Marvel Movies vs. DC Movies – The Differences in Approach

Published 2 years ago by , Updated June 27th, 2013 at 6:14 pm,

Marvel: The Fantastical Over The Serious

Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man 3 Marvel Movies vs. DC Movies   The Differences in Approach

Serious things happen within comic books (deemed ‘serious’ on the comics’ own terms), and metaphorical conflicts are designed to reflect those in the real world, but to enjoy the average comic book suspension of disbelief is a necessity before even starting.

When it comes to adapting, then, writers and film-makers are faced with a choice: if consistency is needed for a successful adaptation, then either every ounce of the comic book reality can be lifted (keeping the fantastic and unrelatable world intact), or sacrifice the fantastic, unrelatable themes for the sake of the more serious and realistic elements.

One isn’t automatically better or more ‘faithful’ than the other, so we’re not picking sides. But Marvel made their decision clear from the start: adapt all of their comic book worlds’ many facets, villains, and magic to film, granting them the ability to keep characters intact, establish an overall tone, and build franchises that operate on the same terms.

Iron Man 3 Extremis Soldier 570x302 Marvel Movies vs. DC Movies   The Differences in Approach

Yet that decision comes with a price; consistency is key, after all. The absence of the “Demon in a Bottle” story line is one example of a very heavy-hitting and serious story not jiving with the more jovial or heightened tone of the film series, and Iron Man 3 is a far more recent case in point. Namely, the decision to twist the “Extremis” comic book arc by Warren Ellis from an exploration of technophobia into the means for creating an army of super-soldiers.

The changes are blasphemous to Marvel comic book fans for obvious reasons – but the truth is, what made “Extremis” so memorable is its uncompromising look at Tony’s drive to become more than just a man, and unite his armor with his own body. Brimming with introspection on the nature of genetic manipulation and technology, no matter how you cut it, that is some seriously heavy storytelling.

Storytelling that, given the rest of the Iron Man series’ tone and attitude, would seem completely unprecedented. Fans can debate how the story could have worked if faithfully adapted, and may have a flawless approach in mind – but mass audiences don’t associate the ‘Iron Man’ name with the same intense and cerebral themes that comic fans might.

Iron Man 3 Spoilers Marvel Movies vs. DC Movies   The Differences in Approach

In the end, it might be a worthwhile sacrifice: the Marvel films’ fiction steers clear of truly grounded and troubling issues and trauma, and the heightened reality lets aliens and talking raccoons hang around with walking trees and Asgardian gods. What results is a yearly (or seasonal, it seems) adventure into another world, free from the hardships and conflict that we all have to experience in our own lives.

The suspension of disbelief expected across the board also means that personalities can be just as heightened as the action; Tony Stark can fire off quips in the midst of a fight, Thor can fall in love with the first human woman he meets, and Captain America can go into a fight with little more than moxie, and come out on top. People want the fun and the far-fetched adventure, not a semblance of reality.

It’s the reason Joss Whedon can juxtapose Loki’s attempt to brainwash Tony Stark with a joke about erectile dysfunction, and we still like him. Where Joker making a witty remark about his victims or the carnage he’s unleashing on a city is twisted and perverse. This is our world, and the risk of innocent people being hurt is no laughing matter. In Marvel’s we expect Tony to come up with a quip, not think of the people being hurt or buried off-screen.

The Avengers 360 Shot Post Conversion 3D Marvel Movies vs. DC Movies   The Differences in Approach

People will always love escapism, and Marvel’s box office success has proven that the trend is alive and well. If we’re honest, it’s hypocritical for any fan of genre or fantasy to criticize their decision, since Luke Skywalker seemed to take the death of his aunt and uncle at the hands of storm troopers pretty well.

That doesn’t mean nothing can be taken seriously, or audience investment in Marvel’s films is any harder to come by. Serious stories have taken place, and Phase Two will likely be adding to the drama. But where realistic films build drama and tension around walking through a dark alley, a bomb plot, or serial killer on the loose, Marvel can make viewers just as invested and concerned while remaining fantastic.

‘Serious’ in a Marvel film means an alien attack, super-powered terrorists, or a Frost Giant invasion. It’s worked so far (going by the box office numbers), but when Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer were charged with adapting Batman for modern audiences, they chose a fairly…different route.


NEXT PAGE: The DC Approach (so far)… 

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  1. i have to admit iam bias for DC. i read both comic, but as i was growing up, i find Marvel’s storyline, character profiles/background, and stories overall are a little childish. As for DC, they really know how to catch m full attention. Its like reading a great book, where i want to keep turning the pages and buying the next issue to find out what happened. i didnt get that from Marvel (no offense).
    Other than that, in my POV They need to reboot every other character, but here is some food for thought; Reboot green lantern b/c it was an abomination, find a more suitable actor for the character. maybe read couple of his issue to get an idea of Hal. Take Ryan Reynold, and make him the Flash!! he is perfect for the character with his witty/comical comments and its just his style. AS for Wonder Woman, PLEASE DO NOT get Megan Fox. i really cant think of a suitable candidate, but i can tell you who wont work, and she definitely dont fit the role. and same goes for Aquaman, Martian Manhunter…and of course the Billion Dollar question…the next Bruce Wayne***Christian Bale did an excellent job, i say wither reboot the character with him, or you gotta find someone thats gotta be DAMN good.

    • look i dont want to start a war here but buddy don’t pull comics in comparison with the movie marvel is know as killer of characters in most brutal way they could ever do remember gwen stacy and marvel started to make their characters flawed first

    • Agreed 😀

  2. Honestly I have always liked Marvel better than DC but both are really great at entertaining our fantasies, and really the only character I like from DC is Batman because of his will power…when Man of Steel came out and Superman killed Zod I was alittle surprised but realized that in the comics superman did have to kill in order to protect the lives of millions although he didn’t exactly want to, but batman has never and will never kill because he knows he can’t afford to cross that line, but yeah I’m sure Marvel and DC will make good movies in the future and hopefully collide the two universes like in the comics.

    • Batman has killed in the comics. Many times. Batman won’t kill the “Joker”…

  3. Well, we now know that there was no hope in MAN OF STEEL, which was a bleak, depressing, diatribe on the benefits of staying in the closet and how inherently not worth saving mankind is, and that saving people comes in last after killing your enemies.

    I go to a Marvel movie and I am entertained…I got to a DC movie and I am more often than not depressed. I can understand that approach to Batman, but I feel it is fundamentally flawed for Superman. Superman was designed to do the impossible, even at his earliest as a crusader for social justice in REIGN OF THE SUPERMAN, he was designed to inspire hope and do the things we cannot do ourselves. Instead we get a murderer that commits genecide against his own race and makes out with Lois Lane in a field of ash surrounced by destruction. Really hopeful.

    • If you find an action blockbuster depressing then may you never watch a drama or you might hang yourself. Also, “saving people comes in last after killing your enemies”?! Why the hell do you think he was forced to kill Zod in the first place? Superman “was designed to inspire hope and do the things we cannot do ourselves” and he did just that: he saved mankind from Zod, you can hardly be more hope-inspiring. And “a murderer that commits genecide” (sic)? Please! Regardless of your odd definition of a genocide, does anyone really have a choice in a kill-or-be-killed situation? That’s not what a murderer is to me, nor to the law. And yeah, there can still be love in the midst of destruction. Really hopeful (not sarcastic).

      • But it was a depressing movie and while we are on the topic not really deserving of the term an “action” blockbuster as the first hour or so of the movie was just poorly written dialogue. (The movie itself had tonnes of holes and the motivations for characters was silly such as why would the dad commit suicide to save a dog? I have a dog and love him but have to say would not jump into a tornado for him…sorry. Some might but I doubt a hardened farmer as his dad is made out to be would.) The second half we see almost no dialogue and just a costumed man flying through buildings, so I have to agree with ForeShadow, it’s weak.

        • Many people do stupid things in the heat of the moment to try and save their loved ones. It’s not like he had the time to pause and think of what to do. That hardly qualifies as “suicide”. I knew someone who died in a flooding years ago in an attempt to rescue his cats. He was an otherwise intelligent, reasoned man who enjoyed life very much, yet he cared enough about his cats to try and save them regardless of the odds. It didn’t work but I’ll never call him silly as he definitely wasn’t. The irony is that one cat actually survived. These things happen, you just can’t call love a silly motivation, especially in a situation like this when all one has time to do is react. You claim you wouldn’t do it as you’re idly sitting behind your computer, typing, but you can’t know for sure what you’d do in a similar situation.

          And yes, the first half of the movie is mainly exposition. So what? Setting the characters and plot needs time to be done properly and I’m actually glad it wasn’t rushed in 10 minutes. This is not your typical disposable brainless Michael Bay turd and it sure delivers on the action later on, so yeah, I stand by the “action blockbuster” definition and I refute the “depressing” argument. Granted, the tone is more serious than in the Marvel movies but in no way depressing. And rest assured that the action/exposition ratio will be higher in the sequel.

          • “Depressing” isn’t an “argument”, it’s an emotional reaction. I, too, found Man of Steel depressing. The effects and action were stunning, but there was no warmth there, no charm, no heart; I just felt bludgeoned in the end. Both “The Avengers” and “Man of Steel” can be considered action blockbusters, and “Man of Steel” arguably has more impressive action, but I found “The Avengers” much more FUN. This despite the fact that, as a comic book reader, I historically preferred DC. I nonetheless have hope that the franchise will improve as it develops.

            • The Avengers is classic Joss Whedon style, so of course it’s fun. MoS wasn’t meant to be fun but realistic, just like the Dark Knight trilogy. When destruction occurs on such a large scale, it’s quite hard to be fun anyway. But not fun does not equate depressing. Like I told ForeShadow one month ago, if you find an action blockbuster depressing then may you never watch a drama or you might hang yourself.

    • Genocide? The kryptonian race at the beginning of the movie had been long dead. Zod was clinging on to a ghost of a planet. So you would have just let the kryptonians kill an innocent race? Not everything is black and white. This decision was very gray. If you actually paid attention to the movie you would have noticed that when Clark learned what zod wanted to do at first he was conflicted. When zod and him were in the scout ship and zod yelled at kal that he would be killing their race kal at first hesitated than yelled back “Krypton had its chance.” And he was right. They blew themselves up. Why do they deserve to come to our planet and kill all of us to start over just so they could probably do the same thing. And this movie wasn’t bland and depressing. It was about hope and going down the right path. Look how he was treated as a kid. Bullied, cast out from others like a freak. Most people treated like that would grow up to be bad guys. Not superman. He still goes around and whenever he can helps people. And that’s because he knows we are all not bad. He meets people like the kents and lois and pete and that guy on the boat who risks his life to push clark out of the way. He saves the world because in the end he is and has always been more human than kryptonian. superMAN. He kisses lois than cause he has never connected with anyone like that before. It being amongst the ruins of part of a city is not as bad as most people make it out to be because those people and buildings had been avenged. Superman along with the help of lois and the military save the world. Their souls metaphorically speaking can rest in peace knowing the world had been saved. If they had kissed in the middle of the dessert it still wouldn’t have changed the fact that people died. And superman killing zod? Shut up and go read a comic book.

      • ‘Nuff said.

  4. Oh, there is so much to unpack here. Have any of you seen the Justice League Flashpoint Paradox cartoon movie? Barry (the Flash), makes a comment when he stumbled upon Thomas Wayne’s batcave in the adulterated timeline: “What happened to you, Bruce? You were the James Bond of super heroes. What turned you into the unabomber?” I want to see a Batman reboot that balances Marvel’s strategy, Nolan’s “real-world”-iness, and the fantastical awesomeness that is Bruce Wayne in some versions of the Batman storylines. Give me a batman that is totally improbable, incredibly genius, and has a plan for E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. “Darkseid is doing an Apokolips invasion? That’s okay, I’ve hacked into his computer systems and set timers for all of his firepit bombs to go off at once. Only I can stop it, so Darkseid has to retreat or have his planet destroyed.” “Superman has gone rogue? That’s fine, I’ll beat the mother-lovin heck out of him while wearing a Kryptonite ring while I wait for backup from the JLA.” Give me the freaking Watchtower and all the amazing tech, like Iron Man. Batman is supposed to be an intense character, but also one of the singularly most COOL characters in DC!

    The next Superman/Batman movie should feature a more diverse color palette. Maybe offer some contrast of the types of color used in Man of Steel vs that used in the Avengers, except use the Avengers’ strategy of brighter colors for Superman and the more “meh” colors for Batman (contrast the bright hope of Superman and straightforward realism and grit of Batman). Brighter, more vibrant colors really do affect the mood of the audience, and while I thoroughly LOVED Man of Steel, it would have been viewed differently if there was a brighter color scheme like that in the Avengers.

    I dunno. I’ll probably enjoy the movies no matter what, but DC really does need to get organized and put forth a hard effort to follow Marvel’s strategy in world-building to prepare for a Justice League movie. I love Superman and Batman, but I will disavow DC if they make a crappy JLA movie.

    • Colors are a matter of taste. I, for one, was glad they strayed from the primary colors of Christopher Reeves’ costume and went for something that didn’t hurt the eye.

  5. I like Marvel a lot more than DC mostly because the characters are a lot more dynamic compared to the characters of the DC universe and right now DC is just playing catch up while Marvel is on a roll with up coming movies such as captain America 2 and Guardians of the galaxy. DC has had their chance to outshine Marvel but have not been able to do so with the lack of movies they have. For these reasons it can be said that Marvel is winning this race against DC.

    • DC cash grab? Really? Considering half of marvels movies are on a scale of mediocre to crap I would hardly call Marvel a company that genuinely cares about their movies. Rolling out yearly like cod games. Are you going to sit there and tell me that movies like ghost Rider and fantastic four weren’t cheap cash grabs? And marvel being more diverse? If you actually read DC you would know that they are just as diverse if not more than marvel. And of course there are going to be similar people in terms of powers. If you’ve been around as long as dc has you’re going to end of creating rebooted modern takes of the characters. But it’s that fact that really impresses me about dc. That they can create from the outside very similar characters but on the inside have very diverse emotions and personalities. It makes since that younger generations will want to try and live up to these legends that inspired them as kids. Young justice portrays this very well. Go watch it.

      • Marvel just wants to sell kids meals and merchandise. The Marvel movies have no weight because there is no sense of consequence or danger. It’s all wink at the camera and rapid fire quips. Marvel is like a quickie in the middle of the day, a race to satisfaction. They threw everything at building to the Avengers making each movie watered down and very mediocre. Captain America was the one decent film pre-Avengers. It had a developed character and balanced humor and seriousness. All the others were just commercials for the Avengers. “Hey kids watch The Avengers! Coming soon!” They’re quick, unmemorable, juvenile entertainment for the ADD generation. Just a distraction for short attention spans. I like Marvel and DC…comic books. The movies I have to give it to DC for focusing on building characters and having deeper themes. The entire Dark Knight trilogy may only be about Batman/Bruce Wayne, but it’s an actual journey unfolding over three movies. The character grows and falls and rises. That is worth a lot more than a cheeky performance. Lazy quips can never replace a well told story.

        • Funny how you picked the worst movie of them all and called it “the one decent film.” Cap 1 was a cheese-fest of epic proportions.

  6. “Tony doesn’t have to deal with issues the way real people do” see to me Iron Man 2 did deal with those issues a very real way, just with Comicbooky things going around them. I’ve been in the position of Rhody have to beat down a Drunken friend, so I relate to that on a very deep level.

  7. Boy, does this article need an update or follow up. (I’m frankly not sure how you write an article about movies the marvel way vs the DC way to be published BEFORE the big DC movie comes out, but it was a good article, marred by baseless speculation in the final section).

  8. Like to point out Michael Keaton’s/Tim Burton’s Batman has been the best ever on screen and Bale was good, apart from the third movie, that was horrible and I’ve only seen it one and a half times, didn’t even have the heart to watch it again, that’s a record for me for a comic book movie. Sadly the third Nolan movie took a huge nose dive, especially the last 10 minutes.

    Superman Man Of Steel was okay to good, shame it didn’t have the magic of Superman in it, especially the Superman score we all know and love. Had no problem about the Zod bit, but Lois knowing Clark’s Superman even before he puts on the cape totally spoiled it, should of let Lois find out in the sequel or future sequel. She had no problem finding out Clark Kent is Superman, nor would the Government or anyone else, stupid.

    Looking forward to Superman with Batman even though Affleck seems a stupid move, could pick 100 actors over him right now, saying that I like Ben, just not for Batman. Actually Batman’s easy to play, its the Bruce Wayne part he’s gotta pull off, can’t see it.

    Bring on JLA!

    Yeah Iron Man 3 was a let down too, but no way near as Rises was.

    • “She had no problem finding out Clark Kent is Superman, nor would the Government or anyone else, stupid.”

      Yeah, because a guy who keeps the same face but becomes suddenly unrecognizable when he simply puts glasses on isn’t stupid?

      It was actually a very welcome relief that MoS creators put an end to all these years of the most stupid nonsense when they allowed their characters to easily figure out who he is. The guy wears no mask, for Chrissakes!

  9. As a kid I always thought Marvel comics were darker than DC. But the films are the opposite way around. DC with the Batman movies is far darker and realistic than Marvels cheesy, funny movies. I wish marvel would take a cue from DC and make their movies more human and realistic and less cartoony.

  10. I can’t for Aquaman movie. It will be so cool.

    • Haha! That’s a good one!

  11. I’ll leave the debating to the “fans.” I’d like to thank Andrew Dyce for a really amazing article that looks at the two sides of Marvel/DC with a true MRI (Most Respectful Interpretation). This kind of balance is needed in most Religion/Science debates, Democrat/Republican conflicts and many others.
    Thanks again for the insightful comments and for helping me understand where all of this is going. I’d say DC has their work cut out for them. Wonder Woman? Real world? THAT will be a challenge. But I now see and respect both sides much more.
    Hey, Andrew, do you give lessons on how to make intelligent, balanced discussions of controversial issues…?

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  13. Although I enjoyed AVENGERS, I tend to prefer the character-driven approach — the BATMAN BEGINS trilogy were not merely good superhero films, but riveting *films*, full stop.

    Having said that, I think this DC-is-serious and Marvel-is-fluff setup is a false dichotomy. It’s extrapolating from one film in each series (the Nolan BATMAN films and AVENGERS, respectively). But DC had the horrid GREEN LANTERN. Marvel had X-Men (in particular, the superb X-MEN FIRST CLASS), as well as WINTER SOLDIER (which had a lot of decent character moments) and, if we can forget about TASM2, the first four Spider-Man movies,

    • Honestly, we need more people like you in these boards.

  14. In regards to Marvel’s movie approach vs the DC movie approach, it’s pretty obvious Marvel has the commanding lead between the two comic book publishers respective cinematic forays.
    “Real world realism” was the rhetoric used for justifying bastardizing the core origins of Superman in Man Of Steel & we all saw how that disaster played out.
    Lets be honest here, in a world of “real world realism”, who in their right mind would want someone like Superman around in their town after the horrific ending of MOS?
    Who would really give a crap if he called himself Superman or not after leaving so many dead in all of that wanton destruction following his fight with Zod. Who would care if Zod was responsible or not. Superman would be guilty by association & regarded in this age as a potential threat.
    Now Marvel has had some highs & lows, but the lows are overshadowed by the high-points for Marvel having remained truer to their characters source material. Referencing one of their ‘lows’ & that would have to be this upcoming Fantastic 4 ‘reboot’ train wreck we keep hearing about.
    I consider the Fantastic 4 as Marvel’s version of Man Of Steel.
    Anyway, Marvel beats DC hands down.

    • Yes, we all saw the “disaster” of the best Superman movie to date. As for wanting Superman around, I most definitely would if it meant still having a planet afterwards. Kal-El didn’t bring Zod to Earth and he didn’t tell him to wreak havoc and try to obliterate the human race. All he did was trying to defend his foster planet. As for the collateral damage, you can bet that in the sequels, he’ll keep in mind to be more careful and fight differently. You seem to forget he was only learning to become a hero in the first movie, so he was bound to make mistakes like all students do. That’s why the movie was called Man of Steel and not Superman, because he wasn’t yet. Rest assured he learned the lesson the hard way.

  15. I do enjoy Marvel’s movies but at this point they seem cheap. They’re still good (thanks in part to being backed by Disney’s endless gold pit). So far they are above ground while DC/WB struggles to get the ‘kids’ back, but at a certain point Marvel may end up where Pixar is now. Endless sequels can hurt a studio.

    Like John Oliver says its like getting Chinese takeout. You want it to be quick, but if it comes to your house 5 minutes after you order its too quick. At a certain point when they make Thor 3: 2 Hours of Loki and then make Thor 4: Some Random Plot the next year, you can’t honestly say you aren’t a little skeptical.

    So while I like Marvel’s movies as entertainment, I appreciate DC’s effort more. They seem to take their time which in the future may turn them back to the top unless Marvel can find an easy balance.

  16. Marvel Movie Method: Read comics -> Make movie

    DC Movie Method: Hear vague description of comic -> discard info -> completely re-write

    • Not really. Marvel’s movies are only superficially related to the comics, they are inaccurate to the source material.

      • Batman is a worse offender of that, but sure.

  17. Marvel movies are fun, DC movies are boring and pretentious.
    Nolan’s Batman movies are a borefest.

  18. To be honest I’m not a comic reader or fanboy, one of my favorite comic based movies is Watchmen, but overall I go with Marvel any day of the day, because is more entertaining and DC movies sometimes are so boring and slow like the Batman trilogy (Love Batman but not those movies)!.

  19. DC movies are made for people that want a superhero movie and not a hidden comedy/kids movie. If I wanted a laugh out family fun night, then I’d watch a Sandler or Stiller film.

    Marvel films can only be made in a fun or comical way, because if made without its non-stop humor or in a serious way, it wouldn’t reach its baby/bandwagon audience. Proof of the above is the amazing Spider-Man movies. In closing, DC is for intelligent people, grown ups and fans of properly written film.

    Before Marvel babies attack my post, try to think about what it is I’m trying to say.

    • You don’t want to be attacked, yet have the nerve to call everyone childish and imply they are unintelligent for liking a certain type of movie?

      I think you could take your own advice. If you want realism and grounded characters perhaps you aren’t a fan of SUPERHEROES. Maybe you’d enjoy Taken 3 more? Or any of the other movies about normal people doing normal things fighting their normal antagonists in a normal environment with normal consequences.

      When I go to a superhero movie I don’t want realism. I get that in the real world. When I go to superhero movies I don’t want depression and gloominess. I get that in the real world. I don’t need to spend $10 to have my happiness slapped out of me repeatedly for 2 hours.

      Bottom line is I go to the movies to have fun. Watching MoS was not fun. It was depressing. Its not my cup of tea but I respect that it is yours.

      I’m not quite sure why the thought of lighthearted moments intertwined with action and bright colors is offensive to you. I think you have to step back and realize that superhero movies aren’t meant to be hyper realistic. They are fantasy. Adults enjoy fantasy too.

      If a superhero movie tries to take out all of the fantasy and superhero things about the characters, why bother calling it a superhero movie?

      I won’t go as far to say comicbooks and superheroes are solely for children, but to act like they should only be enjoyed by mature adults seems…odd. I mean I had a pair of batman underwear as a kid, I think it would be pretty weird if I was wearing batman underwear as an adult.

  20. Batman (DC) will always be better! Suck my ass marvel fans!