Saturday, June 29, 2013

What's DC doing, really?

I just got around to watching Man of Steel, DC/Warner Bros' latest attempt at making a Superman movie. For all the explosions, and impressive destruction, the lasting impression is not of the movie itself, but the lack of direction from DC. It just doesn't seem like they care.
I will try to explain, but first let me just say that while I am a Marvel fanboy, I also enjoy the comics from the Distinquished Competition. Titles like JSA, Green Arrow and Teen Titans have usually kept me interested. But it doesn't stop with "interesting". Some of the best comics I have read have had the label "DC". In fact, one of my top ten favorite storylines was a Superman comic.

So I always enter the theater with somewhat of an expectation. You can then imagine the result when I was watching movies like Green Lantern or Superman Returns. There was preciously little positive about either of them. The new Batman trilogy is ok for what it is: Action movies with cool tech, crazy villains and needlessly complicated storylines. But it's not Batman to me. There's a point where they forgot to sit back and realize that they were making a superhero movie, not an action movie set in the real world. Why is that a problem? Well, picture a Superman in the Dark Knight-trilogy universe. Certainly not superpowered. And this is the problem for me. The times WB have managed to stay true to the comics (for instance Superman Returns), they have made awful movies, and the times they have made good movies (Batman Begins) they steered so far off track from the source material that the movies barely have anything in common with the comics. And in either of the cases there is certainly no room for building towards a team-up.

Maybe it's unfair to expect a Justice League movie, and it's definitely unfair to compare single-hero movies like Iron Man and Thor to Batman and Superman. After all, Batman is more recognizeable than the entire Avengers roster put together. But it's not unreasonable to expect more from WB, and it's not unfair to compare the dedication from Marvel Studios to the lack of a plan from DC/WB. You have to marvel at the way Marvel Studios seamlessly combined the different themes of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America to build towards The Avengers, and then seriously push all the right buttons. The single-hero movies felt different, but similar. They were different because they obvously had different plots, took place in different times/worlds. But you still got a sense that it all took place in the same universe. Obviously reinforced by characters appearing in all the movies, but it was more than that too. It was the feeling that these were superhero comics, just translated to movies.

I will be honest, Man of Steel had its good moments (And some embarrasingly bad ones, like the forced relation between Lois Lane and Superman). We finally saw an all out brawl between Superman and a villain of equal physical strength, which was cool. The Krypton tech was neat and the costumes were nice. But the plot was bland, and you just didn't feel for any of the characters. Why spend that much time telling background stories when you still don't get any sympathy for the characters? Look to the two new Star trek movies. Both had villains similar to General Zod. All were exiles simply trying to get even, but were you you feel for Nero and Khan both good and bad, you end up feeling nothing for Zod. He's just there as something for Superman to hit. Same can be said about the main character. Where is the adversity he has to face, for us to see him as the deserving hero? Here it is easy to compare him to the Thor movie, which really got that part right, a hero who has to prove him self trough a series of trials, and ultimately make the right choices regardless of his powers. And this is not just about writing, but about movie making. Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers (and Star Trek, since I mentioned it) go out of their way with the right combination of camera angles, music, choices of actors, and so on, and the results are epic.

All in all Man of Steel just wasn't as epic as it should have been. And you didn't leave the theater anticipating the next move/movie from DC. Keep in mind, movies like Iron Man 2 or Captain America are not masterpieces by any measurment, and as individual films they are quite possibly surpassed by Man of Steel. But they felt like parts of something more, and that made them not only better, but also more true to the comic. A key word here is "continuity". I said it before: It was deliciously apparent that Marvel were in control of their own characters. It doesn't feel like DC is in full control over theirs. And when corporate people and executives think they can do better than actual comic book people, all we will get is re-make after re-make.

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