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The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Why I'm an MCU girl
Okay, so I'm not always at midnight showings of favorite movies anymore. (It's expensive, and I have better things to do.) In fact, while I saw "Black Panther" in theaters, I... kind of waited for video for "Infinity War." My bad; it's an excellent movie, and actually made me go back and watch the Guardians movies (which I'm still a little meh on).

But it made me start watching some MCU vs DCEU videos, mostly dissecting what the heck went wrong in the DCEU, and why all of its frantic machinations have failed to win it the kind of radical loyalty that the MCU has.

So, tossing in my two cents. Because everyone cares.

In a nutshell: It's the writing. Beyond the nutshell, it's a little bit of set design and direction, but it's still mostly the writing.

It wasn't inevitable. Like every other little 70s girl, I had Wonder Woman underoos and thought if I spun around fast enough, I'd turn into Lynda Carter in a star-spangled bathing suit. I like Christopher Reeve as a guileless Superman. There are major problems with DC if you want to get into it from a writing perspective (see some items below), but they're not insurmountable. But the DCEU has never reached the level of even mediocre MCU movies. Trying to avoid the same things the video mentions, here are...

5 Reasons I'm a Marvel girl

5. Can someone flip on the lightswitch?
Seriously. I can barely see most of the DCEU. It's the same problem that later Harry Potter movies had and I don't understand it. Why is it so dark that I'm squinting to try and figure out who's on the screen?

Oh, I get it. It's "dark, edgy" universe.

First of all, do you have to take it so visually literally? The darkest book I know is Lord of the Flies, which takes place on lush, beautiful, sunny tropical island. Mostly in the daylight. In fact, the contrast between the beauty of the island and the darkness of the human soul makes that darkness... darker, for lack of a better word. There's no mitigating factor. There's no environmental cause for the evil. The boys could have had an idyllic life, except for the fact that they carried the Beast inside them. That's way edgier than, "Wow, I live in an ugly city with no apparent light sources. Guess I'll be a nihilist villain now."

There is a simple fix: TURN ON THE LIGHT. I mean, this isn't rocket science. Wonder Woman managed to at least have some saturation to her colors. Not much, but enough to make the world livable.

4. We could all do with a few laughs. I've got a feeling we're going to need them more than usual before long.
Wait, a Harry Potter quote?

Yes. Because this gets into one of the major problems. HP was done by the same studio that does the DCEU, so I'm thinking this must be some kind of executive decision there, because they also missed this major theme in HP. You need humor.

Not forced humor, not humor grafted on because someone says "You should attempt to make a humorous remark here." But humor that is a natural part of life.

A sense of humor is really a sense of perspective, of humility. The Marvel characters, even the arrogant ones, recognize a certain level of absurdity in the world and in their situations. Even the ones who aren't constantly wisecracking, like the sincere Steve Rogers or the vaguely Shakespearean Thor, are able to step back from the situation enough to smile and laugh. That means they can get a clear view of it. Humor is an incredibly important tool in the characterization kit. And the DCEU--even the good ones, like WW--severely lack the ability to lighten the tone, which makes the whole thing unrelenting and claustrophobic.

Can it be fixed? It's doubtful at this point (though Shazam! looks like it might at least understand the problem). Someone at WB has a seriously skewed aesthetic, and it's sapped a lot of the joy from these movies.

And really, it's not just a sense of humor I'm talking about. It's a sense of joy. By the time Harry goes to die in the movie-verse, you're kind of thinking, "You know? I'd go, too." Because we haven't seen the wild joy that was found even in Deathly Hallows. It doesn't seem like a sacrifice, because all of the things that make life alive have been sidelined for the sake of melodrama. I even thought the book OD'd on melodrama, but it was nothing compared to what WB did.

And it's a hundred times worse in their DC movies. The Gotham and Metropolis of the DCEU are so unrelentingly bleak that I'm kind of on the villains' side, at least insofar as I can't see why anyone wants to save them. Just move out and go someplace more cheerful. And it's too late to fix it now, even if the studio understood the problem and wanted to address it.

3. Metropolis/Gotham vs. New York: Specificity
Which brings us to the setting, and this is kind of the "original sin" of DC: Metropolis. Gotham. Smallville. By trying not to be specific, they lost any kind of grounding. "Let's make this every-city/every-town!"

Except that there's no such thing a every-town. Gotham and Metropolis are both obviously meant to be New York, but with the serial numbers scraped off of it. Marvel, on the other hand, is specifically set in New York, with Spider-man and Cap playing a little Superhero geography when they meet in Civil War ("Where are you from?" "Queens"/"Brooklyn"). These are all places that have very specific locations and cultures. Even if you don't know New York particularly well, you have enough passing knowledge to recognize that this means something. There are beat up old buildings, gorgeous museums, well-known landmarks, and discernible neighborhoods. This grounds the characters who live there in an understandable world, a city with varying landscapes and experiences for its inhabitants.

DC's very decision to split New York into daytime Metropolis and nighttime Gotham is a tip that they don't understand how setting works. When they try to combine the two in the team movies, of course it doesn't work. The cities are unending, even-looking runs of streets, all with the same silly gray aesthetic, trying to be as generic and non-specific a possible, on the thought that this will somehow make it more relatable to people not from those cities. (This is the same reasoning behind making Bella Swan a blank slate in Twilight, come to think of it.)

Smallville would be a different story if it didn't exist in this universe. It could well be the name of a real small town that's one or two over from the one you live in. (You know, the one where their high school colors are orange and black instead of blue and gold, and their mascot is a tiger instead of a yellowjacket, the weirdos.) But because DC is DC, Smallville clearly is intended to be some kind of Platonic idea of a small midwest town, with nothing else to compare it to.

Even though this fault is built into the DC-verse to begin with, it's possibly the most fixable one in the cinematic universe. Gotham and Metropolis could be made into believable fictional cities, with varying neighborhoods and mixed aesthetics. It's not as easy as adding a small town to the map, because cities tend to be actually known entities, so you just have to boldly say that the Metropolis Monsters are playing the Buffalo Bills next week and pretend that no one will say, "Huh?" But if you want to use fictional cities, then you have to commit to it. And make them real cities. Small towns can be randomly put in without quite as much fuss (Stephen King stuck a whole county into Maine... but grounds it a specifically as he can for a piece of land that's unplottable. It's in the Lewis-Auburn area, it's got stretches of woods that have been plowed down by paper mills, it's got the Castle River, which is polluted from textile mills, etc.) So, stop generalizing, DC.

2. Outside networks.
Sure, Batman's got Alfred and Lucius, Clark has his parents and Lois, etc... but there's no real sense of having a world beyond what they need at the moment. We know Tony has a long and checkered history. Cap's loneliness is part of his character, but only because he's established within a milieu of many people. Thor has a whole universe. All of these people have some connections that we don't necessarily get to see, and because of that, you can figure out how they connect to the other people in a given movie.

DC characters? Their outside connections always seem grafted onto them, like someone in an intro to creative writing class said, "Ah! They must have other connections, so I will provide them with X,Y, and Z." And then promptly forgot about it once the main action came, unless one of those people could suddenly be made useful.


1. Hope
This ties in with the lack of joy, which is, imho, the most underrated emotional element of any story. DC characters may talk about hope, but there's precious little of it in the DCEU universe. It's very empty, very cold and loveless. All of those are metaphors for the absence of hope. (Per Buffy, "What is hell, but the total absence of hope?")

There's no clear sense of what anyone is fighting for. They used to have an idea, but they've become afraid to commit to the notion that there is hope for anything, or that there is any answer to the darkness.

Which brings us back to the first point.

Turn on the damned lights, DC.

And that's it. Now, I need to take my cat for her vaccination. Seeya. :D
6 comments or Leave a comment
sonetka From: sonetka Date: September 11th, 2018 01:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I haven't watched enough DC to really make the comparison (though I did enjoy Wonder Woman a lot) but thanks for mentioning the horrors of the later HP lighting. It drove me up the wall, especially watching at home when an older TV basically turned it into vaguely-delinated shapes backlit with green. I get that subtle, gradual darkening over time can work (rewatching "I, Claudius* you can see how the same sets change as they're gradually darkened over the course of Claudius's light) but the keyword here is "subtle."
beceh From: beceh Date: September 11th, 2018 06:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Good write up. Agree with you.

And yeah, I hadn't quite put my finger on it but you're right about HP having no sense of humour or joy later on.

I'm really looking forward to the day they remake HP into a mini-series!
sonetka From: sonetka Date: September 11th, 2018 08:09 am (UTC) (Link)
An animated mini-series could be wonderful -- enough time to actually include the subplots, plus you're not tied to dozens of child actors who may turn out unpredictably :).
matril From: matril Date: September 11th, 2018 01:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Agreed. Superman is my favorite superhero because he's all about sunny optimism and hope and integrity. Man of Steel did okay with that to a point, but once Zod came into picture it was all dark darkening darkness, and every film since then has doubled down on it except Wonder Woman (so I've heard; somehow I haven't gotten around to seeing it yet). And what do you know, that's the most popular of DC's recent movies. Can't imagine why....

And ugh, totally with you on the Harry Potter movies. It especially infuriates me that with what little limp humor they employed, they changed Ron from a clever wisecracker into the sad punchline of every joke. Sigh....
sonetka From: sonetka Date: September 11th, 2018 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I still have a grudge against Steve Kloves for those scripts. So many good jokes and balanced characters, all ungratefully snubbed in favor of Perfect Hermione and Ron The Klutz. I swear, I think the only good moment Ron had left was sacrificing himself in the chess game, but later it's all Ron staring mute at Sirius while Hermione has his line, Ron goggling as Hermione explains what "mudblood" means (HOW WOULD SHE KNOW, STEVE?) and ... ugh. I'm still holding out home for an animated TV series which is written by anyone not named Kloves.
matril From: matril Date: September 11th, 2018 03:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Seriously. It does a huge disservice to Ron, and it's not great for Hermione either, as she has scarcely a flaw or any degree of relatability.
6 comments or Leave a comment