I spend too much money at the movies. And then I think about the movies I’ve seen too much. I’ve gone to Man of Steel and Iron Man 3 multiple times this summer and have enjoyed both films immensely on each viewing. I’ve also reflected about each film, their particular place in their particular comic book movie universe and why there has been so little controversy around Iron Man 3 and so much around Man of Steel. Almost a month into Man of Steel‘s theatrical run and three months into Iron Man 3‘s, I am ready to draw some conclusions. In a nutshell, those conclusions are: Marvel Characters adapt to film more readily than DC characters, Marvel Comics is better at making movies than DC Comics Marvel Characters are praised for doing things DC characters are criticized for doing, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films harmed DC Comics movies more than they helped, DC Comics Characters are more important than Marvel Comics characters
Marvel Characters Adapt to Film More Readily Than DC Characters
It’s easier to adapt Marvel Comics characters into movies versions than it is to adapt DC Comics characters. The Marvel concepts seem to inherently draw larger audiences than DC concepts do. Unless we assume that the talent involved in making Marvel movies is vastly superior to the talent involved in making DC movies – which I do not – there is something else at play here.
Teenager gets bitten by spider and develops side effects? Sure. 98 pound weakling volunteers for experimental drug treatment and becomes heroic? Why not? Billionaire develops technology that improves the world after a near death experience? Happens all the time. People acquire birth defects – mutations if you will – that make them different from others? Didn’t I just read about this on the internet?
You’ve got me at a Norse god, but the prior concepts don’t stretch the imagination too far.
But an alien who can fly because of earth’s yellow sun? A fearless test pilot joins an intergalactic police force armed by rings that form green energy constructs? A peaceful amazon warrior princess? A man from Atlantis? Tougher.
I get a feeling I understand why the Batman movies are more successful than the other DC movies, don’t you?
Whether people relate more readily to Marvel characters than they do to DC characters (perhaps) or whether DC characters are more sacrosanct than Marvel characters (probable), the issue of whether Marvel characters lend themselves more readily to adaptation really isn’t really up for debate anymore, is it?
Take a look at the track records of Marvel movies vs. DC movies in terms of revenue. Audience response is a measure of how well the material is adapted and audiences vote with their dollar.
You can see a terrific infographic by FizXEntertainment that lays out the money these movies have made since the release of 1966’s Batman by clicking HERE.
Through last summer (Marvel’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises), it has Marvel movies bringing in approximately $5.6 billion to DC’s $3.9 billion. That’s a lot of billions any way you slice it. There’s money to be made adapting comic books for the big screen. Marvel is making more of it.
The money means more people want to see the Marvel movies. And, generally, they are more popular with critics, too.
Take this summer (from Rotten Tomatoes)
Iron Man 3 78% positive
Man of Steel 56% positive
or the Summer of 2012
Marvel’s The Avengers 92% positive
The Dark Knight Rises 87% positive
Captain America: The First Avenger 79% positive
Thor 77% positive
Green Lantern 26% positive
and, finally, 2010
Iron Man 2 72% positive
Jonah Hex 12% positive
I am no mathematician, but that feels like a track record to me.
Marvel Comics Is Better at Making Movies than DC Comics
The Avengers is a better movie than Man of Steel. The first two X-Men movies are better than Green Lantern. Way better. The wildcard here is the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. Those are very good films. Not perfect, but very good. Once those are shelved, a sweeping statement that Marvel movies are better than DC movies would be hard to debate.
Though Marvel has suffered through epic misfires (the Punisher films, Daredevil) and has made bad movies (the Fantastic Four movies), all these movies look like masterpieces compared to Green Lantern or Supergirl or Superman IV. All of this may have something to do with fact that Marvel has control over many of their properties (not X-Men or Fantastic Four or Spider-Man). They have their own studio. DC farms their characters out, though they all fall under the Warner Bros. umbrella. Marvel has a unifying vision for the characters they own. DC specifically does not.
Marvel, after Iron Man hit big, made a plan. They’ve been following it.
DC seems to be hoping a plan will emerge. At some time. At some point.
Marvel Characters Are Praised for Doing Things DC Characters Are Criticized for Doing
Man of Steel – Metropolis has seen better days
There is plenty of property damage in Man of Steel. It seems that three miles of Metropolis get leveled in Superman’s battle with General Zod. The audience doesn’t get to see many corpses but people died, kids. They had to as buildings crashed to the ground, as hero and villain were knocked through them, as explosions reigned and civilians were targeted and… wait a minute. I lost track.
Am I describing Man of Steel or Avengers?
Avengers – New York doesn’t fare very well
Man of Steel has taken much criticism for its carnage. Specifically the (SPOILER HERE, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN MAN OF STEEL) choice that Superman makes to end Zod’s attack has raised concerns and incited debate. People expect that Superman should be better than he was portrayed in Man of Steel. Okay, fine.
But is it okay (of course, it’s okay) to think Tony Stark’s blood lust is cool when he promises to kill his nemesis The Mandarin (though there is some kind of backing off from that threat in the film)? What does it mean that Tony has left dead men in his wake since the first Iron Man movie? When he cuts off an antagonist’s hand and says “yeah, you take a minute” as the foe staggers away, that’s cool, right? How would we react if Superman did the same thing? Not well, I would argue.
Marvel and DC characters are held to different standards. There was great debate and angst when Christian Bale’s Batman allowed Ras Al Ghul to die in Batman Begins saying “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.” That’s quite a bar. There seemed to be none when Captain America was killing Nazis. But they’re Nazi’s right?
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Films Harmed DC Comics Movies More Than They Helped
It was very, very cool to watch Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne raid Wayne Enterprises for armor, appropriate vehicles and create his costume in a manner that seemed “real.” It was equally cool to see the adaptations of Two Face and the Joker, classic comic book villains, in a real setting. I thought it was ingenious.
Now, after seeing the Christoper Nolan produced Man of Steel, I think it’s a problem.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved Man of Steel. Loved it. It worked for me, overtime. The time-worn concept of Superman was adapted for a real world context. That was the key to “breaking” the film according to David S. Goyer, the film’s writer. Okay, fine.
BUT… how does the Flash work in that world? How does Wonder Woman? The Martian Manhunter? Green Lantern?
Answer: They don’t. Not readily.
The Avengers didn’t worry about the realism. Tesseract? Norse gods? Raging green monster? Check, check, check.
Comic books are NOT the real world. Nor is Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or the Harry Potter movies. Since when did DC decide that realism was the only way to take on superheroes?
I guess since the Nolan Batman movies made billions.
Strict adherence to this model is a mistake.
DC Comics Characters Are More Important Than Marvel Comics Characters
I think the bottom line is that people care more about DC characters than they do about Marvel characters. Superman means something to people.
He is a symbol. He is justice and truth and fair play and America. He is trustworthy.
He is absolutely not ironic.
Batman is a myth that cannot be altered.
He exemplifies physical and mental perfection (save for that dressing up as a bat thing).
Batman doesn’t kill. Ever.
But the X-Men? Iron Man? The Hulk? Whatever. Reboot them every few years. Take them out of costumes. Put them in costumes. Just make them cool.
But Superman? Where the hell are the red shorts?
And when was the last time you read about a Marvel character being compared to Jesus Christ?
We care more about the DC characters. They mean more to us.
It’s not a contest. I want Marvel movies to keep coming! I want them to be good. But, I want more DC movies. And I want them to be good, too. It’s harder to do DC films, harder to adapt the characters. It’s apparently almost impossible to do so with a plan in mind. But, Warner Bros knows there is an avid audience for these characters and concepts. It’s THE SAME audience as exists for the Marvel characters.
Let’s go, Warner Bros. We are all pulling for you! Make it work!