By Tommy Carrico, Executive Entertainment Editor
Vulture.com defines cinematic universes as “interconnected worlds in which a number of different franchises can exist simultaneously.
After both of the comic book giants successfully established their cinematic universes (Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for Marvel and DC Extended Universe (DCEU) for DC), review scores made one thing clear: not all superhero movies are created equal.
For example, Rotten Tomatoes gave Marvel’s first major team-up “The Avengers” a 92 percent fresh on the Tomatometer, saying the film “lives up to its hype and raises the bar for Marvel at the movies.” A few years later came the release of DC’s “Justice League,” which received a 40 percent fresh and was said to have “[a] murky aesthetic, thin characters, and chaotic action that continue to dog the franchise.” It wasn’t just the critics who favored The Avengers. While Justice League did receive a more lenient 73 percent audience score, The Avengers kept consistent with a 91 percent audience score.
Evidently, both critics and audiences agree that Marvel has, for the past 11 years, made a much cleaner transition into a cinematic universe than DC. However, with reviewer scores slowly climbing in the recent DCEU entries such as “Wonder Woman,” “Aquaman” and “Shazam!,” some believe there is reason to think that Marvel is no longer the lone superhero success in Hollywood.
From a sheer timing standpoint, Iron Man came five years before the DCEU’s first entry: 2013’s “Man of Steel.” To this date, Marvel has produced 22 films compared to DC’s seven. Ever since the release of 2008’s “Iron Man,” many fans have agreed that Marvel has been ahead of the curve.
“I think they [Marvel] get the right actors for every role, like Robert Downey Jr. [Iron Man] and Chris Evans [Captain America],” said Junior Ethan Groharing, who first saw Iron Man in theaters at age 8. “When you think of those actors, you think of their characters.”
However, it’s not just Marvel fans who believe that the MCU has been outperforming the DCEU.
“[I prefer] DC, [but] just the comics,” said Cole Lebrecht, an actor in the Film Club. “Marvel movies are better because DC has really complex, thought out stories that they [have tried] to adapt a few times, and it makes the movies really slow.”
“Marvel started out with just saying, ‘let’s take this character and let’s try to make him really cool and fun’ and they made it so that it’s good action and good heroes,” Lebrecht said. “DC tried to play catch up, and they failed.”
According to school psychologist and Prospect Film Club sponsor Dr. Jay Kyp-Johnson, what sets Marvel apart from average movies is the character arcs for their heroes.
“As a kid, what I loved about Marvel [was that] they were all characters who were flawed in some way,” Kyp-Johnson said. “Iron Man had a heart problem; Daredevil was blind. And for me as a kid, that was really reinforcing, ‘Yeah, you can have something wrong with you, but you can make up for it.’”
Many Marvel fans argue that because MCU characters often deal with problems that real people also deal with, they often find themselves empathizing with them particularly easily.
“There’s something magical [about Marvel],” Kyp-Johnson said. “I don’t know if it’s the damaged redemption kind of thing, but I really think Marvel characters are struggling more with the things people are really struggling with in life.”
Apart from the characters, some fans believe that Marvel movies generally have a preferable atmosphere.
“One thing [Marvel] has done when you go see a Marvel movie is this sense of hope and goodness that the good guys always win, that technology can overcome things, that people can come together,” Kyp-Johnson said. “It’s the working together, the bonding. I like people to believe in that.”
Alternatively, some cite the Marvel staff’s decision-making process as one of their keys to success.
“I think [Marvel] takes risks really well. They know how to take the right risks. Sometimes DC will try to stick to the comics too much,” Lebrecht said. “[Marvel] plans things out really well, and to me, it feels like they just have more fun with it while DC [tries] to stick with their grittier world, and while I do love that in comics, it’s harder to get that right in movies.”
Evidently, it’s safe to say that according to fans at Prospect, Marvel has been the dominant producer of superhero films in Hollywood for the past 10 years. However, the most recent standalone films, DC’s “Shazam!” and Marvel’s “Captain Marvel”, seem to noticeably differentiate themselves from this trend.
“I liked the acting a lot better in Shazam!, and I thought [it] was a lot more humorous,” said Groharing, who usually prefers the MCU after reading Marvel comic books from a young age. “I really like Zachary Levi [Shazam], and I thought he had a better connection with the supporting cast.”
Prospect students aren’t alone in their preference for Shazam! over Captain Marvel. According to Rotten Tomatoes, Shazam! currently holds an 88 percent audience score, while Captain Marvel received a 58 percent audience score; both Prospect and global audiences seem to find this pair of rival movies to be unlike their predecessors.
After receiving Shazam! better than Captain Marvel, many fans wonder what to expect in the future; was this just a minor misstep for Marvel, or is DC on course to become the leader in superhero films? After “Avengers: Endgame” provides closure for an era of Marvel movies while DC’s entries like Wonder Woman and Aquaman only develop an improving storyline, is this where Marvel passes the baton of momentum to DC?
“[It was] definitely a minor occurrence,” according to Groharing. “The standards were pretty low [for Shazam!], in comparison to Captain Marvel, [for which] the standards were set really high because of the rest of the Marvel industry.”
However, both Marvel and DC fans know that each studio needs to move forward strategically.
“I would make sure to get a really good villain for the next stage in the Marvel Universe: something that draws in the audience,” Groharing said. “Continue making funny, entertaining film[s] that will keep the audience wanting to come back for more.”
On the other hand, Lebrecht thinks DC’s on-screen success can be found away from theaters.
“In my opinion, making DC comics into movies is not the best choice because those stories are built in a way that they can be really episodic and really well done if they [are] put in a Netflix show,” Lebrecht said. “I would say [to] make it very intense and gritty and not [to] entirely stick with comics, but I feel like if you were to take the stories that DC has and adapt them into a series, I think that would work way better.”
With many future movies in production for both companies, it seems that only time will tell. With a number of sequels for fan favorites like “Spiderman: Far From Home,” “Black Panther 2” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” on their way for Marvel, it’s safe to say that the MCU will keep the interest of fans for some time. Meanwhile, upcoming additions to the DCEU such as “Birds of Prey” and “The Batman” will need to prove that DC belongs in Hollywood.
“People can see a guy who needs prosthetics to be Iron Man, but it’s harder for them to see a guy who wants to dress up as a bat,” Kyp-Johnson said. “There’s something more relatable about the characters that they’re struggling with more real-world kinds of things.”