Has the DCEU Finally Found the MCU’s Achilles’ Heel?

Does the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have a weakness? What does the super successful, billion-dollar making franchise lack? Marvel films offer complex characters and intriguing, action-packed narratives infused with scintillating visual spectacles. Not to mention, Marvel President Kevin Feige has presented an interdependent universe meticulously planned in such a way that each standalone installment impacts and intertwines with major mash-ups. So, what can be missing from the mix?

Joaquin Phoenix Joker
Joaquin Phoenix attends the premiere of Warner Bros Pictures ‘Joker’ on September 28, 2019, in Hollywood, California | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The MCU has seen its fair share of formidable foes come up against the Avengers. From Hela, who broke Thor’s hammer to Thanos, who tossed the Incredible Hulk across the room and Ultron, who wanted to eliminate humanity with an “evolve or die” mission, the villains have been captivating. However, have they been as crucial as individuals? Have they retained reasons to exist other than to threaten the heroes we have come to know and love? 

While some will argue that Thanos and Killmonger were fleshed-out villains, two villains in 23 movies is not a great ratio. Not to mention, they didn’t receive standalone installments chronicling their respective, pre-Avenger lives. However, the DCEU recently released a movie about a villain — Joker — and, Warner Bros. allegedly plans to continue down this path. So, has the DCEU discovered a way to combat the MCU? 

DCEU villains vs. MCU heroes 

Everyone knows that Marvel is under the Disney umbrella; meaning, a villain-centric movie that glamorizes the road to madness, hatred, revenge, and retribution is not going to come from the House of Mouse anytime soon (or forever for that matter). However, DC is under Warner Bros. and clearly, the brand identity Warner Bros is aiming to protect is not as child-oriented, considering Joker was not suitable for a young demographic.

R-ratings aside, focusing on a villain sends the message that villain tales — and their stories — are suitable for a Marvel viewing audience. Marvel movies put their heroes at the center, for the heroes are the role models, not the villains. 

By placing villains front and center, DC has stumbled upon a path that Marvel cannot traverse without sacrificing, or at least putting in jeopardy, its long-term brand equity. DC has found Marvel’s Achilles’ heel, so to speak. Rather than trying to combat Marvel’s success with Superman, the DCEU should combat Captain America with Joker and Lex Luthor, for Marvel will never title a movie, Thanos. Meaning, the DCEU can aim to corner the market, capturing the Marvel viewing audience that yearns for a few darker, dastardly, deranged, and deadly tales. A little more grit, a little less goodness. 

Warner Bros. allegedly plans to produce more villain-themed DCEU movies 

Reports indicate that, following the success of Joker, Warner Bros. plans to pump out a slew of movies with villains at the center of the narrative. While the studio was initially hesitant to produce Joker, the low budget and big payout make a round of similar movies likely. 

As of now, rumor has it that a movie with Lex Luthor as president is on Warner Bros.’ radar – the film would be a dark political drama, and likely inspire some reflection given our nation’s current state of affairs.