Gods VS. Rockstars: An Examination of the Philosophies Behind DC and Marvel’s Movies

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Movies are the new comics.

To think that once upon a time the idea of comic book movies consisted of the Tim Burton Batman flicks, a Superman movie that came out in the seventies, and that bootleg Fantastic Four movie you’d see kicking around at most conventions, I still can’t believe the comic flicks we’re getting. Guardians of the Galaxy? Shazam? Before you know it Zauriel and the Impossible Man will be hogging up the silver screen as well. Call me crazy, but look at Rocket Raccoon.

While I’m thrilled by each and every comic book movie adaptation out there, I’m starting to notice a trend running through the Big Two’s franchise flicks. There are warring philosophies between the Distinguished Competition and the House of Ideas and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. So, I’m gonna subject all of you to this theory and have you sort it out for me. Thanks for being impromptu pop culture psychiatrists, Unrealtors. You’re the swellest.

The thesis of my thought pattern is this: DC movies are about gods, and Marvel’s movies are about rock stars.

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Think about it. Films like Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises, and even off-shoots like Watchmen are all deep, heady, philosophically charged examinations of the concepts of heroism, on how society views those they can only ever look up to, and other cerebral, thoughtful subjects. The DC movies remind me of how the ancient Greeks and Romans used to write about their gods and the gods’ power and exploits and faults and falls. These were often heart-wrenching, messy stories of excess, punishment, and the true price of living about it all. I think we’ve evolved these storytelling techniques into the current DC MO, and the films back the theory.

Marvel, on the other hand, is the Behind the Music/Cribs/Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous of superheroes. These heroes laugh, crack jokes, have fun, and never really take themselves too seriously. Even Captain America had some one-liners. The Marvel movies are pure escapism. They allow us to access a more carefree life and indulge us in all those countless fantasies we all had as kids as to what it would be like to fly. The way we idolize Jim Morrison or Sid Vicious or Motley Crue is exactly the same way we’re treating the Marvel heroes.

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When you look at how these movies are received, the theory holds true. A great story of a great god is always going to fascinate and captivate, and The Dark Knight had two of them. That being said, gods can be divisive (as history has shown us once or…several times), and sometimes exploring these omnipotent beings can be uncomfortable and alienate folks. Like it or not, Man of Steel was definitely attempting to dig deeper and while many may claim it failed, it still held true to its beliefs. Like all good keepers of the faith do.

Meanwhile, the Marvel films receive more or less unanimous praise, and it’s understandable. Everyone loves rock start chit-chat, and even if you don’t, you’ll listen to the story still. They’re just too intriguing. Yes, nine times out of ten (Iron Man 2, Incredible Hulk) they’re fairly disposable, but that doesn’t mean they’re not entertaining to listen to. They’re dishy, flashy, and fun. And sometimes we just want exactly that: something simple. Sometimes we don’t want Beethoven. Sometimes we just want to have our ears rocked by Van Halen and that’s that. Not everything has to wring your soul out.

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But there’s a price to pay. The Avengers will never win an acting Oscar. The Dark Knight will never make you laugh at a Galaga joke. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to the viewer, but the fact remains.

So….where does this leave us? With DC’s new “no jokes” edict being passed around, it looks like gods will remain gods, but with Marvel trying to block out a little of the spotlight and creating dramatic, gripping fare like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel may be trying to live in the best of both worlds. Winter Solider may be an anomaly though. Time will tell.

One thing is clear, though, these films are making money. Flawed as they all might be, so far, they’re all in the black. So don’t be surprised if neither team changes tactics.

Hopefully in us recognizing these aspects about these films we’ll be able to accept when they’re not the other a little bit better. It’s the same way you need to look at how your family treats that which is important to you. They’re showing the love they have, which may not be the love you want, but it’s something.

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Yeah, I’m bummed DC doesn’t seem to want much light-hearted fare (farewell dreams of a Guy Gardner and/or Kyle Rayner GL flick), but they have a purpose and a drive and I respect that. Yes, I’d love for Marvel to give me that totally bat-shit crazy monstrous Hulk film I’ve craved ever since I devoured Bruce Jones’ run about nineteen times back in the day, but who doesn’t love Hulk smiling after being told to “Smash”?

Besides, it’s all circular, right? Eventually DC will give us another Donnersesque, smiling Superman flick that still kicks ass, and eventually Marvel will pop out another Ang Lee Hulk only, hopefully, more streamlined (though I still say the flick is underrated, but that’s an article for another day.)

Gods (/royalty/major political figures/captains of industry) and rock stars (/pirates/cowboys/rogue knights). They’ve always been interesting, and they always will be. So we might as well grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.

This theory has been kicking around upstairs for a while and I’ve wanted to get it down on digital paper. So, Unrealtors, whatcha think? Sound off, you gods and gods of guitar.

Adam Esquenazi Douglas is a playwright who was born in Texas, grew up in Arkansas, was raised by a Jewish man and a Cuban woman, and, somehow, he doesn’t have an accent. His plays have been produced across the United States from Los Angeles to New York City, as well as in Canada and Japan.

He is co-host of two podcasts, The JimmyJew Podcast Extravaganza and Schmame Over Level 2, which can be found at http://jimmyjew.libsyn.com/ and  http://schmameoverlevel2.libsyn.com/ respectively, as well as on iTunes. He is a contributing writer to www.GamersSchmamers.com.

He currently lives in Brooklyn where he drinks far too much coffee.


  • Pretty dead on. Normally, people describe Marvel heroes’ appeal as relatability, but rock star is actually a perfect analogy. They’re flawed, but just more awesome than everyone else.

  • SydBob

    I agree with Nick, this is pretty dead on.
    It’s an article you read and say to yourself, Hey, I knew that, God vs Rockstar isn’t that obvious? But the truth is, I never would have put these words on it by myself. Good job!

  • Lucas Tetrault

    Injustice: Gods Among Us … anyone?

    In all fairness though … I feel that some people like to say that the “serious” tone is only for DC movies and that the same tone isn’t there for Marvel – which is just outright wrong. Marvel on many occasions has displayed their use of deeper underlying messages that are typically glazed over by the spectacular use of their “rock stars” in order to reach a wider audience. That way they allow the people looking to venture out to the movies to be entertained to do just that, and the others who are looking for more “meaning” behind the film should be able to find it – if they’re looking.

    Personally, I feel that DC and their “gods” are pushing the idea further than necessary as evident by Superman’s latest venture.

    If I had to pick movies from both that blended the idea behind “god” and “rock star”, Dark Knight and Captain America: Winter Soldier seem to be perfect specimens. Dark Knight does it because Batman is anything but a “god” but is more of a “rock star” trying to be a “god”. Then you have Cap who wants to be more of a “rock star” for his country but everyone else keeps putting him on some “god-like” pedestal.

    I digress – my brain hurts.