Marvel and DC have been rivals for over half a century, with competing comic book universes that have separated fans right down the middle. On the DC side, we have iconic heroes like Batman and Superman that together, make for the most potent combination in the industry. For Marvel, their stable of heroes may not be quite as top-heavy, but they’ve more than made up for this with the cohesion and storytelling of their Cinematic Universe. Additionally, the MCU has been aided by their seven year head start on DC, who are only now beginning to kick their own films into gear.
Even with Marvel’s head start, DC seems confident in their own ability to construct a shared film universe. The most intriguing thing about this whole situation though isn’t simply DC finally entering the fray. Rather, it’s the way they plan on doing it. It would be easy to use the MCU as a blueprint for success, and doing so would likely net them a similarly successful series of films. But you can bet DC knows the one way they can truly be competitive in a market already dominated by Marvel, and that’s by offering something entirely different.
Making things more “talent driven”
DC president Diane Nelson is an executive with a clear plan for the future of its movie universe. Speaking at Variety’s tech and entertainment summit, Nelson laid out the strategy of being more “talent driven” rather than the decidedly despotic Marvel approach. What does that mean exactly? In short, it’s a commitment toward letting their directors and writers spread their wings in a way that their Marvel counterparts would never allow.
For better or worse, Marvel Studios answers to one man: Kevin Feige. If Edgar Wright, Joss Whedon, and Jon Favreau’s shared displeasure at having their wings clipped is any indicator, the Marvel approach values cohesion over artistic individuality. According to Nelson, the single, shared universe that defines the MCU is something she sees as “handcuffing our creators into trying to work with the same storyline or force them to hold back characters or introduce certain characters.”
Learning from Marvel’s missteps
You’ll have a hard time convincing Marvel Studios that their shared universe has been anything but a rousing success. It’s made them billions of dollars, sparked a full-on cinematic movement, and for all intents and purposes it’s loved by droves of fans. Artistically though, their strategy has been spotty at best. The studio recently walled off their comic book division from the world of movies, putting it entirely in the hands of Feige and Disney. Directors have consistently felt constrained by studio directives. Even some actors have expressed concerns with being roped into contracts the limit their ability to do other projects.
Conversely, DC’s “talent driven” approach seeks to put things back in the hands of their creators. Directors like Zack Snyder have a chance to put their own personal touch on their projects, without having the studio looming behind them. We this in the variety of tones across their multiple properties, giving each one a unique and singular feel. The end result is having all their films and TV shows feel like well-rounded projects instead of 90-minute trailers for the next big movie.
Abandoning the shared universe
Part of the double-edge sword of Marvel is their 100% shared universe that spans both their TV shows and movies. Everything dating back to 2008 is interconnected in some special way, making for both an intriguing continuity and a creatively limiting approach. DC functions as the complete opposite of this. Gotham on FOX isn’t canonically linked to Arrow on the CW which isn’t connected at all to the movie universe kicking off with Batman v Superman next year.
Each show and movie has the chance to stand alone as an entertaining, self-contained property, thereby allowing directors and actors the chance to build their own respective universes. And while the movie universe will be connected enough to work up to a two-part Justice League saga, it’s worth noting that they’re working with what amounts to a clean slate.
Whether or not DC’s run in the opposite direction from Marvel’s tried and true strategy works, it’ll at least represent something different. DC isn’t going to win over any Marvel fanatics adhering to the same strategy. With that, it makes a whole lot of sense for them to try and provide an alternative to people feeling fatigued by the ever-growing MCU.
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