DC vs Marvel: Episode II: The Movies
By Erik Smith
Who remembers Columbo, the rumpled detective, played by Peter Falk? The unique thing (at the time) about the show, was that each episode began by showing us the killer, plotting and committing murder. There is no real mystery. The fun for the audience was in watching Columbo solve the crime.
What does that have to do with DC vs Marvel? Well, when it comes to the movies, there is no mystery. Marvel wins. Is there anyone who will dispute that? I didn’t think so. What follows is my Columbo-esque investigation into the cinematic universes of some of our favorite (and not so favorite) heroes.
For the sake of clarification, when I say “Marvel movie,” I am talking about any film based on a Marvel comics property. “Marvel Studios movie” means, well, a flick made specifically by Marvel Studios. Also, I am ignoring anything made before the year I was born, which means the old serials. Also also, I’m talking about theatrically released movies. Finally, I will be concentrating on superhero and anti-hero movies (this will not be all inclusive), though I will mention some of the other DC and Marvel based movies, at the end.
As I was preparing to write this, I looked for lists of all DC and Marvel movies, so I would like to start with a few random things, that I found interesting.
The oldest movie (taking into account the rules above) is Batman: The Movie, from 1966.
DC’s next movie was Superman, in 1978.
DC released 6 movies, before Marvel’s first film, Howard the duck, in 1986.
Three years later came The Punisher (1989).
DC has only had 8 heroes/teams starring in their own movies. (I’m not counting Watchmen.)
Marvel has had 14.
There have been 8 Batman movies and 6 Superman movies.
Okay. With that out of the way, let’s begin. As with Episode I, we will start with DC.
Batman is arguably DC’s most successful franchise. Beginning in 1966, with Batman: The Movie, which was intended as a pilot for the TV show. Scheduling issues caused this flick to appear between seasons one and two. Great, campy fun, this isn’t a bad way to start 46 years of Batman on the big screen.
We had to wait 23 years for our next fix. Some would argue that Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman is the best of the bunch.
I like this one, well enough, but it feels more like a Jack Nicholson/Joker movie, than a Batman movie, to me. Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is fantastic, and Burton’s directing is, well, Burtonesque. It was very nice to see the material taken seriously, for the first time.
The follow-up, Batman Returns (1992), was more of the same. Too much more, if you ask me. The cast is great, but there is just way too much going on. And, the Burton factor is cranked up to 11. It’s not bad, but it didn’t quite live up to the promise of the first one.
Of course, compared to Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), Burton’s films are pure gold. I don’t know what Joel Schumacher, and the rest of the people involved, thought that they were doing, but it hurts my head, just thinking about these movies. If they were trying to return to the fun of the 1966 movie, they failed, epically. Two words: Bat Nipples.
This brings us to the age of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale. Batman Begins (2005) is the darkest version yet. The stellar cast (Liam Neeson! Gary Oldman!!!) help to raise the simple “comic book movie” to new levels of cinematic art. Sure, it’s just another origin story, but it delves deeper into the early years of Bruce Wayne/Batman, than any previous outing. Except for a “Batman voice,” that gets worse with each movie, Bale is easily my favorite actor in this role.
The Dark Knight (2008). Best. Batman. Movie. Ever. Due, in large part (completely?), to Heath Ledger’s amazing portrayal of Joker. Though underutilized, Two-Face looks fantastic. Thought the movie drags at times, overall it is a superior piece of work.
Here’s where things get dicey. I don’t like The Dark Knight Rises (2012). The plot is ridiculous. The characters are all whiny. It’s a jumbled mess. A disappointing ending to the trilogy.
Okay. I’m burning up my allowable word count, so I’m going to condense some things.
Superman (1978) & Superman II (1980). A nice pair of movies. Christopher Reeve does a great job as Clark Kent/Superman. Terence Stamp is a wonderful Zod. There are problems. I’ve never gotten behind the whole “reversing the earth’s rotation to turn back time” thing. Or the memory erasing kiss.
Superman III (1983), Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, and Superman Returns (2006). All crap.
I’m one of the few people (seemingly) who likes Man Of Steel (2013).
It’s not perfect, but I like Henry Cavill, and Michael Shannon is an amazing Zod. On the other hand, Pa Kent is a moron. Despite it’s faults, I approve of this movie.
Rounding out the DC heroes, we have decent movies, like Swamp Thing (1982), and, well…that might be it.
Steel (1997), Catwoman (2004), Jonah Hex (2010), and Green Lantern (2011) all fall short. (For the record, I enjoy Green Lantern, despite it’s many faults.)
DC has done wonders with their non-superhero movies. Road To Perdition (2002), A History of Violence (2005), and V For Vendetta (2006) are all great films.
Moving on to Marvel, who got off to a late, and rough, start. Howard the Duck (1986), The Punisher (1989), and Captain America (1990) are all bad, all the time.
In 1998 we got Blade, and proof that we could get a decent movie, based on a Marvel character. The Blade trilogy has some problems, but it’s not too bad, in the end.
X-Men (2000). Wow. What a thrill, seeing these characters live, on the big screen. The original trilogy has plenty of problems, but, well, see the previous sentence. X-Men: First Class (2011) is my favorite, mutant movie, so far. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) has some incredible scenes, but I found some of the storytelling to be annoying.
Spider-Man(2002). Again, with the wow. Not for the movie, or even the trilogy, but for finally getting to see old Web Head in theaters. The second movie is the best of the three, but it can’t make up for the crapfest that is the third.
You want some more controversy? I think that The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), and it’s sequel, are superior to the Raimi films.
In 2008, Marvel Studios came on the scene, with Iron Man, and everything changed.
With creative control over their own characters, and a solid, far reaching plan, Marvel Studios is showing DC how it’s done. (Unfortunately, DC doesn’t seem to be paying attention.) Hell, 2014 gave us the best Marvel Studios movies, to date: Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
The future looks bright, for Marvel Studios, with an upcoming slate of movies that looks to be as varied and exciting as what we have already seen. The addition of Spider-Man to the stable is just icing on the cake.
As for the rest of the Marvel characters, they haven’t lived up to their potential. Ghost Rider, The Punisher, Daredevil, The Fantastic Four; all have been rather disappointing.
I think that about covers it. At least, as much as my word count allows. Without Marvel Studios, it might be a closer call, but, thank Cthulhu, that is not a world we live in. Marvel is clearly the winner here, putting them at 2-0. Will they continue their winning streak, when I cover TV, in the next episode? Tune in next time, to find out.
Oh. One more thing, ma’am. (That’s a Columbo reference, people.) I just wanted to say, I can’t wait to see Ant-Man.