Well the results are in and Suicide Squad is not a
crowd critic pleaser. It’s adding more fuel on the fire to certain fanboys’ belief that critics are in the pocket of Big Marvel, that they’r enemies of fun, that they’ll do anything to keep DC down. But I think if we’re all being honest with ourselves the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in DC.
There was a time when DC movies were the clear victor: The original Superman movies are iconic, and the 1990s Batman movies at least had a home amongst audiences.During that time Marvel was going through a near bankruptcy, selling off most of its properties in order to stay afloat, and on paper struggling against DC’s might.
Then came Batman & Robin. Then Catwoman, seven years later. During this time Marvel was planting the seeds for a supergroup, a radical idea that there was a way to translate their heroes to screen in a massive cinematic universe. DC seems to have spent that time recapturing the glory.
And that glory was always a bit hokey: I mean, it’s not like Tim Burton directed Batman and people were expecting gritty, Alan Moore-esque. In fact these movies were in stark contrast with the comics of the time. Which is why Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy came out of nowhere.
It was four years before Marvel would strike gold with Iron Man, and Batman Begins seemed to do a lot of things well. Any bad aspects of it could be forgiven because it was so enthralling, tough, and true to Batman. Then The Dark Knight came out in 2008 and suddenly DC seemed to be owning the game again—this time with a brand new tone. The problem is, it was never really DC’s tone for their cinematic universe. It was Nolan’s.
As an auteur and a postmodern filmmaker, Nolan makes movies that are meticulous, that hold up on rewatches, that dip into modern themes just enough to interrogate them a bit but not enough to be off-putting or admonishing. On creating The Dark Knight trilogy he said: “You try and get the audience to invest in cinematic reality. When I talk about reality in these films, it’s often misconstrued as a direct reality, but it’s really about a cinematic reality.”
Which is perhaps something DC is still struggling with. They believe that they’ve found their niche—more nihilistic, gritty, and grimey films to Marvel’s sun and fun approach—but they’re playing with someone else’s viewpoint. They can’t capture the magic because it isn’t theirs. In the years since Nolan left DC (and arguably somewhat while he was there) the doom and gloom of DC has become monotonous, with attempts to ape it popping up seemingly everywhere.
For whatever depth an audience can read into a Marvel movie, they understand their strengths, their point-of-view, and their heroes. They know what the audience wants to see and they know how to surprise them when they’re seeing it (even if it’s the 18th time they’ve trotted out the same formula). It’s allowed them to be more ambitious, turning the modern superhero film out to different genres. They are controlling the conversation and minting money doing so.
DC’s approach seems entirely in response: Response to what audiences seem to react to, response to the MCU, response to Nolan’s tonal shift for the comic company. They rushed into Batman v. Superman because they wanted to compete with Marvel’s Avengers, already on their second adventure together, and growing stronger and bigger every time. They pushed out Suicide Squad as their own version of a demented Avengers, a team of Deadpools, who might lighten the hearts and level the playing field. But as the reviews roll in, it seems that it’s just one more example of DC’s universe being an answer, not a statement.