The big emphasis in fiction these days is realism. Take any story and make it as realistic as possible. This often turns out to mean, “make it dark and gritty.”
An example of this would be the recently released movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Over ten years ago, Batman got a gritty reboot in Batman Begins and in the subsequent movies of the “Dark Knight Trilogy.” Those movies were a huge success and prompted DC and Warner Bros. to start an “extended movie universe” for the rest of their superhero properties. Man of Steel came first and garnered mixed reviews for the “dark and gritty” way it dealt with Superman, a character typically optimistic and bright.
In spite of negative criticism, Batman v Superman was one of the most anticipated movies of this year and had a huge first weekend in terms of box office numbers. But it is not without its negative criticism. Many bemoan the joyless take on DC comics’ 2 biggest heroes. The realism, it seems, is just too much.
The funny thing is that the Dark Knight Trilogy garnered so much praise precisely for its realistic take on Batman. But, one could argue, Batman can be dark; Superman is another story.
Juxtaposed to the gritty world of DC, you have bright and cheery Marvel Studios with Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor all reveling in outlandish adventures with plenty of one-line quips along the way. Many desenters of Batman v Superman have pointed to Marvel and noted how fun a Marvel movie is compared to a DC one.
Now, I could go into a deeper debate about the two, but I think it’s enough to say that both studios have different visions of how they want to build their heroic universe…and currently, Marvel is owning that.
This can say something about realism in fiction. People want fiction to be realistic and there’s nothing wrong with that. But perhaps a little too much of realism is a bad thing. It’s one thing for a story to make allusions to real life, it’s another if the story directly parallels reality. DC is working hard to do the latter while Marvel dabbles with the former.
Perhaps this distinction can help fiction writers in how they reach their audience. Either way of dealing with realism can be fine if done right, but maybe keeping a fine line between fiction and real life works best. Our world has enough trouble of its own without our imaginations being plagued in the same way.