DC Has A Problem


Sia Balis

DC has a problem. Not the DC that is winding up to an election in less than a month but DC comics, formerly known as Detective Comics, the subsidiary of Time Warner Inc. Their issue is their movies. DC and Marvel comics are the main two comic book companies that have the biggest heroes. DC is home to Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, and the whole Arrowverse. Marvel on the other hand has the Avengers, Spiderman, and the X-Men. Marvel’s cinematic attempts have been nothing but successful, with their lowest-rated movie being Thor: The Dark World (2013) at 66%. A film that Rotten Tomatoes said, “It may not be the finest film to come from the Marvel Universe, but Thor: The Dark World still offers plenty of the humor and high-stakes action that fans have come to expect.” This is in stark contrast to the movie that kicked off DC’s Extended Cinematic Universe, Man of Steel (2013). Henry Cavill’s Superman received a 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. DC’s lowest-rated movie, Catwoman (2003), is rated at 9%. “Halle Berry is the lone bright spot, but even she can’t save this laughable action thriller.” DC has 25 films rated from 9% to 56%, Marvel has none. Detective Comics’ highest-rated movie came out 12 years ago (Dark Knight, 94%, 2008) but Marvel’s came out last year (Avengers: Endgame, also at 94%, 2019). As the Justice League Universe scrambles, grappling for success, their movies continually shift downward in the public’s opinion, while the Marvel Cinematic Universe climbs the box office and the ladder of public opinion.
DC has two main problems with its movies. The first thing is that their movies are too dark. They don’t have too dark topics, but the lighting in the actual movies is practically non-existent making watchers squint the whole time to see what is going on. They have the lighting of a horror movie with the genre reading action/adventure. If the movie is an action movie people like to see what is going on. Thus, DC picked unwisely on what to pick up from the horror movie genre. They focused on darkness, thematically and visually, and lost watchers who initially wanted to a part of their universe.
DC lost its viewer enthusiasm to a superhero experience that delivers the grown-up version of childhood comics. The Boys (2019-) is an Amazon TV show parodying the Justice League. The show chose well on what to steal from the horror genre, opting for grisly exploitation of sexuality and violence to enrapture the public’s attention. Including the attention of those who do not usually partake in such profanity. The Boys’ engaging, brutal storyline is also the main component to their success and it has something that DC’s films starve for hyperrealism.
DC’s most successful modern superhero movie to date was Wonder Woman (2017). That movie had good lighting, a hero that was relatable, good casting, a plot that was original but also superhero-y. It gave us a somewhat understandable villain instead of an intergalactic warlord with minimal speaking roles. In this film only, DC understood what Marvel movies and the Boys understand and capitalize on. The audience doesn’t want to watch a noble yet intensely traumatized, dramatic Adonis fight an illogical yet all-powerful and otherworldly threat. People want to watch a normal person receive powers and then explore how humanity would react;
DC needs to fix its movies. Why they haven’t shifted gears? The proof and path are right in front of them. They have examples of what to do. Their TV department is actually pretty successful and has good projects. DC’s Stargirl (a TV show) has an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, a score beating Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012)(87%).
DC can make good and original movies. DC’s 2019 film Shazam! was very successful compared to their other movies. It was grossly overshadowed by Avenger’s Endgame, which came out a month and eleven days later. Shazam! focuses on an average kid in foster care who comes to have superman-Esque powers. It doesn’t make him unrealistically noble. He has internal struggles and a human point of view. The movie gives the villain a solid and understandable backstory, and it doesn’t have horror movie lighting. It is their 5th best movie according to Rotten Tomatoes.
DC doesn’t need to remove all darkness for sugar-filled humor, it just needs to balance it and mark its own genre. The Doom Patrol (2019) TV show has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and is crude; DC’s Swamp Thing TV show has a 95% and is dark thematically and visually. The difference is that it is not trying to propagate gods as men to an audience that knows better.
DC has a problem. Fortunately, it’s a solvable one. DC is losing the superhero movie game to Marvel, 23 to one (Wonder Woman (2017) had beat Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman Box office). It has issues with its lighting, its thematic presence, individualism, inconsistent performances (See Ben Affleck’s Batman… or don’t), and letting their best pieces be under-marketed (Doom Patrol, Shazam!, Stargirl, etc.) DC comics can solve its problem, unlike the District of Columbia whose fate is unclear.