Say What? Comic book films and SEO Content Creation?
Yes. Most definitely. And here’s why:
I’m a big DC comics fan, so I probably spend more time than I should thinking about what makes a DC film good. And by “good,” I mean it exceeds my expectations in every way. It impresses me. It surprises me. It demonstrates an appreciation for the DC legacy while daring to innovate and build upon it.
A good comic book film compels me to watch it more than once and leaves me feeling emotionally satisfied when I’m done. In other words, good films leave me with the feeling that watching it was a worthwhile investment of my time and money, and that I reaped some benefit from what I’ve just encountered, even if that benefit is as simple as being satisfyingly entertained.
The same principle applies to creating content as part of your SEO strategy. People crave content that is fresh, rewarding, and useful. From an SEO perspective, the better your content, the more likely your audience will come to trust your site as a source of information, entertainment, ideas, and so forth. It’s about building relationships and establishing trust, and your audience will judge your trustworthiness on the integrity of your content.
Content integrity: that’s what I like to call the quality that distinguishes good content from bad. There are a number of ways in which one can define “integrity,” but I’ll provide my own definition for this situation:
The characteristic of being honest, principled, consistent, and whole. In other words, content with integrity does not manipulate or mislead, nor does it appear to be fractured, shoddy, gimmicky, or incomplete. Content with integrity is content that people can trust.
To illustrate how audiences react to the quality of content, I’ll compare elements of two recent films from the DC Universe: Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Wonder Woman (2017). To this end, I’ll try to make the case that the disparity in critical and box office reception to the two films comes down to nothing more than the integrity of the content presented in each.
The content of a Hollywood blockbuster may seem light years away from the content you’re developing for your company’s website. But the end result is the same: both are trying to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between the provider and the audience, or between the brand and the consumer.
Overview of the DCEU
By now, most people know that DC film fans have regarded the studio’s output as a very mixed bag. I’ll focus on two just two examples here: 2016’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the 2017 follow-up, Wonder Woman. Both films drew massive audiences to the theaters and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales. Building on characters and plot elements introduced in Man of Steel (2013), Batman Vs. Superman and Wonder Woman were seen as the leading edge of the highly anticipated and rapidly expanding DC Extended Universe (DCEU).
By way of comparison, take a quick look at the film universe created by DC’s rival, Marvel Studios. In this case, you have 10 generally well-received films (including the Iron Man, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, and The Avengers franchises) with interrelated plot elements, recurring characters, and a unifying storyline. The highly successful project/franchise is exactly what DC has been trying to replicate.
So What Happened?
In short, audiences and critics received Batman Vs. Superman and Wonder Woman very, very differently. Although the fanfare surrounding the release of both films reached a fever pitch before their opening weekends, Batman Vs. Superman disappointed while Wonder Woman delighted.
Batman Vs. Superman is generally regarded as a box-office bomb. Critics panned the film, theater ticket sales plummeted after the opening weekend, and–despite generating nearly a billion dollars in revenue–the studio only posted an estimated net profit of around $100M, an unimpressive margin for such a large scale production. Rotten Tomatoes assigned the film a score of 27%, while Metacritic rated it as a 44.
In contrast, Wonder Woman produced an estimated profit of $250M, more than twice that of Batman Vs. Superman, and has been well-received by critics and fans. The film boasts a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92% and a Metacritic rating of 76. It fared far better than its predecessor in terms of multiple-week box office performance.
Content Integrity: Making All the Difference
Plenty of ink (and keystrokes) have been spilled while trying to decipher exactly what went wrong with Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The most succinct appraisal of the film’s shortcoming’s that I’ve found comes from Rene Rodriguez at Miami.Com:
…Batman v Superman is a sleek, stylish commercial by a studio desperate to birth a new cash cow post-Harry Potter. Almost every aspect of the film — from the shoehorning of Diana Prince (a beautifully blank Gal Gadot), aka Amazonian warrior Wonder Woman, into the plot to pointless cameos by several other fan-favorite DC characters — feels like it was decided in a boardroom instead of a writers’ pen.
Rodriguez’s review is harsh but justified. Batman vs. Superman sacrifices substance on the altar of style, glosses over character development in order to deliver maximum action, and comes across as a rushed attempt on the part of Warner Brothers to make as much money as quickly as possible by launching their own cinematic universe. Audiences and DC comic fans recognized the ploy, and the internet is replete with negative reactions to the film. If you could sum them up in one word, that word might be cheated.
Content Weaknesses in Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
- Character development. Fans of the comics and previous films know these characters well. Their origin stories are established and their roles in the DC universe are generally well-defined. The film makes some brief and paltry attempts to explore their relationships and personal crises, but fails to spend enough time on the interior life of the characters to reveal anything new. Audiences may enjoy special effects and epic battle sequences, but they invest emotionally with characters, especially when those characters grapple with recognizable human dilemmas.
- Compelling narrative. The storyline of Batman Vs. Superman is completely telegraphed in the film’s title. In other words, the point of this film is simply to have two of DC’s most iconic characters featured in a the same film, and of course, to see them fight. True to form, Zack Snyder’s battle/action sequences are meticulously conceived and gorgeously executed. But fans received little in the way of innovative storytelling, and storytelling is how we build connections with our audience.
- Sense of urgency. This critique is a bit more abstract, so let me phrase it this way: it was difficult to shake the feeling that the point of the film was to lay the groundwork for future DC projects. As Rodrigues pointed out above, the film felt like a commercial for upcoming films, and lacked a sense of authenticity or merit of its own. Why should anyone care about a film that feels like a prequel? In the end, DC failed to make the case for why the events of this film were critical.
- New information. Some of the best moments in Batman Vs. Superman (and let me be clear, there are some good moments in the film) occur when the audience is given new information or introduced to new characters. The teaser footage for the other members of the Justice League was exciting. But other than this, we don’t really get much in the way of new insights in to the DCEU. There’s no depth added to Superman’s relationships with his mother or Lois Lane, and, in contrast to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman reveals little in the way of vulnerability since his character primarily interacts with Alfred.
So that’s my short critique of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Sorry DC, I really do love you!) Now let’s focus on what DC did right with Wonder Woman.
Content Strengths in Wonder Woman
- Character development. Ok, so director Patty Jenkins had a clear advantage in the rich mine of characters from which she could work: virtually all the characters in Wonder Woman were new to the big screen. Beyond this, she also gave audiences sufficient time to bond with the characters, especially Diana Prince. Not only do we see Diana grow up in Themyscira, but we see her struggle to become involved in the outside world and negotiate the political and human realities of WWI. We also get a peek at her attempt to resolve gender and value differences as she encounters them outside of her native island. The result: a three-dimensional character with flaws as well as superpowers with whom people can relate.
To take this a bit further, consider this TomandLorenzo review of Wonder Woman’s costume:
Quite possibly the most dramatic and emotional superhero costume reveal ever filmed. Director Patty Jenkins, among her many other fine qualities, understands that superhero stories work best when simple scenes are tied to big emotional moments, whether that scene requires punching or nothing more dramatic than shedding a cloak. For her entire tenure in “man’s world,” Diana had been told to cover herself up, hide who she is and accept what she cannot do. Her experiences as a hero are metaphors for the things virtually all women have been told while striding through the world; to be quiet, to be demure, to do as you’re told.
A male director almost certainly would not have understood the emotional depths of this metaphor or how well it could be paid off simply by paying attention to her costume and what it means. This is the classic “hero accepts her mission” moment and it’s bound up entirely in costume design as she sheds her disguise to accept her task. The eagle, the star, the gold and the lightning bolt, unveiled and unleashed. Her history, her family, her people, her destiny.
In other words, even though Wonder Woman is built on themes audiences will immediately recognize, the film manages to deliver them in fresh and exciting ways.
The film’s biggest asset is its capacity for delivering dynamic characters who feel authentically human. The film focuses on the crises Diana faces as she attempts to reconcile her personal sense of mission, her Amazonian worldview, and the moral decay she encounters in the outside world. The film also explores her complex relationships with her mother and aunt, her Amazonian sisters, and Steve Trevor. As a result, Diana Prince comes across as a human endowed with superpowers, rather than as a superhero whom the writers attempt to humanize.
2. Compelling narrative. There is a lot going on in Wonder Woman. Not only is DC introducing a new character to the big screen, the studio provides a story that is rich in history (both mythological and actual) as well as connected to the larger DCEU. By weaving Wonder Woman’s story into that of WWI, Patty Jenkins achieves a balance between the familiar and the strange, the classic and the modern. It feels fresh.
3. Sense of urgency. The choice to set the events of Wonder Woman against the backdrop of WWI is one of the film’s greatest assets. Audiences can appreciate the gravity of the plot, and having Wonder Woman play a (limited but significant) role in the events of the war allows the film to capture the inertia of actual history and harness it to propel the events of the story.
4. New information. Again, Patty Jenkins and the writers of the film have an advantage here. Beyond the new characters introduced in Wonder Woman, this film also marks a major expansion of the DCEU. The mysterious island of the Amazons is revealed, along with the deities of classical mythology. But these introductions also offer a tantalizing taste of what is to come: if there is one magical island, there could be more? If there is one pantheon of gods, why not others? A human origin story is provided, and magical artifacts (WW’s lasso, braces, habit, shield, and sword) also come into play. Audiences will find plenty to fascinate them in this film.
Whether you’re developing content to increase website traffic or entice audiences into a movie theater, the lessons are the same:
- Audiences are smart and highly selective about how they spend their time. Make sure your content provides value for them, and they will return for more.
- When it comes to building content for your website, you may only get one chance to earn your audience’s trust. We know from the data that users only need a few seconds to decide whether or not they will explore or abandon your site. Get their attention ASAP by providing fresh, crisp, and relevant content.
- Good storytelling builds relationships. As many a marketer has told me, most people make decisions based on their emotions, so why not create content that engages them on that level? People enjoy seeing themselves and their lives reflected in the world around them, so present them with useful information, but deliver it in the most human way as possible.
- Give your audience the best possible content, every single time.
Thank you for your time!
I hope this blog post has been helpful. Feel free to leave a comment below. I love to learn!
Disclaimer: All images used were taken from the internet and should be credited to DC Comics/Warner Brothers Studios. No copyright infringement intended.