Marvel versus DC: Who will win the battle of the cinema superhero?

Underdog DC is hoping Batman v. Superman will help it win back some of the box office territory lost to Marvel

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The Independent Culture

The box office success of Ant-Man is proof, as if it were needed, of how brilliantly the Marvel universe makes the transition to the silver screen. Indeed, the slew of recent superhero films there seems to herald a new Golden Age for costumed crime fighters.

As Marvel, having already put out twelve films and released a host of acclaimed tie-in TV series, prepares to move into phase three of their gargantuan endeavour with follow-ups to the hugely successful Daredevil Netflix series, DC, their arch rivals in the comic book world and proprietors of characters like Batman and Superman, have decided that they should have a go too, announcing their own shared universe in an attempt to cash in on the success of the model.

While DC’s film ventures have generally done far worse than their Marvel counterparts of late (one only has to look at films like Green Lantern and Jonah Hex to understand the extent of some of the disasters that have resulted), they have definitely also been successful in the recent past, most notably with Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Batman trilogy. Nolan’s films brought them over $2billion in box office earnings, with The Dark Knight often heralded as arguably the best superhero movie of all time.

The problem here is that having put those films behind them, they have no basis from which to build this new universe, since Zack Snyder’s drab Man of Steel  failed to invest us at all in Henry Cavill’s Kryptonian superhero. It still did well at the box office and is among the highest-grossing reboots of all time, such is the wealth of interest in superheroes at the moment, but there’s no question that DC’s creative capabilities were shown up and they have a lot to do to match Marvel’s most innovative efforts.

The future

Looking ahead, Marvel’s assured progress is set to continue with a mixture of ambitious sequels like Captain America 3: Civil War and new characters like Doctor Strange and Black Panther poised to bring us a nice mix of the old guard and introduce some fresh meat as they did with Ant-Man. The films haven’t always been perfect, the first Captain America was unfortunately too hammy for its own good and Guardians of the Galaxy, despite its inherent charm, was not quite innovative enough, but the general quality has been maintained and any slip-ups have invariably done little to harm the juggernaut that the Universe has become, meaning that progress should be easy.

DC meanwhile has more at stake as it attempts to get a foothold with well-cut trailers for both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad’ offering morsels of hope for fans. One would hope that Snyder has learned his lesson in the case of the former and won't give us another lame attempt at emulating the dark, brooding Nolan films with disastrously dull and often inadvertently amusing results.

This is where Suicide Squad may have the upper hand. It is clear that DC is going to run with the angle that its films have a more realistic, darker feel to them than Marvel’s (though how they’re going to sell us a deadly serious Aquaman remains to be seen) but writer-director David Ayer’s film looks to have that crazy, off-kilter edge that the films definitely need to jolt some life into them.

The outlook

In terms of the overall battle, it’s clear that Marvel are in cruise control, while DC have a whole lot of work to do to reach anywhere near the same level and make this an even competition. They have made brave casting choices with the likes of Jared Leto and Ben Affleck set to play lead roles as the Joker and Batman respectively and will be hoping that their gambles pay off, but there’s no getting away from the fact that next year is a very important one for them: if both Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad are successes then there should be renewed optimism that the shared universe may not have been a bad idea after all, but if they’re not, then the whole thing is liable to spiral in to disaster.