Why is the DC Cinematic Universe Identity Crisis So Important?

So here’s a trip for us this week. I thought after such serious topics lately, we’d get a little bit light-hearted and talk about the disastrous DC Cinematic Universe. Now, before anyone gets in a huff, yes, the movies can be enjoyable and interesting. And, personally, I love the Nolan Batman films and slightly favor DC anyway, so I get it. But we all must objectively accept that Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad were not cohesive, effective films.

The DC Cinematic Universe has become like that friend you have, you know the one, that always promises they won’t get hella wasted and keep on expressing how great the night will be with them. And you do love them; they’re bombastic and interesting, but also every single time you go out they ruin all those great plans they promised and become a jumbled mess. And though you try to give them the benefit of the doubt, they do it. Every. Single. Time.

So why does is matter more than being this awkward, nation-wide embarrassing friend?

Because though it’s gaining money, it’s forcefully exposing Hollywood for a thing they do too frequently and too lazily: copying. Hollywood has a terribly habit of going for the buck rather than the bang. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am so impressed with cinema and am quite the movie-lover. But it doesn’t mean that big money doesn’t still mean attempts at big shortcuts.

This whole franchise is so painful because people are putting their hard work into this and it’s becoming a joke. Yet because so much money’s been invested, they won’t let it die so it can’t be swept under the rug. The copying problem is becoming so blatant because the DCU refuses to find its own identity, and its making this cinematic borrowing out of laziness and shortcuts over artistic borrowing a glaring issue.

Now, before I can truly talk about how the copying issue is panning out, I have to be a good argumentative researcher and give proof on how painfully copycat and identity-less the DC Cinematic Universe is. To pull evidence, I’m going to discuss and dissect Suicide Squad & Man of Steel (as I couldn’t get up the energy to watch Batman v. Superman and REALLY don’t want to get hyped up on my anger over Martha). Man of Steel will be compared to Captain America: The First Avenger and the Nolan Batman Trilogy. I’ll explain why that makes sense in a minute. Suicide Squad, of course, will be compared to Guardians of the Galaxy, and will be an easily cringeworthy comparison but it’s needed.

Ok, so Man of Steel first. Man of Steel was the first official movie of the DC Cinematic Universe. Before we even start, the title itself gives a serious tone difference. It’s not Superman. It’s the more gritty title, Man of Steel. Now let’s get back to that Batman thing: As the Nolan trilogy was so successful, the first place the DC movies tried to find their identity/voice was in the grittiness of Batman. While that’s one way to look at it and it’s at least some sort of identity, be the dark version while Marvel is light-hearted, it doesn’t work because the whole point is that Batman is the grittiest part of of the DC universe, so to have everyone JUST as gritty as him was a little intense and didn’t really feel like DC. Ergo there’s this sort of identity crisis, because none of these characters except Batman really feel like themselves. I won’t even get too into my personal rant about how in the comics/cartoons Superman killing people is always a much more culminating, terrifying thing than the climax of a first ever movie. It’s a major plot point that any of the few times Superman ends up killing someone it basically drives him over the edge into insanity/totalitarianism, so the ending of Man of Steel is a lot to handle. Batman is grim and shadowy, but Superman is meant to be the more hopeful of the two and is often called the boy scout of the group. Though showing a grittier side of him is cool, the movie seems to take it too far and basically make a totally different character.

Then there’s Captain America. The first Cap movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, focused a lot on Cap finding his own morality in the role he had been given. Was he a symbol, a soldier, a friend, a hero? He was finding his place with the cards he had been dealt. Now, let’s think about the internal turmoil of Superman during Man of Steel. Eerily similar description of character arc, eh? Except, you know, in the end of The First Avenger Cap makes the ultimate sacrifice and is a truly hero, while Superman destroys a whole city and kills a man, saving people but also causing horrible mass destruction and terror. Supes is the edgy, gritty one, get it guys?

Its frustrating with these movies, because it’s interesting and clever that they want to push envelopes. But they don’t push it in an artistic way, but more of an edgy “see, Dad, look what I can do” type way. The premise of Batman v. Superman actually really interested me. It was always a big thing for Batman that he thought superheroes, though helpful, were also serious dangers. So him seeing Supes ruin Metropolis was a big deal. But then the movie became an over-bloated clusterfuck that didn’t know how to solve its own big moral dilemma or how to really get their characters, and half-assed the worst solution to a serious problem that I’ve ever heard. (God dammit, ended up at the Martha shit when I didn’t want to). But basically, something with promise got overrun with all these directions and distractions that made the movie a mess instead of what it could have been.

Now to Suicide Squad. Oh, neon bright, Hot Topic-esque, hot mess, trainwreck Suicide Squad. Yet again, I was hopeful and excited when first hearing about this movie. I love DC villains so much and also love Harley Quinn. I wanted the brilliant yet abused woman’s story in a movie. I wanted her to be properly portrayed and invested in. I wanted DC to try to be fun again and have those elements of whimsy. I can see it, DC is darker. But it still has fun, still has comical characters, still has heart and light moments. Suicide Squad seemed like a hope for me after the “edgy” gloom-fest of Man of Steel (NOTE: his adoptive father basically walked into a goddamn tornado for Christ’s sakes. I can’t.)

God, was I disappointed.

Oh, Suicide Squad was (trying) to be more humorous, so I’ll give it that. But god, was it lost on its own identity and focus. Was it twisted? Was it partially a love story? Was it about Enchantress? Or Harley and Joker? Why did Amanda Waller’s harsh tactics seem more violently homicidal than calculating genius? When did the squad members become friends? Where was their bonding? How much harder can I painfully snort in laughter when poor El Diablo calls them his new family out of the blue and with no reasonable motivation?

So many things were wrong.

But I’m getting off my point. Now let’s look to the highly popular Guardians of the Galaxy. That was a whimsical story with a crew of characters, but it had a focus as well as a clear main character. There was fun older musical hits and a misfits vibe that very much worked. And no one bonded until they had to go through, shockingly, seriously bonding experiences.

Suicide Squad tried painfully hard to be Guardians of the Galaxy. To the point one of the songs they used in Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack, Spirit in the Sky, was repeated for for Suicide Squad. Also, as Starlord was our main and Gamora our secondary, Suicide Squad put emphasis on Deadshot and Harley. The tone, feel, etc. of Guardians of the Galaxy were simply attempted to be copied to try to gain a buck and try to show the DC Cinematic Universe could be a contender next to Marvel. But the thing is, the Suicide Squad is about unsocial supervillians being forced to save people to lessen their prison sentences. Though a team, it was still based around selfish self-interest. Yes, some people ended up caring about one another and being more empathetic. But certainly others didn’t. Guardians of the Galaxy have a different identity: they were all complex and a bit anti-hero, but never actively trying to ruin the rest of the world (save Gamora at times, but we know that’s complicated as well). The Guardians generally don’t want the universe to go goddamn haywire, even if they are thieves and at times selfish people. The Squad doesn’t give a shit. They most times only care because they will be better off if they do. Yet the movie foregoes the logical, complex identity of the Suicide Squad to favor a more Guardians-esque one that doesn’t really make sense.

I’m sure you’ve all noticed that I’ve mentioned identity a bunch. And it’s honestly the root of the problem, and the root of the negative copying in Hollywood and all other media. I mentioned it in my YA dystopia post: media should not be about straight copying. It should be about interesting, thoughtful stories.  

So don’t think I’m writing off all remakes. As the phrase goes: everything’s a remix. Furthermore, movies always do this, and in a way it’s not always a bad thing. One of my favorite books, Gone With a Wind, is a variant and draws from a lot of Wuthering Heights. The famed teen movie 10 Things I Hate About You is a Shakespeare retelling of Taming of the Shrew. Copying or borrowing from other mediums and pieces just needs to be done with innovation, invention, and creativity. It can’t just be “I’m going to copy for the sake of fame/money/etc.”. Therein lies the exact problem of the DC Cinematic Universe. It isn’t using other material to grow its identity and make its work stronger. Its borrowing from other things to make more money and to very directly try to compete, but in turn that inherently makes their work weaker.

The hard truth is that you need good characters and good plot more than you need a good thing to copy.

So thanks DC Cinematic Universe, for being such a blatant rip-off fest that doesn’t know its own identity so that people look at moves a little more critically. Thanks for making people expect more. That’s how it should be. More and more people have been getting away with copying in recent years, and hopefully this DC fiasco helps shut that down more. In the 90’s, everyone knew of the Disney rip-offs, but knew they were shit plots and just awkwardly shrugged at them. But the fact identity-less copy movies have made it to deep Hollywood with high production budgets proves something needs to stop. No one should expect half-ass copying in a major motion picture.

Now, to give my main squeeze DC a break, despite the cinematic mess, they are amazing with their animated movies and cartoons. A lot of them are on Netflix, and I highly recommend them. I particularly love Flashpoint Paradox, Son of Batman, Young Justice, The Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited. DC isn’t trash and that is not at all the point of this post. But they have lost their cinematic identity, which is a serious and true problem. If they took notes from their animated universe, which is innovative, creative, compelling, and clever, they could pull out some bomb-ass movies. I still love them, no matter how much the last three have been painful to watch. They just need to do some self-care work to get their identity back together again.

And last but not least, they made Batman and I can’t really ever hate anyone who made Batman.

After watching all this madness shake out, and really analyzing what the hell has been going on, what do we do as viewers to make the cinematic world a better place?

What do you guys think?

Sincerely,

Stephanie Marceau

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