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Marvel Films vs. DC Films: Whose Approach is Better?

Zack Snyder recently ignited a flame war by praising DC heroes over Marvel heroes, as part of his promotion for The Man of Steel. He prefers the gritty Nolan approach to comics over the lighter Whedon style. So which is better?

Naturally, as the director of DC’s upcoming Man of Steel, Zack Snyder is bound to prefer DC heroes. In a recent interview, he said about the DC pantheon of heroes, “They truly are purer archetypes…They’re literally Biblical. If you get the DC characters right, they can be important, they can be about us. It’s not just a romp.” In reference to Marvel heroes, he adds, “The question you’re asking about Iron Man and Thor, is ‘How is it that you feel you can be making a superhero movie in a world where Superman and Batman exist?’”

Strong opinions by Snyder! His Watchmen film clearly showed that he prefers the “not a romp” approach which DC favors in their comic adaptations. Certainly, DC has had considerable success with the grim-and-gritty approach of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, particularly The Dark Knight. However, it has to be said that Marvel has done quite well in recent years with their brand of lighter, escapist adventure, particularly with the Avengers. With Iron Man 3 currently tearing up the international box office and opening today in the USA, and many other Marvel projects either in the making or green-lit to go—Thor: the Dark World, The Wolverine; Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past; Spider-Man 2; Captain America: the Winter Soldier; Deadpool; Avengers 2—all under the watchful eye of producer Kevin Feige and/or Joss Whedon who perfected his serio-comic approach with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel seems to have found their niche.  

At one time, DC had great success with light, fantastical fare, such as Superman: the Movie, which first ignited the super-hero genre in film, or the comical Batman TV show of the 60s. However, in the 21st Century, the Nolan formula has become gospel for DC, and their attempt to emulate the Marvel style with Green Lantern, failed miserably. As for Marvel, they were going for the lighter approach even before Whedon came aboard but now that he’s in charge of Marvel’s Disney film universe, he’s set the tone in stone. Kevin Feige, who executive produces all Marvel films (even non-Disney) likes the Whedon formula.

So which method is better? Nolan’s or Whedon’s? Realism or Escapism? While both these companies have had hits using their respective formulas, it sometimes backfires on them. Marvel’s attempt to use a light-hearted approach to the Fantastic Four was not well received by die-hard fans. On the flip-side, when DC tried to use the Nolan formula (Already proven in Batman Begins) in Superman Returns, it reduced the man of steel to being whimpering, angst-ridden and lovelorn. Therefore, neither of these formulas is flawless. Of course, trying to copy the opposition’s technique can also sometimes go wrong. Green Lantern is one example, as already mentioned, and Marvel’s efforts to ‘go dark’ with Daredevil and Ang Lee’s Hulk weren’t exactly huge successes.

So which is the superior formula? There’s probably no definitive answer. Fans of Christopher Nolan will see The Dark Knight as proof that the gritty DC formula is best. Fans of Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers will support Whedon’s and Feige's more spirited approach. It depends on who you ask. My own personal preference is for escapist adventure, having grown up with the fun Christopher Reeves films, so I like the direction Marvel is going in now under Whedon and Feige. Still, the Nolan Bat-trilogy is currently the most successful super-hero franchise.

Which style is better? What do you think?    

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  • Guest - scyllaya


    I think it's a mistake to put all Marvel movies under the same label when they belong to three different studios and thus are using different styles.

    The Fantastic Four and the X-Men are Fox products and generally a lot of Marvel fans criticise some of their choices a lot (especially X-Men 3 and Fantastic Four) Deadpool will be Fox as well.

    Spider-Man is a Sony Production so it has its own style again.

    Also ONLY the Marvel Cinematic Universe by Disney/Marvel Studios is looked over by Joss Whedon, AKA the Avengers franchise. They are the movies closest to the source material and they follow the style and mood of the comics the most. You are messing up facts here.
    So yeah, you were generalizing a lot in this article.

    We cannot say that the Fox-Marvel, Sony-Marvel and Marvel Studios make the same type of movies, because they don't. So one should point out the differences before comparing them to DC.

    The Marvel movies that were not so well received by the audience were Fox Movies. Spider-Man 3 was also not the best, it was a Sony movie.

    None of the Disney/Marvel movies flopped on the other hand so it's best to point that out.

  • Good points. As I indicated, the Marvel films took the lighter approach before Whedon came along. The Spider Man films had the same escapist feel as Iron Man or Captain America. It's a stylistic choice that follows the pantheon of Marvel characters ever since Kevin Feige became Marvel's cinema superviser. The whole Marvel Universe is split over different studis but there's a commonality in the approach. They generally try to add some humor and light moments into the films, as opposed to the more relentlessly grim tone of Nolan.

  • I wish there was some sort of middle ground. On the whole, when it comes to films that really stick with you, have some meaning behind them, and go beyond pure entertainment value, I have to give it to DC. Their films (and yeah, even Superman Returns) are ones that I continue to come back to and find myself wanting to put back in the blu-ray player, as I feel like they have a message that's worth hearing (except for Green Lantern, as you mentioned).

    On the other hand, I enjoy the frequency with which Marvel pushes out their films, and their willingness to take a few more risks with lesser known characters. They are very fun movies, and I have a thoroughly good time while sitting in the theaters, but after it's over...I'm done. Nothing about it sticks with me (except for X-Men: First Class, but that was FOX). The characters don't necessarily grow or expand and any message is pushed to the side for the action (which is awesome). Outside of the Avengers, which I feel broke that mold, I rarely feel the need to re-watch any of the Marvel films, as I feel like I've already experienced all that I can from them.

    As I said, I wish both of them, could find happy mediums between the styles (though I feel Marvel did fairly well with that for Avengers). I wish DC would step things up and give us some more heroes and movies, while I wish Marvel would bring more to the table than pure entertainment.

  • Its all preference, I guess. I grew up in the pre-1985 comic world, where things were lighter. Comics were an escape from the real world. After 1985 (when Watchman and the Dark Knight Returns came out) comics took on a more fatalistic tone that never resonated with me the way the swashbuckling earlier adventures did.

    To me, when I see the Nolan Batman films, I think "These films are very well made but they bring me down because they're so dark and intense." It's kind of like watching "Schindler's List". Great film, but nothing I'd want to watch over again because it was a downer.

  • By far, Marvel characters are better so therefore they end up being better movies. I am not a fan of Superman for example because he is just too good. I mean, Thor is the god of thunder, but even he has some serious flaws. Batman is the one exception in DC. you can relate to Marvel characters a lot more than you would DC ones

    If we are going to talk succesful movies then DC has the batman ones while Marvel has Iron-Man, Thor, Cap, The Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man

    from Mexico City, Federal District, Mexico
  • I admire the fact that Marvel has been able to better utilize their entire roster of characters, as opposed to DC, which only seems to be able to make good Batman and Superman films.

    I've always related better to Spider-man than to Batman.

  • Guest - zepdogg


    "Nolan Bat-Trilogy is currently the most successful super-hero franchise."
    Yeah, that's why DC have a character or characters relating to the third-highest grossing film of all time. Or don't.

  • If you're talking about the Avengers, it can't be counted as a franchise yet because there was only one of them. The combine Dark Knight trilogy made more.

  • I can speak to the movie that has left more of an impact on my viewing experience. The Dark Knight has left me in awe from the writing and visual styling of Nolan. Although I love the first Iron Man and X-Men Origins Wolverine, I find myself still quoting TDK from time to time.

  • A lot of people love "Dark Knight". But the question is, how well does that approach work on characters without a cowl and batmobile? I'd like to see that DC approach work on other characters. I don't think it fit Superman too well in "Superman Returns".

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