Nolan’s Dark Knight Killed The DCEU, But Marvel Buried It: Here’s How
Most pop culture fans will agree that 2008 was the defining moment of this era of superhero movies with the release of ‘Iron Man’ and ‘The Dark Knight’, by the far, the best Batman movie as acclaimed by followers of the dark Gotham vigilante. The performances by Christian Bale, as Batman, and Heath Ledger, as the Joker, changed the landscape of this genre.
What was once considered a nerdy trend, is now one of the most lucrative kinds of films in history. The MCU is closing its 11-year super-event with ‘Avengers: Endgame’, but sadly, the DCEU has only recently seen a bit of success with the release of ‘Aquaman’. It’s believed that ‘The Dark Knight’ is the real reason why the DCEU could not receive better critics, meaning that it killed the franchise before it started. Let’s analyze this further.
An iconic movie
Most fans of Batman will state that this trilogy is undoubtedly the best reboot with incredible performances as well as direction from Christopher Nolan, but the success of this genius made Warner Bros. get complacent. Nolan, unlike directors of other superhero films, did everything in his power to make this Batman motion picture as realistic as it could be.
Well, we know that it’s almost impossible, but almost everything from the plot to the technology shown could be found in real life. There was no grandeur, and therefore, part of its massive success because it felt factual to the audience. Fans went crazy over the Joel Schumacher era of Batman with its realistic aspects, so Nolan wanted to build on that after the success of ‘Batman Begins’.
Warner Bros. gave him carte blanche to make whatever he wanted, and that is why Gotham City no longer seemed out of this world or cartoonish, and more like New York City or Chicago. ‘Batman Begins’ seems almost too regular compared to ‘The Dark Knight’, which drew inspiration from crime dramas like Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ and ‘Good Fellas’ to please Nolan aesthetic better.
It was loosely inspired in ‘The Killing Joke’, but again, in a realistic way. The film brought home one billion dollars and the late Heath Ledger was given a posthumous Academy Award. Christopher Nolan showed the world that superhero movies could be serious, despite the fact that kids out there have toys of the characters.
The problem ahead
This style would only serve to bring Batman to life and make a pop culture icon. However, as time passes, things evolve and so does everyone’s tastes. They could not continue making movies like this trilogy because the world would get tired of the same thing over and over again. But, the big problem came with the release of Marvel’s ‘Iron Man’ which would also cement superheroes into mainstream pop culture.
Furthermore, the existence of a post-credits scene paved the way for many new opportunities: a cinematic universe. So, Warner Bros. and DC Comics had to come up with something to compete. Nolan, however, made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that his trilogy had to be a standalone from the upcoming movies in the DC extended universe, as they would lean towards mythology and aliens, changing his original narrative.
Moreover, Warner Bros. would only get one more film from the director, and they had already been working with a “one-for-you-one-for-me” style, where he would make a film that they wanted, and then, Nolan would be given the liberty to create what he decided. After ‘Batman Begins’, he made ‘The Prestige’, and after ‘The Dark Knight’, the director made ‘Inception’.
No one expected the huge success of ‘Inception’, though. It was one of his few blockbuster films that was not based on a comic book or novel, and it wasn’t a sequel or a remake. Christopher Nolan earned the “make-whatever-you-want” pass from the studio because of this motion picture, distinguishing himself from other directors that sometimes have to follow along with the company’s desires.
This means that he would not be required to make any more superhero movies, which worked out great because ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ proved that his heart was not into those kinds of stories, and it was better to have him creating different adult projects. However, the crux of the matter is that his dark aesthetic and gritty storyline would infect the DCEU as if no other plots could be told without it.
The incredible failure of Ryan Reynolds’ ‘Green Lantern’ would show that Warner Bros. was not equipped to make a funny film, and the actor would use this as comic fodder for his ‘Deadpool’ movies. Therefore, the studio decided that the dark aspect had to be kept in order to succeed, and it was a huge mistake, as they couldn’t compete with the MCU by 2012.
That year saw the release of ‘The Avengers’ a project that had been anticipated and built up to for five years, and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ was, in comparison, a letdown in regards to the rest of the saga, leaving unsatisfied with the culmination of the Batman narrative in this reboot. The studio would give Nolan producer credits on the following films, but he was apparently done with superheroes.
In 2013, Warner Bros. tried to move ahead with the release of Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ with Henry Cavill as Superman, in the hopes of taking their cinematic universe to MCU levels. Unfortunately, it was late for a reboot because Marvel was in the middle of Phase Two, and the problem with the films after ‘Man of Steel’ is that they would change it according to what the public hated in the previous one.
With Nolan having checked out of these projects, Zack Snyder took the reins of the DCEU, but he had a critical problem. Snyder was a great director but cannot make a decent story to save his life. He can be compared to Michael Bay, who also rose in the world of directing by working on commercials, but Bay has always known that he wasn’t a great storyteller.
Michael has always been a director that does not apologize for the kinds of movies he likes with lots of action and special effects, but the important thing is that he doesn’t try to trick the audience into thinking he is more. That is the complete opposite of Zack Snyder, who believes that he can do anything and that his movies are smarter than the public.
One clear evidence of this is his infamous “Batman rape” comment, where he said that in this universe the dark superhero could get violated in prison, unlike other Batman stories. Honestly, with all kinds of modern shows and films not being afraid of showing that in their narratives like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Outlander’, rape is not that dark anymore.
Furthermore, his film ‘Sucker Punch’, which was the first one he handled that was not based on any other work, proved that no one should ever give him the reins in terms of storytelling. Therefore, he is just a good director that was trying to elevate himself to Christopher Nolan’s level, but he just cannot do it.
While ‘Man of Steel’ was not exactly the worst movie ever, it was hard to combine the realism of the world learning about Superman with Russell Crow battling a space dragon. It seemed that Snyder could not mix the realistic parts with the fantastical in this case. Later on, there was the city fight where we finally got an action-packed battle scene with Superman.
Sadly, the fact that Clark Kent did not care about the people around or their welfare was criticized by longtime fans of one of the most famous superheroes in the world. Its faults were even more glaring because of his similarities to Marvel’s Captain America, and that studio was able to adapt the First Avengers to the modern public.
However, the DCEU had to keep going because the MCU showed no signs of stopping, and Warner Bros. had barely gotten their universe off the ground. Therefore, they released ‘Batman V Superman’, but they couldn’t see that the dark visual that made ‘The Dark Knight’ so successful would not suit the more colorful and fantastical superheroes, but in the interviews, they called these movies: “filmmaker-driven”.
Unfortunately, that became another phrase for dark, moody, and humorless, as they tried to copy Nolan’s work but lacked his talent. As a result, ‘Batman V Superman’ was like a teenager in his emo phase with the range of a teacup. Many people online have already gotten into detail about the reason why this movie was so horrible, but when you compare it to ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Batman V Superman’ looks like sad fan fiction.
Also, it was a bad idea that Batman got mad because of the destruction that Superman caused in the previous film. It would start a trend of these movies following the previous one while getting darker, even more humorless, and trying to introduce the Justice League. ‘Wonder Woman’ was a huge success, so they hoped that she would shoulder ‘Justice League’.
However, that movie was reshot after Zack Snyder was replaced by Joss Whedon, and the fact that they could not CGI Henry Cavill’s mustache correctly was just sad. It all piled up, and the movie only grossed a little over $200 million in the U.S., which is an insult considering that it was the first time that the most iconic heroes in comic book history were gracing the big screen together.
Basically, each new movie in the DCEU could be criticized for the same thing, and so, by the time ‘Justice League’ showed up, it was doomed to fail because they did not change much despite getting a new director at the last minute. It ended being like a high school project where everyone does their part separately, and they try to mix it hours before the deadline.
Therefore, trying to build a cinematic universe solely around the success of Nolan’s work was not the best idea, and what is worse, Marvel keeps going strong with some of the highest-grossing films like ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. But, Warner Bros. can easily change this by doing something that Marvel has done aside from making a shared universe.
How can they fix this?
The critical issue is that Warner Bros. has been sticking to the idea that they need to keep a dark universe with big directing names at the helm to make successful films. That has clearly not worked for them. Instead, they need to hire people that already know these stories like Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Greg Berlanti, who already work for DC Comics.
Of course, these people have been placed on TV shows and cartoons, not allowing to work on bigger productions, but it was great the DC employed lesser known artists and writers in that part of their universe. Joss Whedon was given a chance to handle a $200 million project because of his experience with superheroes in comics, not because he was a big name.
The same can also be said about the Russo brother and James Gunn until they fired him. None of them had any experience with big scale projects but were close to the material and the superheroes. There are many people out there working on the animations or writing more comic books that could handle the next DC projects much better than another name brand director.
Producer Greg Berlanti has managed success with the Arrowverse for the CW which consists of five intertwined but separate series and is much more popular than the big screen productions. All this is not meant to hate on the DCEU for the sake of it. To us, it’s about the failure of the managing team that does not allow for a successful DC movie despite having amazing material to work with.
The Bruce Timm DC Universe should be the standard on which they measure all their films. It combines all the characteristics of superheroes with an interesting plotline that will have both adults and children begging to see the movie again. The important thing is that they do not apologize for its quirks, pretending to be edgy or dark or avant-garde.
The “filmmaker-driven” method becomes pretentious instead of praise-worthy, and superheroes stories are meant to be enjoyed by everyone like the saying states: “Sell the masses, dine with the classes.” You know there is something wrong when the ‘Teen Titans’ animated series mocks the grittiness of the DCEU, and it’s almost become a running joke for other stories.
With the upcoming ‘Wonder Woman 1984’, directed once again by Patty Jenkins, and after the success of ‘Aquaman’ handled by James Wan, we hope that DC can step away from Nolan’s work to become their own, bringing forth the stories we have always loved in interesting, creative, and new ways that are not necessarily dark, keeping Zack Snyder as just a producer.
What did you think of this analysis? Do you agree with us that following ‘The Dark Knight’s footsteps was a mistake for the DCEU? Is Zack Snyder really not the best storyteller? We hope that this New Year proves more fruitful for DC Comics. If you liked this article, share it with your friends who would love to see a new, successful Justice League emerge. See you next time!