__I’m just going to say this upfront: the DCEU movies have not impressed me so far. I know I’m not alone in thinking Warner Bros. is making a complete pig’s ear of this franchise, but why is that? I’ve heard it suggested that they clearly don’t care about the characters or stories they’re adapting; they’re just treating the source material as an anonymous property to manipulate at will – and their will is nothing more than to make money. Man of Steel was a transparent attempt to turn Superman into The Dark Knight, and now they’re rushing out a Justice League movie just to capitalise on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
__While I do feel there’s a lot of truth in those suppositions, though, that’s not why I dislike the DCEU so much. No, my real issue with these movies is just the fact that they’re not fun to watch. They’re visually dull, the dialogue is dry and uninteresting, and they simply have no sense of humour or goodwill whatsoever. Everything else that people have complained about – the bad characterisation, the haphazard plots – that all comes second as far as I’m concerned. What bothers me the most is that watching them just straight-up depresses me.
__That’s the main reason I disliked Man of Steel: its tone was completely devoid of the inspiration the film itself said the character was supposed to be. Batman v Superman was even worse, not only because it was just as drab and unappealing, but because I felt it had so much more wasted potential. I didn’t hate Suicide Squad, but it was still Warner’s third strike for me. I’ll give them one more chance with Wonder Woman, but if I end up disliking that movie, then that’s it, I’m done. I won’t see Justice League or any of the following movies; I refuse to support them.
__I’ve mentioned this a couple of times before, but it bears repeating. I steadfastly believe the DC animated movies really are better on just about every level. When it comes to movies based on DC Comics, I’ll always insist that animation is the best place to look. Anyone who thinks, “Oh, they’re animated, so they’re just kids’ stuff,” needs to wake up and realise they’re not rated G (or U if you live in the UK). They don’t hold back on the violence or heavy themes, and the stories are told with the utmost wit, artistic merit and, above all, respect for the characters and the audience. The creative teams behind those movies clearly know and care what they’re doing.
__Now, don’t get me wrong: Warner Bros. has given us some good live-action DC Comics movies in the past. The two Richard Donner Superman movies were silly, yes, but they still took the character seriously and presented him as a hero who represented the best of humanity – perfectly captured in John Williams’ outstanding score. However, I still never had that much respect for Superman as a character until I saw the Animated Series from the 90s. Same with Batman: as great as Tim Burton’s Batman and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy are, my favourite incarnation of Batman, again, is the Animated Series.
__So yes, there was a time when Warner Bros. could be counted on to represent our favourite superheroes well. They had some stumbles along the way – I don’t think anyone will deny that Catwoman was abominable – but it’s only in the cinematic franchise starting with Man of Steel that they seem to have officially lost all respect for the characters and their fans. Just about every movie in the DCEU line-up so far has an animated counterpart that’s far superior.
__Superman: Unbound was a godsend after Man of Steel; it was so refreshing to get a good Superman movie that year! The animated movie schooled the more mainstream one good and proper on how to portray Superman correctly.
__Batman v Superman was so obviously trying to be Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, but completely missed what made that story so powerful. In the comic (and the two-part animated movie), they fight because it’s Superman’s duty to the government, so he represents the authority and Batman represents the people. Plus, they’re old friends, so you know neither of them really wants the fight to happen. You don’t get any of that dramatic heft in BVS.
__Batman: Assault on Arkham is what the Suicide Squad movie should have been. All the characters are memorable and interesting, and there’s no bullshit attempt to turn them into heroes at the end. Batman and the Joker are still included, but they actually have a purpose in the story; they’re not just there for fanservice.
__Hell, this trend was around even before the DCEU started. Green Lantern is another movie I didn’t hate as much as everyone else. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t like it by any means. I thought it was a mess but still bearable. Still, the 2009 film Green Lantern: First Flight is undeniably superior. The story is better, the narrative is more focused and streamlined, and because it’s animated, it doesn’t have to worry about the visual effects looking like shit.
__And I guarantee the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is not going to be as good as the prior animated film, also from 2009. I’m willing to bet €100 that the animated version will leave it in the dust.
__So, now that I’ve pretty firmly established my stance on DC animation versus live action, what about Marvel? Yeah, they’ve had their fair share of animated movies and TV shows too, so am I just as biased towards their work in animation? Well… not as much. There are certainly some Marvel sagas that I think worked better in animation, but also a few where I think the live-action movies handled it better. And keep in mind, I’m speaking as someone who never read the comics; most of my knowledge of the characters and their lore comes from word of mouth, especially online video reviews.
__The one example of Marvel animation trumping its live-action counterpart that I always point to is Doctor Strange. The 2007 animated version was my introduction to the character, and it single-handedly pole-vaulted him into my top ten list of all-time favourite characters. While I still like the 2016 movie, it just wasn’t new to me; it felt too much like a rehash for me to hold it in the same high regard. I’ll always hold the animated one closer to my heart. Still, to its credit, the live-action one had a genuine sense of humour to it – it made me laugh out loud several times – and it had enough original ideas of its own, particularly the theme of time, to allow it to easily stand apart from its predecessor in my mind. I still prefer the animated one, but I’m happy with both versions in their own right.
__As good as some of the X-Men movies got, I still don’t think any of them measure up to the 90s animated series. Except for the character of Apocalypse, that is. One of the main reasons why I liked X-Men: Apocalypse so much is because it was the first time he didn’t bore me as a villain and seemed like a genuine threat.
__To be honest, I haven’t loved any of the movies focusing on the Hulk, but I’d say my favourite is Hulk Vs., an animated film that actually combines two short stories into one: Hulk vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Wolverine.
__Now, as for Spider-Man… Well, my favourite work to feature the character is Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, but in terms of story and characterisation… I’d have to say the 90s animated series did it best. To be honest, I don’t think there’s ever been a perfect Spider-Man movie yet. The Sam Raimi movies forgot the character’s wisecracking personality, and the Amazing Spider-Man movies almost completely ignored his job at the Daily Bugle and everything else that goes into balancing his double life. The 90s cartoon manages to pull off both, even though the writing style and overall performance leaves a lot to be desired; it’s very corny and child-orientated, but once you get used to that, the storytelling is actually pretty solid – in fact, probably better than most of the movies. The Spectacular Spider-Man comes more highly recommended, so I’ll definitely check out that show when I get the chance. But until then, my impression is that the 90s cartoon, despite its flaws, represents the character and his mythos best. Hopefully, Spider-Man: Homecoming will break the mould and give us the perfect incarnation of the character on the big screen.
__Believe it or not, I even liked the animated film Thor: Tales of Asgard (which is about a teenage Thor) better than the live-action Thor movie, which came out the same year. Still, the film version of Loki eats any of his animated counterparts’ lunches in half a second. And again, I have high hopes for Thor: Ragnarok.
__But one instance where I can confidently tip the scale over to the live-action side is Iron Man. There are two animated Iron Man movies – The Invincible Iron Man and Iron Man: Rise of Technovore – and neither of them are very good, despite the fact that the former gives us a proper depiction of the Mandarin. So in this case, the Iron Man movies win by a landslide. Not only are they more passionate and earnest films, but Robert Downey Jr. turned the character into such an icon that, when it came to voicing Tony Stark on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Eric Loomis had no choice but to imitate him.
__Speaking of which, The Avengers is another case where the live-action movies blow the animated ones out of the water. I don’t think I even need to say any more. The Joss Whedon masterpieces put both the Ultimate Avengers movies and Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow to shame.
__But what about the TV series The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? One advantage that a TV show has over a movie is that it has so much more time to flesh out the characters; that’s the main advantage that I think the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons had. Avengers EMH also has plenty of time to tell a much more involved story at a leisurely pace. Not to mention, my favourite character on the show – Janet van Dyne, AKA the Wasp – has yet to be topped in the MCU. Still, the quality of the Avengers movies, particularly their razor-sharp humour, is undeniable, and they do manage to tell their stories in just the right amount of time to feel perfectly concise and give you a magnificent rush. I’d say both the movies and the show are equally good.
__(And, for the record, I like the Guardians of the Galaxy that appear in one episode of EMH *far* better than the movie version.)