With the DC Cinematic Universe on the rise there has, to say the least, been a lot of contention with it's darker tone and the "no jokes" philosophy associated with it from the higher ups at Warner Bros. and DC. Obviously that is meant as a competitive jab to the rival (and significantly leading) Marvel Cinematic Universe, whom has built quite the level of success off of more lighthearted fare as Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and the more recent release of Ant-Man.
The DC Cinematic Universe kicked off in 2013 with the release of Zack Snyder's revisionist take on the Superman origin story – Man of Steel – and is set to continue with next year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (also from Snyder) and David Ayer's super villain mash-up, Suicide Squad.
I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think everything they've put out has been solid gold (even the not quite as favorable offerings like Iron Man 3 and The Incredible Hulk have still had their entertainment value and worthy seating in the pantheon of cinema epics). The fact that they so seamlessly built a cohesive universe to crossover with each other is nothing short of impressive. But what I think works best about them are the obvious sense of loyalty they have to the source material (barring some forgivable updates to certain backstories for the sake of the bigger picture) and the fact that they accept their world isn't all that serious. In fact...mass devastation and occasional fallen hero aside...it's pretty damn fun. As the movies should be.
The DC Cinematic Universe (or DCCU as it will hence forth be referred) has had a rougher road to travel. Despite all of its characters being owned by Warner Bros., DC seemed to favor self contained film franchises prior to the success of the MCU and their first major (and record setting) crossover, The Avengers.
As a result, there has been a few hits (Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy mainly comes to mind) as well as a few false starts (Superman Returns) and others that just simply failed to make it out of the gate entirely (Green Lantern). Personally, I choose to believe that Superman Returns (although technically a part of the original Christopher Reeve series) took place in the same universe as The Dark Knight. But seeing as the latter series is done and the former never got a second chance to fly...that belief is all for naught. Green Lantern had a lot of potential as a more "Marvel-esque" series on par with Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, but it just simply put forth a poor execution.
So with that we are now getting the aforementioned DCCU. It's a darker, more grounded take on the comic book characters that (it's said) audiences can relate to more. Basically our world is crappy so the film world needs to be crappy, too.
I suppose there's logic there.
The success of The Dark Knight and the desire to stand apart from the MCU are surely the main reasons for the darker approach currently being taken. But it has caused a bit of a rift amongst fans. Myself included, admittedly. I can understand the darker tone that Man of Steel took but I still find myself at odds with it. I think they went a little too far with it because, at the end of the day, Superman isn't a dark character. He should have been able to overcome things a little better than he did. But that's a tangent I won't get off on right now. I thought Superman Returns did a great job grounding the character in a more realistic world without compromising the morals that he stood for. But again...tangent.
Superman aside, there's also a lot of skepticism around the tone that Batman v Superman seems to be taking as well as some tension among fans with the now infamous look that Jared Leto's Joker is sporting in Suicide Squad.
Here's a refresher if you need it.
Yes, there are some misgivings about this direction. Questions can most definitely be asked. Such as, is it OK to update the characters and make the world seem more realistic when the source material holds up just fine as it is? Do you really need to re-imagine characters when millions of people already love them just the way they are?
The debate will go on forever. The DCCU will come and go and people will still probably be talking about whether or not it was the right plan. Ultimately only time will tell and the films will just have to stand on their own merits. Despite my feelings towards Man of Steel I am still looking forward to the next installments because I want to have faith in what they are doing and to see where it goes.
That said, I do think (after deliberating with myself on it for a while) feel that there is a certain level of appropriateness to what the DCCU is doing. It's been done before to reinvigorate the comics so it makes a lot of sense for them to repeat past success to reinvigorate their previously lofty film franchises.
The method is best summed up as:
The Grim 'n Gritty Era
When the DC Universe started to get a little carried away with itself in the comic books things got consolidated into a single, more cohesive series of books that were grounded and a little more realistic. Superman got a facelift a fresh start with John Byrne's The Man of Steel mini series (and subsequent main series relaunch), which held some significant inspiration to the similarly titled film. Alan Moore's Watchmen still tops a lot of graphic novel lists as the best work in comic book history and Frank Miller's seminal The Dark Knight Returns not only brought the character back from the campy impression of the 60s television series but also now acts as the primary source of reference for the DCCU's interpretation of the world's greatest detective.
The Grim 'n Gritty era brought a new take to the DC Universe that was more relatable to the aging audience whose childhood was spent reading the lighter fare. Following the threat of the Cold War, grown up readers still needed that escape into fantasy but they needed the stakes to be higher. And it worked.
So in a way it can be said that the DCCU – with it's darker tone and fresh take on its characters – is the Grim 'n Gritty era of the films to counter the lighter tone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is essentially a loose adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns (from the obvious style of Batman's costume – to his elevated age and grizzled look – to the titular fight between to the two powerhouse characters).
Now, I'm not here to say that I'm 100% on board with this being the best plan. I still think they went too dark with Superman. Even with a more realistic approach, John Byrne's comic book reboot didn't sacrifice the good nature of the character. The dynamic between Superman and Batman works because they are polar opposites fighting the same crusade. It can't be all dark and tense all the time. There's needs to be a counter balance.
Likewise, I can understand the more realistic approach to The Joker (referring to the gold plated grill he's sporting and how it's likely the result of Batman's armored fist punching some teeth out). It makes sense. Is it necessary? Not really. Will it work well on film? That remains to be seen. I'm going to try and remain optimistic but it can still go south. After all...I was also optimistic about Green Lantern, Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand...
When all is said and done it can't be said that the DCCU doesn't have a lot going for it. There's some serious talent involved and I can't wait to see what they manage to pull off in the long run. But there are still a lot of hurtles to get through. The next couple of movies really have to bring their A game and, ultimately, Justice League Part 1 cannot disappoint.
But one thing is for sure...whatever happens...it's going to be Grim 'n Gritty.
What do you all think? Sound off below and don't forget to follow me on Twitter @ThisIsJamesT for more random, unfiltered thoughts and geeky musings.