Hmmm, running out of holiday-themed ideas… I know! I’ll just ramble about something I like, and call it good! Like I always do! 😉
Seriously, I’m hoping you enjoy reading this blog at least half as much as I enjoy writing it. 🙂
Today, I muse a bit about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (this is getting to be a common thing with me, isn’t it?) But, more specifically, about MCU Copycatting.
Copycatting is nothing new. Someone comes along with a new idea that happens to work out (re: make great, big piles of money), and suddenly everyone tries to do it again. It worked once, didn’t it? Made a lot of money, very quickly. And “there is nothing quite as wonderful as money, money, money.”
(ignore the naked guy at the end)
What copycats often fail to understand is how this new idea worked, why it worked. They see it, try to break it down into a formula, perhaps tweak it a little to put their own spin on it. Result: complete and absolute crap. At least 98% of the time. It is a rare thing to get something right when someone else already has gotten it right. Being a hack is common, but being a good hack is not.
“It must be because of the sex, violence, swearing, and drug use!” says one person regarding the success of one movie, completely ignoring the story, the plot, the theme, the characters, etc. And thus the industry in inundated with sex, violence, swearing, and drug use, and robbed of stories, plots, themes, characters, etc.
“It must be because of the special effects!” says another person, with exactly the same effect.
“It must be because of the dragons!”
“It must be because of (insert anything that is actually the vehicle for the story and not the story itself)!”
“It must be because they put several superheroes together!”
Now, while that one is more difficult to argue with, perhaps we should ask why that matters. How did Marvel do it? Well, they took their time, and they had a plan from the beginning. They had loose, but visible, connections running between the first several movies, so it felt perfectly natural for them to come together for Avengers. They established the characters, each with their own story, and then they had these characters interact with each other, and then go their separate ways, with the promise of more to come, both for individual stories and for coming back together. Above all, they utilized quality storytelling.
The execution of this was much more complicated, of course, but it really was that simple.
So, in traditional Hollywood fashion, they completely missed the point. Not to say there isn’t anything of value, mind you, in these copycat works. There are pros and cons to everyone’s respective approaches. But, sometimes, it can be tragically hilarious, or just tragic, you know?
Let’s start off (and I am dividing this between a few posts) with the first one we all think of when we think “Avenger copycats,” namely: DC. Specifically, the Warner Bros. and their Justice League efforts.
DC, like most everyone else, was surprised by the success of Avengers and the films leading up to it. This is particularly ironic since their own success with Batman Begins and Dark Knight likely helped pave the way for the public to accept Avengers, or, rather, go nuts about it. They had two good, solid Batman movies, and while Dark Knight Rises, was a low note to end on, it was still plenty enjoyable.
No great wonder why they gave Christopher Nolan the project of beginning the Justice League movies, between the Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, that’s one heck of a resume.
However, with capital like that, you’d think DC and Warner (and Christopher Nolan) could have spent it more wisely than they have with their current Justice League efforts.
Man of Steel has some points I liked, particularly involving the anti-state theme, but as an introduction to the “DC Comics Shared Film Universe” it felt sub-par. Firstly, they had virtually no apparent connection to future Justice League movies, whereas Iron Man had Phil Coulson, Nick Fury, and a tease that this was just the beginning of something huge. Other problems include how the world’s introduction to Superman involved a massive, literally-earth-shaking event which cost so many lives and so much damage that it would take years to recover, concluded by a prolonged battle which was just two super-strong guys wailing on each other until Superman finally killed his enemy, which is a huge upset to the classic Superman character. And this is the introduction. So what’s there to build up to now? When the world has already been shaken?
To add to this, they’re not establishing each character first, just slamming them together in Batman v Superman, then again in the Justice League movies. This is a colossal mistake for DC, especially as Christian Bale is already an iconic and recent Batman figure.
In short: they are operating without a plan. As opposed to Marvel, whose president, Kevin Feige, has explicitly stated that they’ve “always had a plan.” It’s like DC is trying to dig for gold with a toothbrush, while Marvel is using heavy machinery.
Which is quite a shame because DC really does have an impressive array of characters, including heroes, villains, and normal people.
And Nolan really did do some new, daring things in Man of Steel. For one thing, having Lois Lane know Superman’s secret identity from the beginning, instead of being easily fooled by a pair of glasses. Also, while it is absolutely true that Superman does not kill, having him kill Zod was more than a little daring, both showing how it hurt in his heart, and how the strongest man alive still needs support from a woman to deal with the emotional stress of what he just had to do.
So, there is great potential, but unless DC and Warner Bros manage to work according to a plan, this effort will simply pale in comparison to to the MCU.
In contrast to this, we have the DC heroes on TV, in Arrow and The Flash, airing on the CW.
In DC’s defense, they were airing Arrow before Marvel aired Agents of Shield, so it doesn’t qualify simply as copycatting. These two shows have been very well done so far, in my opinion, including their interaction with each other. I was so psyched when they introduced Barry Allen and super-powered humans in general on Arrow, not to mention debuting Cait and Cisco. The one thing about the shows which concerns me are rumors I’ve heard about adding a third series to these two, namely something about the Suicide Squad. This would be a bad idea for at least two reasons: 1) They already have a Suicide Squad movie in the works, but even that is a bad idea because 2) while villains may be entertaining, they are only half of the equation. We need and want heroes.
Also, there have been, from the beginning, strong indicators that Arrow has been following a specific plan, instead of throwing things together willy-nilly. The Flash seems less tied down in that regard, but they are still telling the story in an entertaining way.
So, time will have to tell, but I have little hope for DC on the big screen, especially as they compete with Marvel, unless they start learning from their rival. But as for television, they’re doing pretty good, and they have the potential to keep doing so for a few years yet.
Certainly they could learn from Marvel when it comes to announcing things. DC told their shareholders about their Justice League lineup of movies, while Marvel told their fans. Oh, and DC forbids their fans from posting their trailers, while Marvel encourages their fans to share everything official, even invites them to their announcement so they can share everything, thus gaining a tremendous amount of free advertising. Yeah, Marvel’s definitely winning the race with these particular copycats.
I’ll leave it there for today, but I’ll return to this again later.
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