Despite a couple of odd hits with movies like Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the DC Extended Universe has come nowhere near to matching the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whereas 2012’s The Avengers was praised as one of the greatest comic book movies ever made and grossed over $1.5 billion, 2017’s Justice League was panned by critics, mostly ignored by audiences, and became a box office bomb. There are certain specific missteps in the early makeup of the DCEU that stopped it from coming close to competing with the MCU. Here are 10 Mistakes The DCEU Made That Prevented It From Matching The MCU’s Success.
As soon as Warner Bros. decided Man of Steel would be the beginning of an MCU-style universe, they wasted no time hashing it all together. They crammed Batman into the Man of Steel sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which featured cameos from everyone else in the Justice League, and then got the team together just one year later before all but one of them had gotten their own solo movie. The MCU, on the other hand, spent four years slowly introducing each character’s origin story, with loose links being drawn between them in post-credits scenes, before teaming them all up in The Avengers.
When Kevin Feige first pitched the Marvel Cinematic Universe to his bosses, he had a very clear vision for where it would go. This is what the “Phases” really are. They’re road maps that the MCU overlords follow to ensure that all of the narratives line up, each post-credits scene teases a movie that’s only a few short months away, and everything fits together in an overall story arc that can be given a snappy Blu-ray box set-friendly name like “The Infinity Saga.” On the other hand, Warner Bros. seem to be making up the DCEU as they go along, throwing sequel setups and Easter eggs at the wall and seeing what sticks.
The DCEU is the cinematic equivalent of copying test answers from the person next to you. Marvel Studios did all the studying and came in with a clear head to deliver something truly special. DC Films are frantically trying to catch up, forcing five years’ worth of MCU story development into one movie.
And just like a copied test answer, you might get the gist of some of the ideas across, but it ultimately won’t live up to the studious kid’s answer. The MCU was there first, with a strong idea of what a “cinematic universe” should be, and it’s no secret that the DCEU is simply a pale imitation.
Iron Man was directed by Jon Favreau in his own directorial style. Thor had the distinctive Shakespearean weight of Kenneth Branagh’s theatrical direction. Captain America: The First Avenger had the same pulpy feel of Joe Johnston’s other movies. Every movie in the MCU has the personal stamp of its director. More recently, the directorial voices have been clearer in Joss Whedon’s Avengers movies, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, Taika Watiti’s Thor: Ragnarok, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies etc. However, every movie in the DCEU has been dragged down by an incessant need to follow the dark, gloomy style of Zack Snyder, with all the slow motion and saturated colors his movies are known for. The MCU has moved further towards trusting its directors, whereas the DCEU has always pulled away from it.
The MCU’s biggest success is that the producers actually listen to the fans. They keep their ears to the ground. If they’re bombarded with requests for something like a Captain Marvel solo movie or Thanos taking on the Avengers, then they’ll take that on board and integrate it into the franchise. One of the most common criticisms against Avengers: Endgame was that it was just three hours of fan service, but that’s a good thing. That’s what Marvel does best: giving the fans what they want. DC’s problem is that they think they know better than the fans when the fans are the ones buying the tickets. They’ve been taking the fans into account lately by focusing on standalone films as opposed to connected ensembles, but that’s based on box office data and not based on actually paying attention to the audience.
Aside from the minor blip of casting non-team player Edward Norton to play Bruce Banner and then quickly replacing him, Marvel has rarely made a misstep with casting its characters. Every actor, whether it’s Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Tom Holland as Spider-Man, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Chris Evans as Captain America, or any of the others, is perfect for their role. The DCEU, however, has struggled to even hold onto its actors. Most of the DCEU actors’ take on their characters has been criticized by fans, with Ben Affleck leaving the role of Batman behind. Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, and Zachary Levi are among the few who were rightly cast.
Aside from the small subsection of fans who obsess over canon like it’s a religion, most moviegoers go to see superhero movies for the spectacle. They go to see sequences like the Battle of New York or Captain America’s elevator showdown. The DCEU doesn’t have a single memorable action scene, since they always have slow motion, flat visuals, and incomprehensible editing. This is also partly because the DC movies’ action scenes don’t have any character moments, whereas Marvel movies’ action scenes just use the action to string the character moments together. The MCU brings comic book pages to life, whereas comic book pages are more exciting than DCEU action scenes.
The DCEU has only been around for four years. Man of Steel was technically where it all started, but that movie retroactively became the beginning of a cinematic universe, which really began with Batman v Superman. One of their biggest problems was trying to start from scratch. Marvel Studios didn’t have guaranteed success going in. By the time they got to The Avengers with a small group of established superheroes, they built on that and gave us Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and other then-obscure properties. DC should’ve started with the universe they already had to build on: Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. That trilogy literally ended with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Robin finding the Batcave. That should’ve been the start of the DCEU.
Man of Steel wasn’t a terrible movie, but it was no Iron Man. 11 years after the release of Iron Man, when the 22-movie arc that followed it culminated in Avengers: Endgame, fans were immensely satisfied to see plot points from the first movie, like cheeseburgers and the line “I am Iron Man,” pay off.
But it’s hard to imagine a hypothetical moviegoing audience in 2024 getting just as excited over callbacks and repeated lines from Man of Steel. The DCEU had a much weaker starting point than the MCU. What followed can’t be as successful if this is the case.
The biggest problem with the DCEU was simply that it tried to compete with the MCU. Since 2012 – and especially since 2016, when DC entered the game – trying to top the MCU has been a silly idea. It’s the highest grossing movie franchise of all time, and basically the only thing keeping movie theaters open in the streaming age, so instead of trying to simply imitate that in a world where, like Highlander, there can only be one, DC should’ve taken stock of their assets and figured out their own thing to do. The MCU was an innovation. DC needs its own innovation.