, linking Superman Returns with Batman Begins. But they didn't. The second best time was in 2008 with The Dark Knight. That was also the year The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man came out and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began. But, once again, DC missed that opportunity. The third best time was in 2011/2012 with the end of Smallville and the premiers of Green Lantern and The Dark Knight Rises. But that didn't happen either. Now, MCU's third phase is about to begin while DC is still on their first phase. So far, we only have one mediocre film in the DC cinematic universe (DCCU). It’s no secret that DC is lagging far behind Marvel in films, box office sales, reviews, and merchandizing. DC missed its golden opportunities and it is far too late for them to catch up to Marvel. But still, there is hope. Here are seven things DC can do to give Marvel a run for its money:
1) Focus on the Three Key Ingredients to a Great Film
Every great movie shares the three key ingredients: 1) A great director 2) A great screenplay 3) Great actors. What made The Dark Night Trilogy so great? The brilliance of Christopher Nolan; tight, well-written screenplays by David Goyer and the Nolan brothers; and a host of great actors from Christian Bale to Michael Caine, and from Morgan Freeman to Heath Ledger. MCU also employs the three key ingredients, which is one reason why their films are so successful. On the other hand, Green Lantern did not have a good screenplay, and had a director and actors who were wrong for the film. [Man of Steel](movie:15593) had actors who were more than capable, but only had a so-so screenplay to work with and a so-so director. If Warner Bros. and DC can get their hands on great directors, writers, and actors, then great films will follow.
2) Stop mistaking a dark tone for depth
Ever since the days of the great acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavski, we have known that playing tone or emotion is the death of good acting—and, on a side note, the death of good directing. Man of Steel was so focused on creating a darker tone to match the successful Dark Knight Trilogy that they forgot what creates darkness: depth. The Dark Knight Trilogy was full of depth (brought to you by the three key ingredients of a great film), but Man of Steel and Green Lantern were more shallow than a kiddie pool. In addition, the deeper the material, the more opportunities there are for humor and contrast, which brings us to…
3) Utilize Humor
It’s no secret that people love to laugh and seek out material they find funny. This is one reason why the MCU movies are so successful: they can be hilarious while being dark and deep at the same time. In his quintessential book on acting, Audition, casting director Michael Shurtleff claims, “The heavier the situation, the more we are needful of humor to endure it.” This kind of contrast will make the dark moments even darker when directors and actors effectively utilize humor. The Dark Knight Trilogy, in spite of its dark overtones, was not without its humorous moments. Man of Steel had attempts at humor, but the jokes fell flat due to wooden acting and poor direction (see the three key ingredients to a great film). Laughter not only eases the tension, but it can help the audience relate to and care about the characters, which flows into…
4) Make Us Care About the Characters
In the book Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, screenwriting professor Eric Edson shares the nine ingredients to creating a memorable hero. In order to be likable and relatable, characters must be:
Just Plain Nice
Loved by Friends and Family
The more ingredients the character possesses, the more the audience will be able to connect with the character on an emotional level. In order to be effective, the nine ingredients must be established within the first ten minutes of the movie—yet we don’t meet the main character of Man of Steel until 20 minutes into the film. Robert Downey, Jr. completely owns these ingredients within the first few minutes of Iron Man. So does Christian Bale in Batman Begins. Contrast this with Ryan Reynolds’s 0-ingredient (according to Edson) portrayal of Hal Jordan.
5) Stop Trying to do the Exact Opposite of Marvel
While it is important not to copy someone else’s work directly, you also do not want to completely ignore what makes the product successful. Here are some things that make the Marvel movies successful:
Having the three key ingredients to a great film (obviously)
Likeable, relatable characters
Heroes with a strong sense of humanity
Lots of color
Though when you look at it, nearly every successful movie franchise, not just Marvel, owns this criteria for success. However, DC seems to reject all of these things (except with The Dark Knight Trilogy), hence the reason why their cinematic universe is off to a rocky start.
6) Go for Suspension of Belief Rather than an Overtly Fantastic Feel
When it comes to this, no one puts it better than Drew McWeeny:
“Laughter also allows audiences to swallow some of the more ridiculous things that they're asked to buy into with modern event films. Suspension of disbelief is always a sort of a magic trick if you're dealing with aliens or superheroes, but you add a talking raccoon with a fetish for giant guns and a talking tree creature that is meant to be the emotional heart of the film, and you'd better figure out exactly how to embrace that absurdity, make the jokes that win the audience over, and use that humor to smuggle in the sentiment. If you've got an audience laughing, you've got them willing to accept things.”
Yet, Man of Steel presented everything with an in-your-face sic-fi feel which gave the audience no room to suspend their disbelief and buy into it. Add in the flat acting and it’s no wonder why audiences failed to connect with the film.
7) Fire Zack Snyder
Let’s see what some of Rotten Tomatoes’ top critics have to say about Zack Snyder:
“Snyder is an overkill director. 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch are the films of a man who doesn't know his own strength… He does bloated masculinist spectacle: Baz Luhrmann with ankle weights…You want action to solve the drama and restore the lightness. Snyder doesn't have that kind of classical smoothness.” –Wesley Morris, Grantland
“The grim tones favored by Nolan (and Snyder) may be a natural fit for the nocturnal exploits of Batman, but when it comes to a flying man in blue and red spandex, a little jocularity can go a long way.” –Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
“General Zack – I mean Zack Snyder, the director -- proves to be as single-minded as General Zod…Snyder doesn't aim to celebrate the freshness and innocence of the world's first comic-book superhero, or have fun with him as man and Superman, the way director Richard Lester did, brilliantly, in Superman II and parts of Superman III. In this bloated version of an ‘origin story,’ he laboriously depicts Superman's growing pains as they stretch out for three decades, from childhood and adolescence to his belated emergence in a revamped version of his trademark blue union suit.” –Michael Sragow, Orange County Register
“For now, audiences can only speculate as to the hidden depths of Cavill, who in Zack Snyder’s busy, bombastic creation myth is reduced to little more than a joyless cipher or dazzling physical specimen…Snyder tries to up the spectacle ante with ever more explosions, crashes, thermal blasts, topological realignments, gunfire and mano-a-mano fistfights. But the result is a punishing sense of diminishing returns and a genre that has finally reached the point of mayhem-induced exhaustion.” –Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
To cap it all off, we have this quote from Zack Snyder himself:
“I think that, honestly, the thing I was surprised about in response to Superman was how everyone clings to the Christopher Reeve version of Superman, you know? How tightly they cling to those ideas ... I really wanted to show the violence is real, people get killed or get hurt, and it's not fun or funny. And I guess for me, it was like I wanted a hero in Superman that was a real hero and sort of reflected the world we live in now.”
While recognizing that American’s love the ideal, heroic Superman—which was wildly successful—Zack Snyder wants to do the exact opposite. As long as he is around, the future of the DCCU looks just as bleak as the reviews for Man of Steel.