Monday, April 18, 2016

Will Suicide Squad Break The Grimdark?

As superheros of all kinds fill up the screen both large and small, stark differences are emerging between the two main comic competitors Marvel and DC and their competing visions for bring their characters to either small or the large screen. While both companies can claim a cinematic history that goes back to the 40s and 50s (Republic Pictures released a Captain America movie in 1944 for what was then called Timely Comics, Superman and the Mole Men dropped in 1951 and served as the pilot for the 1950s Adventures of Superman Television Series) the modern era for both companies did not really take off until the year 2008 when the cinematic visions for both companies went in starkly different directions.

For Marvel, 2008 saw the release of Iron Man, which launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe which seems to an unstoppable juggernaut at this point. It is undeniable that Marvel has hit more than it has missed and if advance reviews for Captain America: Civil War are as promising as we are lead to believe, then Marvel's streak of success looks to continue for some time to come.

DC on the other, is only just now developing an overarching universe- with Man of Steel serving as a starting point and now Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice starting the build-up to a two-part Justice League movie (Part One drops in 2017 and Part Two in 2019.) Yet critical success and even fan acclaim seems to be somewhat mixed for DC. Man of Steel drew criticism for Superman actually killed General Zod (while laying waste to a healthy chunk of Metropolis in the process) and while box office numbers for Batman v Superman were into the hundreds of millions fairly quickly, critics were less than kind. Rumors swirled that the entire slate of planned DC's movies was being reconsidered and breathless roundtables on the future of the superhero movie appeared on the internet.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that much of the cinematic tone of the DC universe was established with Christopher Nolan's trilogy of Batman films, which embraced hyper-realism and a grim, gritty tone which worked beautifully for the character and made excellent films. But while brooding, grimdark seems to fit the Dark Knight like a glove, it doesn't translate so well to the idealism of the Man of Steel. While DC is late to the Cinematic Universe game, it should take a page out of Marvel's book to make sure subsequent films can establish unique tones that will help them standout. In the Marvel Universe alone, we've seen Captain America as a period piece (Captain America: The First Avenger), a taut political thriller (Captain America: Winter Soldier) and Ant-Man has even joined the fun as a straight up heist movie.

If DC's Extended Universe is to flourish and surpass the titanic success of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, then it's time to break the grimdark- and DC might have an unlikely candidate to do just that in Suicide Squad.

It seems like an unlikely choice but every trailer has inched away from grim, brooding darkness toward something different entirely. While it might not be light, frothy fun, subsequent trailers have turned away from brooding darkness of the original Comic-Con footage to a neon pastiche that feels more like Blade Runner than Man of Steel. The use of contemporary music in subsequent trailers (Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in the 2nd Trailer and now Leslie Gore's 'You Don't Own Me' and Sweet's 'Ballroom Blitz' in the 3rd Trailer) also highlights the turn away from the brooding darkness of Nolan to something different. With Suicide Squad, DC might have something unique, different and ultimately game changing on their hands: their version of The Dirty Dozen.

With the news that Wonder Woman will be more of a period piece than people were expecting it to be, it appears that DC might be turning the corner on their cinematic universe just in time to showcase some of their biggest, most important properties of all. While mixed critical reception to Batman V Superman might have worried some people- the box office receipts are now topping over $800 million- which means that whatever the critics may think, the audience apparently disagrees. If the trailers of Suicide Squad fulfill the expectations that they're rapidly establishing, then DC's reputation as the land of brooding grimdark might be well and truly put behind them and Marvel might find itself with a genuine competition on its hands. Either way, fans of superheroes and comic books everywhere win!

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