Marvel Didn't Have This Problem Starting Their Universe
Audiences comparing Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to previous adaptations wasn't something that Marvel Studios needed to account for. Plus, the adaptations that were made in the past, such as Daredevil and Ghost Rider, were sent to the television side when they were rebooted. But overall, one of the key ways that the MCU differs from the DCEU, among various things, is that the MCU doesn't need to compete with the past.
Sure, comic book readers and animated TV fans around the world have known about the Avengers for decades now, and some characters like Thor, Iron Man, and even S.H.I.E.L.D. members, such as Hawkeye and Black Widow, have been at the forefront of the superhero team's branding over the years, the only real characters general audiences were somewhat familiar with (at least in name) are Hulk and Captain America; Spider-Man had the opportunity to be introduced several years into the MCU's existence, so that's a different beast entirely.
Point is, the MCU's adaptations of their core superheroes weren't being compared to critical darlings of the past. And that's an important distinction because while their movies are generally adored by audience around the world, they're not necessarily faithful adaptations of the comics. In fact, Marvel Studios has been criticized for using comic book series names for MCU movies (e.g. Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, and Thor: Ragnarok), only to deviate significantly from the comics.
Just look at Jon Favreau's Iron Man; it was the first big screen adaptation of Tony Stark, and even though Disney's acquisition of Marvel Entertainment came with some changes to Tony's story arc, it was still unique because there was nothing to compare Robert Downey Jr's version with. Interestingly, this predicament is something that Marvel Studios may soon face when they ultimately introduce the X-Men into the MCU, particularly over who they find to replace Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
Aquaman & Wonder Woman Are Unique - And That's DC's Future
From the get-go, it was clear that Snyder's version of Aquaman - which Wan continued in 2018's Aquaman movie, with his own augmentations, of course - was going to be significantly different from the comic book interpretation of the character. While the standalone movie managed to bring in core beats from the comic, including Aquaman's classic costume, Momoa's performance was a far cry from what comic book readers had come to know - but that didn't make it bad. In order to provide viewers with a unique superhero moviegoing experience, Wan and Jenkins took liberties with the source material; they're not the only comic book movie directors to do so, but since their movies aren't being compared to anything, general audiences (and critics, for that matter) have nothing to compare them to.
Related: How The DCEU Is Rebooting In 2019
What's interesting, since the DCEU versions of Aquaman and Wonder Woman are so popular with audiences and critics alike, DC Comics is starting to take inspiration from their movies, at least in the way the characters are drawn. But perhaps the most important takeaway from all this is that lesser-known superheroes like Aquaman and Wonder Woman, or at least characters who haven't received big screen adaptations before, are going to be DC's future. Zachary Levi's Shazam in David F. Sandberg's Shazam! movie will likely be another testament to this, as it removes the pressure from staying true to the comics and to previous adaptations. It's difficult enough to win over fans of the source material, but to convince fans of previous iterations to see something new is another beast entirely. Sure, it's easy to say that DC could just make better movies, but would their movies be considered as "bad" if they were the first of their kind?
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020